What many people don't realize is that over the air broadcast TV is all digital and in many cases the picture quality is actually higher than cable! I'd like to walk you through my method for using your Mac as a DVR and recording your favorite shows.
First a little history: When the FCC & ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) switched the television signals to all digital in 2009 your old analog TV wouldn't work. The trade-off however was a very clear digital HD signal that makes for crystal clear HD television. In order to watch an over-the-air (OTA) TV show you will need to buy an HD TV tuner that works with your Mac.
Companies like Elgato, Hauppauge & SiliconDust all make TV tuner boxes that can be used by a Mac to record broadcast TV and some of the boxes can also record Digital Cable. Since we are cord-cutters here I'm going to save us some money and concentrate on OTA (Over the Air) TV tuners only.
The tuner I have is a SiliconDust HDHomeRun. I found it on a steal of a deal from Woot so make sure to look around if you decide to buy one. It's a two-tuner Ethernet attached version so once you have it connected to your home network you can access it from any computer in the house. Because it has two built in tuners you can watch TV on one channel and record a second at the same time.
You will need to have an antenna attached to get the best signal so your next move will be to head over to Amazon or your favorite online retailer and grab some bunny ears.
OK, maybe not bunny ears. For great reception pick up one of these flat wall antennas that work very well in most urban areas. Once mounted, you hardly notice it's there. That's all the hardware you need to get things started. Now on to software.
To access the tuner and record you shows you will need some software that works on your Mac. There are free versions that sort of work but for me, Elgato's EyeTV is the best solution. It will cost you some money (currently $80) but it's worth the investment. It's easy to use, and like most Apple products, it just works.
What's even better is that there's also an iOS companion application that lets you watch live TV on your iPhone, iPad or iPod. Nice!
Once you download and load the Mac application you will need to setup & configure your tuner. First up is scanning the airwaves in your area and figuring out which channels you can receive. After the scan you can choose which of those channels you want to display and which you would rather hide. Since some channels are foreign language, of no interest or duplicates just uncheck the boxes for the channel you want to hide.
Now comes the fun part, recording a show. From the built in program guide select the show you want to record. The application will automatically start at a predetermined time before the show starts and start recording. EyeTV has a lot of features so make sure to set your preferences to the way you want it to work. Things like Sound, TV Buffer Size, Display, Export PreSets, Sharing & Parental Controls are all available in preferences.
Once the show is recorded the first thing I want to do is use the software and edit out the commercials. It makes the show much more fun to watch and it saves on disk space. Just select your show from the recordings and choose "edit" from the drop down menu.
A window with you show will appear and all you need to do is insert a marker and set the tabs to the start and end of each commercial.
When you are finished editing select "Compact" from the "Gear Menu" in the lower right corner. This will permanently remove the selected sections of your show so make sure your edits are correct before you proceed! Now your HD show is ready to watch! If you want, you can use an application like HandBrake to export your show and load it on iTunes.
Being a cable cutter can save you money, a lot of money but you still need to invest a little if you want to record your favorite over-the-air TV show. But if you are willing to do the work it's easy to do and makes for a commercial free way to watch your shows when YOU want to watch them. Let me know how it goes in the comments.