After graduating, I still followed the games and other events closely, which was quite easy in the LA area between local cable (Fox Sports West) and the LA Times . Once moving to Spain, however, it has been a much bigger challenge to catch games that are:
- Broadcast regionally only in the USA
- Scheduled in the evenings (California time .... 9 hours behind Spain)
The first 2 years I had used a Tivo connected to a Slingbox at my parents' house. It worked well enough but the quality was not great and the hard drive of the Tivo finally died this summer.
I now have a setup that is working quite well for the 2008-2009 season. I bought a Haupauge 1600 TV card for my parents' PC and installed Orb. Orb is a fantastic service that principally turns any computer into a powerful Slingbox with a built in PVR.
It is very easy to use and runs in the background. I schedule the recordings using the web interface here in Spain.
I just look up the channel and the time (I have the schedule setup as an RSS feed from Google Calendar to have it all on the same page) and I click record:
Once the game is scheduled, I just wait. Orb records video in dvr-ms format, which uses MPEG-2 video. Although, very high quality, MPEG-2 makes just way too big of files to download (average size of 1 game is 3.2GB!).
I could stream the games directly using Orb, but the PC at my parents house is not very powerful and the Internet connections are just too slow and far away between Spain and CA to maintain a stable streaming connection for 2 hours. Additionally, since I have 2 young children, it is rare that I ever get 2 whole hours to sit and watch something, let alone 2 times per week during the season.
So, generally I watch the games partially on my PC and partially on my Zune (when it is working ). To make the dvr-ms file, small enough to download (700MB) and is in a format able to be viewed on the Zune (WMV), I run a script to transcode the video using FFMPEG. It runs nightly and checks if a newly recorded video exists and if has not already converted that video, it quietly makes a copy in wmv.
I wake up morning following the game and initiate the download via Orb:
After the multiple hour download, I can start watching it on the PC or sync the game to my Zune to watch later.
This has worked so far after a lot of trial and error, especially with the file conversion (tried DVRMSToolbox and MCEBuddy before writing my own script with ffmpeg) and syncing. I am about 3/4 done watching the UCLA vs. USC game and will finish watching it later today.
Do not tell me who won please!
Hopefully, Orb will eventually be able to record directly to other formats like wmv or H.264 and soon I plan on changing my Zune for a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic.