Using cTivo to Take TiVo Shows on the Road

When I travel, I like to take my TV shows with me. Probably the easiest thing to do is to buy TV shows from iTunes for $1.99 and sync them to the iPad. But, I have a TiVo with a number of season passes set to automatically record my favorite shows. So it seems a bit of a waste to spend money on shows I already have recorded digitally.

If you have one of the newer model TiVo Roamio’s, the functionality to stream TV shows is either built in or optionally added with a TiVo Stream. But if, like me, have an older TiVo you’ll have to use software to download, decrypt and re-encode the shows from your TiVo box. This is where cTivo comes in.

I learned about cTivo from Dave Hamilton at the Mac Geek Gab podcast (who incidentally will be our guest on MPU next week). cTiVo is a free Mac application to download shows from your TiVo (Premiere, HD, S3 or S2 devices) and convert them to many popular formats. To decrypt episodes, you’ll need your TiVo’s Media Access Key (MAK) which is available in your account information on or in your TiVo’s account information screen.

cTivo allows you to encode your downloaded episodes in a variety of formats for iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV. You can optionally have cTivo mark or edit out the commercials in your broadcasts. While this feature is still in Beta, I’ve found it does a pretty good job and will usually shave about 15 minutes off an hour long recording, saving you time and space. Once downloaded, shows can be automatically added to iTunes or saved to your location of choice. You can also create subscriptions to certain shows so whenever cTivo detects a new episode it will automatically download, encode and save it for you. I’m doing this with the current season of NCIS and archiving to my Drobo to watch later while I catch up on earlier seasons.

While traveling for Macworld/iWorld earlier this month, I loaded up my iPad with a couple of TV shows to watch on the 5 hour plane ride over. Unfortunately, between my mom and I, we exhausted all our shows and that left nothing to watch for the lengthy trip home. So, a couple days before we left San Francisco, I logged into my Mac mini back at home using Back to My Mac, popped open cTivo and started downloading a half dozen new shows that recorded that week and set them to save in a directory on my Transporter. Because saving the shows to my Transporter was done locally over my home’s Ethernet, the process didn’t take long. That night, I was able to use hotel Wi-Fi (which was surprisingly reasonable) to sync my home Transporter with my MacBook Air to retrieve the shows and transfer them to my iPad. I could have used other options for transfer such has Plex, or another cloud service, but the Transporter seemed ideally suited to this type task.

While this is no doubt a specialized setup, it’s worked well for me over the years. If you have a TiVo, especially an older model that doesn’t have built-in stream support, cTivo is worth checking out.