Mac to TiVO: Instructions

I became sidetracked (as I often am) last night with learning a new trick I didn’t know I could do: uploading files to my ancient TiVO Version 2.  I know the newer ones support this, but I didn’t realize my older version did.  It seems to be a little bit of a hack, but it’s working, and now I’m watching Buckaroo Banzai on my TiVO from a file I had stored on my Mac for some time.  (Copyright note: I own the DVD for Buckaroo Banzai, as well as the laser disc, several VHS tapes, book, etc. etc. – I’ve paid plenty for the rights on this film for my personal consumption.)

My Mac is running 10.6.5.  I downloaded the TiVO Desktop tool, which allows sharing of photos and music from the Mac to TiVO devices.  But there’s a secret option – video sharing, as well!  If you hold the “Apple” key (aka: option key) down while opening up the Systems Preferences pane for TiVO Desktop, you’ll get an extra tab which says “Videos”.  It’s probably a good idea to use the default directory it puts there (~/Documents/TiVO Recordings)

I then downloaded ffmpegX for Mac to convert the .avi files I obtained into MPEG2 files that the TiVO can understand.

Drag the .avi (or whatever you have) file to the ffmpeg window, or select “Open…”


1) The “Save As…” filename MUST end in “.mpg” otherwise the TiVO desktop won’t see it.  There is apparently a cron job or something that the TiVO Desktop runs that scans the video folder you specify, and then the file is added to the video list.  A file called “” is created at the same time, which contains some meta-information about the file.  This sometimes takes 5-10 minutes to happen, so be patient before you run out to the TiVO to see if the file has appeared in your video directory.

2) Video window:  I set the codec to “MPEG2 [.MPG] (ffmpeg)” and then manually set the bitrate to 2500.  The maximum video size for the TiVO is 352×480 (found in this post that had some good information) so that is the maximum you can work with.  I set Autosize to 4:3, and framerate to NTSC FILM  for my experiments, and haven’t shifted them.  Now, here is where it gets tricky – many films you’ll get are in a different aspect ratio, and when you squash them into a TiVO non-HD screen size of 352×480, they’ll look weird and horizontally crushed.  Everything will be distorted.  So what I did is set a letterbox (see step 4) which was 60 on the top, and 60 on the bottom.  This means that I had 120 vertical lines of letterbox added to the frame.  ffmpegX doesn’t subtract letterbox from the frame size specified in this window – it adds it.  So I had to subtract the 120 lines from my vertical height, meaning that I specified the frame size as 352×360.  If you do NOT want to use a letterbox specify 352×480 here to get maximum frame size.  I found that 4:3 worked fine without letterboxing on some other videos I had which were not quite so wide.

3) Audio window: I set the codec to “.AC3 (Dolby Digital)”, at 128kbps, 48000 Hz, Stereo, CBR.  Audio track I left at 0.  I tried leaving this as “Passthrough” but that didn’t work.

4) Since Buckaroo Banzai is in wide aspect (a strange ratio – 2.14:1 at 720:336 – is this HD?) I chose to set a letterbox.  Now, the top and bottom letterbox black areas that I chose are not the “right” size to get this down to 2.14:1, but if I had made the boxes big enough to do that I think the viewable area would have been too small, horizontally, so I just chose 60 and that got rid of enough of the “crushing” effect for me to watch the movie without the video appearing overly scrunched on my non-HD TV.  (Sorry, I watch too little TV to buy a wide-screen or even a digital TV – I’m using a 1991 Trinitron, and it’s just fine.)

5) I specified “High Quality” on the Filters tab.  I have no idea what that does, but sure, why not!  High Quality.  Caviar and golden dishes for all my videos!

I didn’t mess with anything at all in the “Tools “tab.  I then pressed “Encode” and about 10 minutes later… voila!  I went to the “Now Showing” option on the TiVO, and at the bottom of the list of recorded programs there is now a new item with the name of my computer. Entering that menu, I find “Buckaroo Banzai” now in the list – I start the download, and I’m on my way!

Errors/Troubleshooting: I found that if the frame size was off, I would be able to view the video and see what was being displayed, but the video would be shifted off the screen, or would have horizontal lines through it or otherwise be mangled.  It seems that getting the frame size correct and within that 352×480 box is important.  I also noticed that when the TiVO is actively downloading, the video stutters a bit while you’re watching anything in playback mode – not terribly bad, but noticable.

Hint: you can modify the “” file  – it’s just a text file which will be fairly obvious.  It’s useful to put in the methods by which you encoded the files, so you can recall how you tweaked a certain recording in the future for experimentation.  Others have tried adding more data, but it doesn’t look possible easily.

Here’s what mine looks like:

Have fun with your antique TiVO!  I probably won’t be able to answer any questions for you, since I’m just guessing on all this stuff, myself.


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