FiOS just keeps getting better and better

Firewire card

This firewire card served me loyally since 2004, now it's time for him to meet the great OEM in the sky

That’s my firewire card. Or at least it was. It’s dead now. There’s a connection here between the title of this post and the image, which I’ll get to presently.

Apparently the FCC requires that television service providers offer consumers STBs with active IEEE 1394 ports. I just learned this recently when I was idly wondering whether or not it was possible to copy recorded programs from my Verizon DVR to an external storage device or the hard drive of my computer.

It turns out that you can’t. In the process of confirming that though I found out that Verizon STBs not only have an “active” firewire port but that you can actually capture live television programming by connecting the STB to any computer with a firewire port. You can also play a recorded program on the DVR and capture it as it plays to your computer via firewire.

It’s always been my default position, more or less, to view the FCC as fulfilling some sort of adversarial role with respect to the goals and ideals of the tech crowd, but this development may force me to modify my views. I really don’t understand what purpose such a law could serve other than making life easier for copyright infringers.

Hell, I bought my Hauppauge HD-PVR more or less to exploit its component connections to record whatever I wanted from broadcast TV. That was before I had a DVR though.

Which brings me to the next thing that I’m astounded at: you can record 5C encrypted programming on Verizon DVRs and play it back! Of course, you can’t play it or anything if you record it via firewire, but if you just want to play it back on your DVR then it actually works!

Not that I’m complaining, but that doesn’t make any sense. I figured that with a Verizon DVR you’d be able to record clear QAM channels only. But I can record anything it seems, even premium channels like HBO.

The ability to capture programs via firewire is great though, since I don’t have to spend money on a capture card this way. I don’t get degraded recordings this way either like I do when I resort to using my HD-PVR. The firewire recordings are the actual MPEG transport streams themselves, so you get the untouched video, audio and even closed captions. This is nice for both pirates and honest people like me. Pirates can give the TS to their encoder friends who then share the file. Honest folks like me also benefit though because I can encode the file however the hell I want. I can do a low CRF x264 encode for archival purposes if I don’t care about storage space, I can do an SD XviD encode to play on my hardware player, I can make an iPod or PSP version of the recording, author a Blu-ray disc, video DVD, etc…

One complaint that I have about the firewire recording though is that some of the HD local channels are 5C encrypted even though they’re not supposed to be. For example, CBS HD is 5C encrypted and cannot be played back if recorded via firewire. CBS SD though is not. It’s mildly irritating since I kinda thought that this was illegal. The only HD channels that it seems one can record via firewire and actually play back are NBC, Fox, ABC, 9 (the one that used to be UPN) and 11. Possibly PBS too, I can’t remember. Ultimately it makes the utility of this discovery somewhat limited, but it’s still pretty far out that it was the government that mandated it.

Anyway, as soon as I found this out I started getting cryptic BSODs here and there when starting D-VHS, the program people seem to use for firewire captures. After getting such a BSOD my PC wouldn’t turn back on for quite some time, about thirty minutes to an hour. No beeps, no BIOS splash screen, nothing at all. After leaving the PSU switch off or unplugging the computer for some time it would eventually come back alive and function normally as though nothing had happened.

After a few days of successfully making firewire captures (with progressively more BSODs) I came to the realization that it was my firewire card that was causing the problem. I could use the PC for hours without a BSOD as long as I didn’t open D-VHS. Once I did I was certain to get a BSOD. So I removed the firewire card and now the PC works fine again. I don’t know what the hell happened. I always thought that a PC component either worked or it didn’t work, not that it may sometimes work and other times prevent your PC from turning on at all.

This all happened within a few days of my discovery of the “active” firewire port on the STB. I feel ripped off. As soon as I discover something great that the government has done for me, some unrelated technical issue prevents me from actually taking advantage of the FCC’s goodwill.

I’m now eagerly awaiting my new firewire card to arrive in the mail. In the meantime though I can still record onto my old iBook G4 using some programs included in the Apple Firewire SDK.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *