Wednesday, February 20, 2008

TiVoToGo, Part 2

In TiVoToGo, Part 1, I spelled out the basics of using TiVoToGo to transfer already recorded TV programs from your TiVo DVR to your Mac (or a Windows PC, for non-Mac people). These TV programs are stored on the Mac as files with .TiVo extensions. These files can be manipulated by the Toast Titanium software package from Roxio, including TT itself, TiVo Transfer, and Toast Video Player. I have yet to find any other software which will work successfully with TiVoToGo in general, with the TiVo Desktop software which TiVoToGo requires, or with .TiVo files on your Mac that have already been moved there by TiVo Transfer.

Here's a quick review of how the whole thing works (see the previous post for details):

  • You record a TV program on your TiVo.
  • You launch Toast Titanium on your Mac, which is on a home (wired or wireless) network with the TiVo.
  • On the Mac, you click on TiVo Transfer in the TT Extras menu. That starts up the TiVo Transfer application.
  • In TiVo Transfer you select the program from the Now Playing list for your TiVo and transfer it to your Mac. Then you wait (perhaps several hours) for the transfer to complete.
  • (Optional) In the TiVo Recordings library in the TiVo Transfer software you select the program that has just been transferred and click the Play button. That starts up Toast Video Player and begins playing the program on the Mac.
  • Back in TT, under the Video icon in the main window's upper left pane choose DVD-Video. In the Media Browser window, choose TiVo. That will show a list of your already transferred TV programs. Choose the one you just transferred (or any other one) and drag it to the main window. At this point you would ordinarily expect to burn the TV program to a DVD, but ...
  • If you would rather export the TV program, for instance to an iPod, click the Export button instead. That initiates a process by which you identify an output file name and location and say what file format (iPhone, iPod, etc.) and what video quality (smallest, best, etc.) you want. After you have made those choices, TT does the export.

That works acceptably if you really want to export to an iPod, iPhone, or other portable device. But my main interest is different: I want to export to a file that my AppleTV can use.

An iPod export is automatically downrezzed (i.e., its video resolution is reduced) to 480 pixels across the image horizontally. The exported image will have whatever number of pixels in the up-down direction will give it the original aspect ratio. So if you start with a 16:9 high-definition image of 1280x720, you wind up with 480 pixels across x 270 pixels vertically. That's fine for a handheld device, but its low resolution makes it look crummy when Apple TV plays the exported file on an HDTV.

I'd like to be able to export at as close as possible to the original resolution, with minimal downrezzing if any. I'd also like to export in the highly efficient H.264 version of the MPEG-4 file format, where the .tivo file uses much less efficient MPEG-2 encoding. MPEG-4/H.264 makes for much smaller files. So I set out to find a way to export my .TiVo files my way.

Today I found what seems to be the answer. I am currently running tests on it, so I can't vouch for it yet, but my initial experiences have been positive.

The secret method is revealed, albeit tersely, in this topic in the TiVo Community forum. (Scroll down to the third post in the topic.) Here it is replicated:

Once you've actually exported something, like it appears that you have, typing in the following line in Terminal will enable the "expert" mode and you'll have the additional options.

defaults write com.roxio.Toast "tivo export mode" -integer 1

Here's a link to an image that shows the extra modes that are enabled...

[signed] Bob Edelman

Terminal is an application stored in the Applications folder on the Mac. It allows you to type in commands directly to the UNIX system hidden within Mac OS X. The command

defaults write com.roxio.Toast "tivo export mode" -integer 1

changes the "tivo export mode" of Toast to a mode which allows TiVo exports in many video formats besides those intended for handheld devices. One of these (hooray!) is H.264.

When you use the H.264 export format, apparently TT keeps the original resolution of the original TV program (double hooray!).

More later ...

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