Friday, July 07, 2006

Tivo To Go For the Mac, $$$ version

I apologize in advance for posting this here, because it strains the usual threads in my blog, my whining about the state of education, media DRM/copyright, why palm is lame, etc.

This is a recipe for accomplishing something I have wanted to do for a long time, which is allow me to watch shows on my Tivo with my Mac without having to hack anything. Everything I talk about is off ther shelf, boring stuff. I just thought it would be good to document it because it is so easy to do.

First you need a PC running Windows XP. This part sucks, I agree, but that is because the Tivo Desktop for the PC has TivoToGo, which isn't available for the Mac. Whether or not it will become available is now irrelvant for me. I was lucky in that I scored a two year old Dell 400SC server (2 Ghz celeron) for $50.00 which I had to buy a drive for, and a XP license. If you are starting from scratch just buy the cheap nasty PC with a license for XP home included, nothing more than $300.00. But hopefully you will have this lying around.

You need to have a Tivo Series 2, connected to your home network. If you have put this part off, well duh! At least get a wired usb adapter, I am using a 3Com which I picked up for $14.00.

Download Tivo Desktop for your PC. DO NOT MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE I DID. Don't buy the Tivo Desktop Plus. I bought it and regret that decision. I wish I could give it back. It works (mostly) but has limitations (such as quality settings, etc). Use the free version.

If you have never set up Tivo Desktop before on your PC, you will need to go online and set up your Tivo to work with Tivo to go (log into your account). You will be furnished with a Media Access Key. If you have previously done this, you can get your key online when you log into your account.

Download and purchase Roxio's MyTVtoGo. It isn't quite a nicely integrated as Tivo's software, but it works great.

If you don't already have iTunes installed on your PC, download and install that.
Run iTunes and go through the legal blather stuff. After you have it running, go to Preferences, and Select Sharing. Check the box "Share my Library".

In any case, if you are successful, you will see your shows on your Tivo. You can of course select individual shows to download, but you can also instruct the software to download all shows for a given series, which is really handy, as you will see in a moment.

After you have downloaded a couple of shows, open MyTVToGo and configure it. For your video quality settings, use the iPod settings. I use the highest quality myself. Note that the software tells you that it will copy the converted files to our iTunes library.

MyTVToGo has a setting which allows the software to convert all new shows that show up in TivoToGo automatically. I highly recommend using this. Combined with the setting in TivoToGo that downloads the equivalent of a season pass from your Tivo allows the whole thing to essentially run itself. I leave mine alone, and when I go to iTunes on my Mac every day, new shows are added with no intervention on my part.

So, I have my PC setting behind my equipment in the living room, but it could just as well be in a closet somewhere. I run it remotely via Windows Desktop, but I actually prefer to use UltraVNC. Maintenance is basically dropping on the machine every once and while to download shows from the Tivo, or delete stuff I have already watched.

Otherwise, the thing pretty much runs itself. Any computer on the network that has iTunes installed can play stuff on the TivoToGo server.

It is of course possible to set up a shared volume on the PC so that I could just mount the drive and play back the shows, but I preferred using iTunes as my front end because it requires little or no configuration.

I should also point out that while it is simple for me to actually copy these shows to my iPod or burn them, in my case that is not my intent. I am not much of an archivist these days. After I have watched something I rarely want to keep a copy of it.

I know that I could have just hacked my Tivo, or built a MythTV box or blah blah blah. I have gone through many many many different attempts to replicate the Tivo experience, with the added ability to watch shows on my network, but Tivo still has the best overall user experience. I really hate that I had to go through this much trouble to do something that Tivo could supply to me via a TivoToGo for the Mac. Quite simply, I decided I had waited enough. I hope that someone finds useful.

I will write a separate article shortly outlining a parallel experience I am having with off-air digital television.