Making your TiVo HD and Zune / Xbox 360 play nice

A step by step guide to getting TiVo HD videos into a format that the Zune HD and Xbox 360 can deal with. I'm assuming you're using Windows for this, but Mac users should be able to follow more or less the same steps.

  1. Use TiVoToGo (TTG) to transfer the TV recording files to your computer from your TiVo HD. The files will be in ".tivo" format. ".tivo" files are encrypted, and cannot be played by other devices (and, I assume, other computers without your MAK).
  2. The next step is to decode the .tivo files. I've found that the TiVo Decoder GUI works well for this. The files that come out are labeled as MPEG-2 files, but be assured that these are NOT standard MPEG-2 files, and more resemble VOB files, as found on DVDs. Audio will either not work or be corrupted in most MPEG-2 players. However, we don't really want to leave these in MPEG-2 if we can help it, given that there are more inefficient ways of storing the video, namely, H.264 in an MPEG-4 container.
  3. Start Handbrake and select the "Regular Normal" profile. "Regular Normal" transcodes to an MPEG-4 container with H.264 video and stereo AAC (with DPL-II for preserving some surround effects). It would be better if we could use 6-channel AAC to preserve the full surround sound track, but Microsoft doesn't seem to support AAC-5.1 at this time.
  4. Some of your erstwhile MPEG-2 files might be in 1920x1080i. Handbrake will try to transcode them to 1080p. In my opinion, this is rather overkill given the quality of broadcast MPEG-2, and you also run the risk of having a final video file greater than 4GB for some two hour shows (which the Zune HD and Xbox 360 don't handle!). Instead, set the anamorphic setting under picture to "loose", and then adjust the height to 1280. This will produce nice 720p videos that are much smaller than the 1080p variants, with very little quality loss. Save the preset and name it whatever you want (I used "Xbox 360 / Zune HD 720p"). Note that for SD recordings (480p), you'll want to just use the "Regular Normal" preset to prevent needless upscaling.
  5. Queue up the files you want to encode, and start the encoding. H.264 encoding is an extremely CPU-intensive process, so this may take a while - I'd recommend doing it overnight.
  6. Test the files in the Zune software and on your Xbox 360, as applicable.