No home office is complete without some distracting TV to watch. Originally I was going to install a TV in my office, but I thought “I have this nice display, why do I need a TV?”. Well, after a little digging I did manage to get the FireWire feed off my Comcast box working well. This works for any cable box that has an enabled FireWire port, so this is not limited to Comcast.
This works thanks to a 2004 FCC mandate which requires cable companies to provide a functional 1394 (FireWire) port on request. The main issue is that there’s no real easy instructions on how to attach to the FireWire port and control it with a Mac (until now).
Once I found the right software, getting it all working was actually very easy. In fact, for technical people, it is less work than using a Slingbox.
The instructions here are for the Mac, but there are some links at the end of this article to help the PC folks out there too. On Linux, I am sure this is a cakewalk because Video4Linux is very feature rich and attaching to the FireWire device is easy.
Step 1 – Connect the Firewire
|This step is rather self-explanatory, but hey… every time I fly somewhere, someone tells me how to buckle my seatbelt. So, connect your Comcast box to your Mac via Firewire. You should find a Firewire port on the back of your Comcast box. On my Motorola DCT-6412 the Firewire is on the back.|
Step 2 – Install VLC
Install the current version of VLC. You can find the most current DMG here. The install is very clean because the folks at the VideoLAN Project have really done a fantastic job creating a tier 1 product.
Just install VLC and we’ll come back to it later.
Step 3 – Install Apple’s FireWire SDK
Download and install the FireWire SDK, it’s a bunch of developer tools, example projects, documentation, and other components that will really help you get this thing working. The actual “example” tool kit we need is called the AV/C Device-Control Panel.
First download the SDK by following this link: Apple Development Kits. This requires an Apple developer account. The kit you want to download is 39.6 MB large and is called, “FireWire SDK 26 for Mac OS X (DMG)”.
Download and install the SDK. It will create a new directory called “Developer” which you should be able to locate via Finder. Inside Developer is another directory called, “Applications”, and inside there is “FireWireSDK Applications”.
The full path is: /Developer/Applications/FireWireSDK Applications
You should see an application called AVCBrowser, just double click that.
Once the AVCBrowser is open, you should see your STB appear on the list. In my case it looks like this:
Simply click on “Open Device-Control Panel”.
This should bring up another window that looks like this:
Click on the “Panel” tab and click “Open Device”, followed by “Start Viewer”:
Once you click “Start Viewer” it should create a socket for VLC to attach to the FireWire device and launch VLC. Within seconds you should see whatever channel your STB is tuned to.
Using the panel you can change channels, adjust volume, etc!
Step 4 – Experiment and Enjoy!
VLC is a feature rich application which works very well for this type of use. There are a few things you might want to play with before settling down with “it works”.
VLC has a fantastic Streaming/Transcoding Wizard which will allow you to re-broadcast (stream) your feed.
When streaming your TV, it makes a Slingbox obsolete. Just export the stream to your lan or to the Internet using Multicast or a variety of other interesting streaming methods.
There is a fantastic tutorial on how to stream using VLC here.
I highly suggest you play with this. If you have a dedicated Mac powering your stream, you can export the stream and watch TV around the house/office over wifi.
Comcast also tends to broadcast their channels interlaced, thus enabling the de-interlace option in VLC is a good idea, I usually use “BOB” as the de-interlacing method.
There’s a very easy tab within VLC which will allow you to both save and stream a feed. Likewise you can also just save what you’re watching. Just look for the “Streaming/Saving” option in “open network”. The Streaming/Transcoding wizard will also let you “Save to file”.
If you have improvements, suggestions, or additional how-to data, I will be happy to post them here with credit to you.
Also please comment or email me your results, I would love to know if this helped people.