Gefen DVR Records HD via HDMI

Dave Zatz —  March 10, 2008 — 18 Comments

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We’ve discussed this unit a few times in the comments, and I finally managed to get my hands on the Gefen HD PVR ($999). It was announced last summer, and Gefen intended to ship prior to the end of 2007. I’m not actually sure if they made their target, but they’re definitely shipping now in 2008.

The first things you need to know are that Gefen doesn’t provide an EPG (that I could find) and there’s no network connectivity. Recording is initiated while viewing live content or via scheduling. No pausing of live television either. Really, this is nothing more than a glorified VCR. But where things get interesting is the advertised ability to record high definition content via HDMI. To the best of my knowledge, HDMI and HDCP licensing specifically prohibits recording… Which is why we haven’t seen any other devices like this.

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HTPC guru “AVeNVy” and I confirmed the Gefen DVR records (HBO via CableCARD!) from a Motorola HDCP set-top box over HDMI in 720p and 1080i. The unit has both an internal hard drive and a SD card reader. Until we dropped STB output to 480i, we couldn’t record onto my SD card. Therefore, it appears HD content is restricted to the unit’s hard drive. However, we removed four screws and voided the warranty to determine that recordings (H.264 MPEG-4) are unprotected on the DVR’s 2.5″ drive (and play fine in Windows).

What’s going on here… Licensing loophole, software bug, ignorance, arrogance, my own limited understanding? Hm.

Click on thumbnails for a larger view:

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18 responses to Gefen DVR Records HD via HDMI

  1. A few other things… For ~$1k I’d expect something larger than an 80GB drive. The drive has the typical folder structure you’d find using a digital camera and it appears that the DVR OS lives separately on flash memory. (We updated the firmware using my SD card.)

  2. Did you check to see if the content was protected?

    There should be a way in the Moto STB to verify the content should’ve been protected.

    The loophole may be in your provider’s network, not the Gefen box.

  3. No, we didn’t verify specific shows or channels were flagged or encrypted. However, we verified HDCP handshake (issues) via HDMI using this same Moto STB when attached to an HTPC. My guess is they think the “recording” limitation doesn’t apply because they’re not taking that HDMI signal bit for bit, but re-encoding on the fly.

    I sent some additional info to John Falcone of CNET – I’m hoping he can dig a little deeper than I can to find out what’s going on. Feel free to go for it as well – I emailed you a Gefen contact.

    PS Notice the HD DVD and Blu-ray logos on the box? Hmmm… We didn’t test HDMI recording from those sources, but perhaps we will.

  4. So the little box converts the digital HDMI signal to analog output, then re-encodes on the fly to a diginal signal? I guess that makes sense since your input would be mpeg2 and your save is in mp4.

  5. Shh…keep it down! You don’t want the media companies to find out about this and shut it down, do you?

  6. Dave,
    I’ve heard you can connect a USB device to move or copy recordings from the hard drive of this box because the resulting files are in fact unprotected. Does this sound correct?

    By the way, this is another good step in the right direction. I won’t be able to use this device because of cost and the fact I already have a more-than-capable HTPC, but I’m excited about this type of HD recording capability – sort of similar technology as the coming-soon Hauppauge HD-PVR device.

  7. Brent, you’d have to open the case and interface directly with the hard drive as the DVR doesn’t have USB (or network) ports. We repurposed a controller chip from a Maxtor travel drive to go IDE->USB and pull the files off. And yes, they were unprotected.

    By the way, it’s more than similar technology – it’s the same company. The Gefen DVR is using an Ambarella chip (see the pic above) like the upcoming Hauppauge device (and some high def video cameras). Though at least two other companies are producing mainstream chips for encoding HD on the fly, including the one we’re using at work in the upcoming Slingbox PRO HD.

  8. Now I may have some way to archive the HD stuff on my dying HR10-250. I wonder what restrictions the Hauppage device will have as far as DRM or other down-rezing? Or Dave can you comment on the features of the apparently similar features of Slingbox Pro HD?

  9. Gefen is like an enigma when it comes to PVR tech. I’ve been waiting patiently since CES 2007 for their pvr that supposedly was supposed to dump to USB (didn’t happen).

    A standalone PVR solution that isn’t source dependent (Tivo needs cable) is an important step, however Gefen (like most companies) gets it half right. No ethernet, no USB (although Newertech’s Drive Adapter might be an option. What’s the deal with 2 HDMI inputs (dual-tuner) and only HDMI out?

    Update:
    Google Checkout just charged my card for the PopcornHour

  10. Looks like Gefen is going to start encrypting the drives: http://www.news.com/8301-10784_3-9898065-7.html

    Gee, thanks Dave! ;-)

  11. $1000 for unencrypted re-encoded HD isn’t worth it in my opinion, anyhow… and for most content there’s a variety of ways to archive HD copies without cracking a case. (TiVoToGo, cablebox+firewire, Windows MCE, etc).

    They still haven’t explained how they’re compliant with HDCP which explicitly states NO recording (my main point) other than temporary buffer, though I spelled out my hunch above.

    By the way, it’s purely an academic question on my part. I say we toss HDCP entirely.

  12. I’d think they could record it, as long as the continued to control it afterwards.

  13. Ben, the license agreement is pretty clear…

    3.1 No Copies. A Presentation Device shall not make any copies of Decrypted HDCP Content for any purpose, except for such temporary buffers as are permitted under Section 3.2.

    and…

    Decrypted HDCP Content may be temporarily buffered in a Presentation Device to enable and perform the Presentation Function, image processing function (e.g., picture-in-picture display, image overlay, image enhancement and brightness adjustment) or “freeze frame” of a single frame of Audiovisual Content, provided that such buffer shall not persist for more time than is necessary to perform such function.

  14. I dont know…the price is pretty steep and it only record in 1080i. Is it worth it?

  15. Here is a device that can record component HD

  16. This device does provide image processing, not persisting for more time then necessary. It records HDCP content strictly for playback only on the same unit only. It is not recording HDCP content to exchangeable media such as a disk or videotape. That being said, it will take a source from S-Video, composite, component and two HDMI’s. Also works great recording a DVI signal. Extremely practical to record Final Cut Pro videos in HD prior to export for approval to management. Extremely practical in using the HDMI out of your consumer/pro-sumer HD camera (ex1, d90) for instant replay while avoiding compression. Same for SD cameras (betacam, dv etc) , except you can also export the source to USB / SD-CARD in that case. Combine with other products like Gefen HQV scaler and do on the fly HD upconversion. Split the signal to multiple devices with a Gefen HDMI splitter, or perhaps extend it via coax, or maybe even convert it to 3g-sdi for seamless computer capture via Gefen’s HDMI to 3g-sdi converter. Infact you could turn consumer cameras into professional quality via this method.

  17. Some great info here. I was actually looking for a device like this, not to record from dvds or tv, but, and don’t laugh too hard, to record game sessions from XBOX or PS3. A few friends and myself LOVE to record and then mix the sessions to music or even produce into something fun (ie – Red vs. Blue). Honestly though, not worth $1000. Hoping something like this comes out cheaper.

  18. I would like to see recorders come out with HDMI inputs sometime. Everything is starting to have HDMI outputs, and let’s not forget that some of us make our own recordings (videographers, filmmakers). Those of us wanting to dub our own recordings, or capture digitally from nicer cameras are still having to suffer with composite and svideo inputs.

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