damn you, tivo. damn you to hell.

So, a while ago (94 days ago, to be exact) I unplugged my DirecTivo from the phone line, since I decided that there was really no compelling reason to submit to tracking (anonymized though they claim it to be.) Since it's a DSS model, it gets its program listings from the satellite, so the only thing the phone line is used for is to deliver the keypress logs back to the mothership. (And, presumably, auto-downloading new software updates someday, which I'm not terribly interested in.)

After about a week, it started getting anxious, and once a night it would tell me "unable to make a call for N days! phone home! phone home!" I ignored it, and everything was fine for months. Until a few days ago, when all of the sudden, Tivo lost its little mind: navigating around in the "now playing" menu would take up to a minute for each click, and even the background animations were getting jerky. Recording and playback of video, and ffwd/rw within the video were working fine, but the menus were damned near unusable. I guess it filled up its log files and was swapping or something. I tried rebooting it, in the hopes that that would make it rotate its logs out, but no.

So finally I plugged the phone line in and let it phone home; that didn't fix it. But a second call followed by another reboot seems to have brought it back to life.

I find this terribly irritating: I had to let it phone home because there was no easy way for me to just go in there and delete the damned log file. It almost (almost) makes me want to crack the thing open and put an ethernet card in there, but I'm just not ready for that kind of pain. Also, if I broke it, I would be so very, very sad.

Update: Not fixed! Eek!

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26 Responses:

  1. cpratt says:

    I though that TiVo downloaded its program guide via the phone connection... or is the DirecTiVo different?

    • jwz says:

      Yes, DirecTivo does it different: DirecTivo uses the same satellite-based program data that standalone DirecTV units use.

      • icis_machine says:

        but tivo also does "service" updates.

        check out the system information screen and it should have the date of late update. i don't know what's in those updates but it does them rather regularly. quite frankly, my tivo is a flaky piece of crap (often it seems because of turbonet) but when it works, it works well.

        i hear the wireless net card works well.

        • dbaker says:

          From what I hear, the wifi adapters are a big kludge too and often require the case to be off in order for it to pick up a signal. That looks pretty tacky.

          • marm0t says:

            I use my standalone tivo with wifi and it was quite literally plug & play. i was thrilled.

            • dbaker says:


              So you just plugged it in and it was able to default to that for all communications, etc? Or did you have to login to it?

              Also, do you actually copy video off there or is it just used instead of a phone line?

              • marm0t says:

                Ayup. I plugged a USB wifi adapter into the USB port on the back of my TiVo Series 2 (I used the Linksys one they recommended on the TiVo website). It detected my network and said "is this what you want me to use" and I said yes and that was that. There was seriously nothing to it, not even logging in.

                You don't receive video from it, you just download the program guides, service updates and software updates as you would over the phone line. Only, without the phone line.

                I'm sure it also uploads a log of my activity, as <lj user="jwz"> indicates, but I'm not so bothered by that, since I'm finding it amusing that (if the TiVo suggestions are any indication), TiVo thinks I'm a black homosexual male. (I'm a straight white female.)

                • dbaker says:

                  Oh, series 2. That's a whole other ballgame and there is no directivo version.

                  • yekop says:

                    All the DirecTivos you buy these days are Series 2, actually. The Hughes HDVR2 (or some model number similar to that) is the one DirecTV will sell you if you buy one on their web site.

          • icis_machine says:

            well gee... you are hacking your tivo. from the forums i've been reading, i've heard few complaints above the install process.

            i have a series 1 and while i bought it ready-hacked the other stuff i've added has been easy and well documented.

        • I'm looking to buy a DirecTiVo. I don't even HAVE a POTS line. I have a cable modem and I was wondering if I can just buy an ethernet adapter. Also, I want to know if it's that hard. If you guys could make a suggestion to me and email me at kudkillioughta@hotmail.com. any help would be greatly appreciated. also, if you could suggest hardware. also, do you ever have to hook up to a POTS line? if so i can take it to my parents' house and hook it up for the initial download. please help.

  2. dbaker says:

    With a null modem cable and a little adapter, you can reboot it and login as root to delete the log file(s), but it's sort of more of a hassle than plugging it in.

    I was an early adopter (first day available) of the directivo. I moved a couple weeks ago and my directivo hasn't worked since I haven't setup the dish yet. I haven't really missed it, although my friends have been complaining a lot. A lot of them abuse me for tivo season passes and 5.1 surround sound.

  3. bitbucket says:

    DirectTV gets reports of what PPV movies you've watched, etc, through these phone calls, and uses the data for billing.

    • jwz says:

      Yeah but I never buy PPV.

      And presumably unplugging the phone line wouldn't be a way to avoid getting billed for these, because eventually the card would fill up.

    • dbaker says:

      Dial-in is not required for this.

      1) If you don't order PPV, it's not an issue.

      2) If you order less than $x (I think x=50), it can operate normally until you hit x and then you can't order any more ppv until it's cleared.

      3) You can order ppv over the telephone with directv and they can authorize your receiver and charge you for it without any manual dial-in.

      However, if you have multiple receivers and only one is plugged in, they sometimes get suspicious that your secondary receivers (that you're paying <$5/mo for) are at a friend's hosue or something and they might require that you connect them or they'll deactivate them. They use ANI to determine if all the receivers are located at the same residence/business.

    • neyrox says:

      i'm just looking for info on using this turbonet card. i only wanna open the d**ned case up one time ya know? fancy meeing you here bitbucket....

  4. mhagler says:

    Putting an ethernet card in the directivo is pretty easy... the most difficult part is wading through a bunch of crappy "web boards" and sifting the 2 or 3 useful articles out of millions and millions of idiots article's.

    It's also easy to get it to do PPP over it's serial port to your PC. The tivo's modem just dials into UUnet and downloads updates over the internet, so all of the moving parts are there, easy to play with.

    Even if you hose the tivo entirely, just plug it into the phone and let it sit overnight. It'll download a whole new image of its hard drive and install it, reboot, and presto, it works again.

  5. cryllius says:

    According to Tivo's "privacy policy" (PDF) in their service agreement, you can opt-out of letting them collect statistics from you.

    "If you subscribe to the TiVo Plus service and don't want your Anonymous Viewing Information and Diagnostic Information used in any way, simply tell us by writing to us or calling us at 1-877-367-8486."

    Later on in the document they also state how this applies to all Tivo units that you own -- makes it sound like either they tell your Tivos during the next phone call to completely stop recording info, or they at least tell them not to transmit it. Either way it sure sounds like this genuinely keeps it out of their hands.

    I've done it for my Tivo, called them up and it was all perfectly straightforward.

    • jwz says:

      I don't believe in privacy policies, I believe in air gaps.

      • netik says:

        I interviewed at TiVo, and they have a whole team of people sanitizing data before they use it; I was nearly part of that team, and it's good to see a company actually putting that much effort into keeping your data private.

        Now, with that said, I think there should be an option to disconnect entirely from their data and to stop uploading all data to them. It's not there, and it should be.

        If you want to nuke logs though, you can insert a cronjob to clear out logs, but TiVo claims if you nuke the logs, it'll break the device. Doubly lame.

      • cryllius says:

        I'm a lot more than casually skeptical of them, with some organizations moreso than others. However, I have cable TV and a standalone Tivo, so air gaps aren't an option whatsoever. And apparently they weren't an option for you -- you're sure to have just given them 3 months of "anonymous" data.

        At least I have reason to believe I'm not contributing to that data. Sure, it was at the cost of a phone call, which is not an entirely trivial amount of work. It's also a little more effective than checking a box on some settings page -- if they're lying to me, they had to do it in a service agreement AND one specific person had to do it (almost) to my face. I'll count that as entirely possible. But (personally) it's worth a try...

  6. zonereyrie says:

    That's odd - I've been active with TiVo for a while and I've seen many reports of people leaving DTiVos unplugged from the POTS line without it seizing up. It might have been something else in the FS that was solved with the repeated reboots. I guess you'll never know for sure unless this happens again.

    Personally I have two S2 units now, I sold my old S1. One of my units died a few weeks ago - the one I'd added a larger drive too, of course. I've been too busy to go in there and see if it is just a loose connection, or a dead drive - or something else. It just reboots over and over and over...

  7. waider says:

    I'm just hugely amused by the unix nature of the whole thing.

    "What's up with your VCR, dude?"
    "Oh, the logfiles are huge and it's swapping."