EyeTV and ScreenRecycler

Or how to make a single-display Mac Mini Media Center even better.

I have a Mac Mini that records all of my favourite programs (almost) automatically. It runs EyeTV (by default), and can play movies stored on either a local FireWire hard drive, or a LAN server (running OpenSolaris, and using ZFS, incidentally).

One annoying thing is that to set up a new smart playlist, or edit a movie, or do anything on the machine, whilst I can remote in and do stuff, this all displays on the TV.

However, using ScreenRecycler, it seems like I can trick the Mac Mini into thinking he (his name is jens!) has two monitors. Thus, with some swizzling, I can have the EyeTV full-screen display on the “real” monitor, and the desktop on the other one.

Doing this means that I can happily edit a movie (say, to remove advertisements), whilst the TV still displays the live TV (or being viewed video).

Run ScreenRecycler on the Media machine. You may need to restart if this is the first time you have run it, as it installs some driver. I’m hoping it’s pretty safe…

After running ScreenRecycler when the system has the driver installed, I needed to run JollysFastVNC to get ScreenRecycler to give me a second display. I was using ARD (and still do), which when I then reconnected showed me the whole desktop, with a menu enabling me to choose which display (or both) to view. I chose to view both displays for now.

Picture 1.png

I then loaded up the Displays preference pane, and moved the menu bar to the ScreenRecycler display.

MoveMenubar.png

I made the ScreenRecycler display run in a higher resolution (1280x960, so that it fits nicely onto my external monitor on my laptop at full-size). I then went to the EyeTV preferences, and made sure the full-screen display went onto the “real” monitor. This apparently has the side effect that quicktime movies will also play on this monitor, so that’s quite good.

EyeTVFullscreen.png

Finally, I made new Live TV and Recording open in a new window. This enables me to edit a movie while Jaq is watching another. It does, however, mean that it is a little cumbersome to switch between tuners (need to view both monitors, and do some more swizzling), but it’s workable. It was always hard to switch tuners anyway, at least with the Apple Remote.

This makes for a fairly cool setup. I’m fiddling a little more before I buy ScreenRecycler (like, does it work better upon startup?), but it looks pretty promising.

Making EyeTV 1000x better.

One command:

defaults write com.elgato.eyetv “apple remote menu button behavior” -int 1

This made my day.

Don’t do what I did first, which was:

defaults write com.elgato.eyetv “apple remote menu button behaviour” -int 1

It still frustrates me that the world has chosen to LCD in spelling: colour and behaviour shouldn’t be spelled the USA way…

Update: this seems to cause a crash when starting Front Row. I’ve had to revert to the old behaviour. Poo.

EyeTV 3

Apparently, EyeTV 3 will be released today (Tuesday). I did read somewhere that this version will be a fully-fledged media centre, but maybe that’s just rumour and innuendo.

I hope not. I’d love it to access and display data from iTunes, since I’ve painstakingly put most of my pre-EyeTV (and saved-from-EyeTV) media into iTunes.

EyeTV and two tuners

I love my Mac Mini. It does almost everything I want. With the purchase of a second tuner, EyeTV actually becomes useful. Previously, when I tried to record two programs that adjoined one another, but were on different channels, then you were likely to miss the start of the second program, and/or the end of the first program. Even if you set some padding (I use -5/+15), because there was a single time where the transfer needs to take place, chances are you miss some TV.

So, with two tuners, the system flawlessly records two programs at once. Which means the pre/post padding is respected, as long as there is no clash with other scheduled recordings. It means you then need to edit (or just skip, if you plan on watching only, not keeping), but at least you get all of the material. Oh, and it takes up a bit more disk space.

But the hassle I discovered is that the USB subsystem seems to choke under the load, if you record a program and try to watch another. The picture and sound of the program you are watching becomes jumpy and broken.

I made the program smoother by putting the record buffer into RAM. (And making it much, much smaller).

Note that this is using a USB disk as the recording location, I’m hoping to get much better performance when I move the drive to a Firewire enclosure. However, I can record two programs without jumpiness, so it may be something to do with the Live TV Buffer and how it is handled.

I don’t use live buffering much anyway, so I may just live without.

EyeTV Settings of Interest

Still hacking away with EyeTV.

$ defaults read com.elgato.eyetv

Has some interesting values:

  • “use TenFoot UI” = 0;
  • volume = 1;
  • picture = { brightness = 128; contrast = 142; hue = 128; saturation = 128; };
  • “pip offset horizontal” = 0.08333333333333333;
  • “pip offset vertical” = 0.08333333333333333;
  • “pip rel height” = 0.25;

I’m guessing that the volume one might be useful, if you can make it louder than 1. As for the PIP settings, as I’ve found the window to be somewhat too large.

Media Centre Workflows

I have some tasks that I repeat lots on my Media Centre, and sometimes it is a bit trying. I’ll discuss a couple of them here, and perhaps discuss how I overcame them, or in later posts as I do.

Firstly, I’m currently using EyeTV to watch and record TV, and Front Row to watch stuff I already have.

Editing out the advertisements and fixing the start and end of a program is a little challenging at times. Because my Mac Mini is keyboardless, then I have to either use Synergy (or -alike) and use my laptop mouse/keyboard/trackpad, or go the whole hog and use VNC, or Screen Sharing as Leopard calls it.

It would be nice to be able to do the editing on a remote machine, but I can see how this would be challenging, since there is an awful amount of data that needs to be transferred. But perhaps not as much as is being transferred via VNC, anyway.

I’d also love to be able to run the application on my laptop for editing schedules. Basically, you have all of the functionality of the software, but the recording (and encoding, etc) is done on the remote machine. It would also allow me to schedule and so on without interrupting the display on the TV.

The biggest issue I am having is with transfer of data from torrents and EyeTV into iTunes. I’ve put in most of the pre-existing stuff I have, but there are a couple of issues. If I export to iTunes (AppleTV, I think it is called in EyeTV), then the data gets put into the iTunes library location. Which is bad, since that is on a small disk, whereas the library files are all on external, and much larger, disks. If I import a torrent file into iTunes, I need to do the following:

  • If the file is not a .mov or .mp4, then open the file in Quicktime and Save a Reference Movie. Which cannot be automated under the new quicktime, for some reason. Add this file that is created to iTunes.

  • Edit the file, and make sure the Video Type flag is set to the right type (Movie or TV Show). This could be automated, as could the TV Series, Season Number and so on. With a heap of files I had I did automate this, since I had meticulously renamed and located the files into a tree structure. Of course, I created throwaway scripts for this, since they were all slightly different for each programme.

I think I could automate the process a bit more if I export the files to mp4 files, rather than trying to make reference movies. Since I now have one of those Elgato Turbo 264 thingies, I might do that.

I think a few of the problems would be solved if I could make the Mac Mini think it had two monitors, and I could just ‘connect’ to one of those. That would then enable me to do stuff while the TV was still being watched. However, I have noticed some jumpiness when things are happening and you are trying to watch TV sometimes. I also need to get up on my roof and adjust my aerial to try to improve my reception of some channels.

Oh, and to allow me to record two programs at once, I’ve ordered another EyeTV for DTT stick. Handily, my amplifying splitter has three outputs, so that’s cool.

Finally, I’ve tried out a couple of alternative systems, MediaCentral, XHub and CenterStage. None of them really do what I want them to do. XHub gets close with it’s integration with EyeTV, but you can’t access EyeTV’s menus. What would be great was if EyeTV had the ability to access other media files (which it can, from the menubar, you can open movies!), or if it were better integrated with Front Row. MediaCentral got close there, with their other program, which was a fair bit crapper than EyeTV. Never mind that you can’t play HD tv through their software, at least in Australia, since we use AC3 audio, which it can’t handle.

Elgato EyeTV + IceTV

Loving DTT with my new Mac Mini and EyeTV. Loving being able to look at an online guide anywhere, and schedule a program, or even better, a whole series whenever any episodes of it play.

One problem with the EyeTV/IceTV integration.

Schedule a program on IceTV, and it gets propogated down to your EyeTV - naturally, since that is where it is recorded. But if you schedule a program on your EyeTV, it isn’t passed back up to the IceTV system. So you can’t see everything you have programmed while at home. Meaning that it is easy to accidentally schedule a clashing recording with something else. Meaning you might accidentally tape an episode of the Simpsons that finishes after Grand Designs has started. Meaning you miss the first 20 minutes of your partner’s favourite show.

Not the best way to be able to justify why you spend $1500 on equipment so she wouldn’t ever miss that show again…