From Topfield to DVD

A while back I bought a Topfield TF5800 PVR to allow me to watch and record Freeview digital TV channels. I’ve been very impressed with it, the picture quality on digital TV, and the Topfield in general, is excellent, the dual tuners very handy and it’s very easy to use.

One of the things that I looked out for was a USB port to allow me to transfer the recorded programmes off should I want to keep them. It’s a slow process, even over USB 2, but it works. Father Christmas brought me a DVD recorded so I was all set to transfer the files to disc, as the files I’d already transferred where taking up a lot of space and I the HDD in the Topfield was full. So began the odyssey of just how to get the programmes from the Topfield’s .rec file type into a format I could burn to disc. It turned out to be much tougher than it looked, but I think I’ve finally got the method down and so I’d thought I’d record it for my own purposes (not that I’m going to forget anytime soon, not with a truckload of programmes still to transfer) and to help anyone else, this may well work for other PVRs too, but you’ll have to test it. Basically, my requirements were: ease, speed and reliability. By that I mean it should be a simple process with as little tweaking and setting adjustment as possible, as quick as possible and produce usable results 95+% of the time.

  1. First off, you need to get the files off of the machine onto your computer, for this you need a standard USB cable and some software to download with, there are a few options:
  2. This next barrier is that the Topfield saves programmes in a .rec file type. This is actually an MPEG2 transport stream (.ts) file. Digital TV is generally broadcast in MPEG2, the same format as DVDs currently use, and most PVRs save it as a transport stream rather than a full .mpg file. A lot of video editing software will open these types of file, most DVD burning software, won’t. In order to make it usable I first demux the file (split it into video and audio), for this I use ProjectX on the PC and MPEG Streamclip on the Mac. You can certainly use ProjectX to edit out commercials, I’m not sure about MPEG Streamclip, but either way if you miss it you can edit the files later on if you need to.
  3. One thing I will point out is that if you’re using ProjectX you need to be aware of the audio streams, some channels add subtitle tracks that show up as audio and if you don’t remove them you end up with no sound. These are referred to as PIDs, you need to run a preview (Click Open under Process Window, then click the I button, then go back to the main screen) go to the settings tab (right-hand side) and double-click a PID to remove it. Typically audio PIDs run in sequence (e.g. 1, 2, 3) if you see one that jumps (e.g. 1, 2, 4), remove the one that doesn’t fit in the sequence (4 in the last example).
    You can convert into an MPEG2 file that will play through most media players (M2P) using both these applications too, but the method above has shown the best results for me.
  4. Once the file has been split, grab a copy of TMPGEnc DVD Author (I’ve not done this part on a Mac yet, but Sizzle has been recommended for creating DVD images ready for burning). Start a new project and click add file, then select the .m2v file you have just created, it will automatically pick up the audio. Go through the motions of creating a disc, adding chapters, etc, then burn the DVD (it will only allow you to burn to a folder on your HDD initially, but I would recommend this anyhow as it allows you to see if the movie is any good).
    You may find TMPGEnc will not open your file as the resolution is wrong (I’ve been finding this with ITV2/3 programmes). Use DVDPatcher to change the first header to indicate the proper size, add the file in TMPGEnc, then repatch it back to the original size and it should work no problem (ignore the huge amount of green down the right in the previews).
  5. Once this is done, open your favourite DVD player and point it at the directory you saved the DVD files to make sure they’re all okay, pay attention to the sound to make sure it’s still in sync all the way through.
  6. Now you can either use the inbuilt burning facilities of TMPGEnc or any other DVD burning software to burn it to a disc.

Once that’s done, you should have a perfectly working DVD.

There are other ways to accomplish this process, as described on the Toppy forums, but none of them have worked as quickly or reliably as the above. Nero Vision was looking good but I found that if I simply converted the files into .m2p format, both Nero and TMPGEnc would produce DVDs where the sound ran out of sync. This could probably be solved by disabling Nero’s smart transcoder, but the problem is that it then tries to recode the whole thing which took hours (average of 2.5 hrs, way too long). I also liked TMPGEnc’s add chapter function which means you can set it to add a chapter every x minutes, the auto chapter function in Nero and Easy Media Creator was useless, which meant putting chapters in by hand, a real bore.

Hopefully that’ll make the process of tranferring your files to DVD a little less painless and a little less hit-and-miss.

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