stupid tivo.

So, my Tivo started freaking out, and in a weird way. Playback of already-recorded stuff was fine, but new recordings and live TV were stuttery (going black for 1 second every 6), and sometimes it would seem to momentarily forget that the crypto card was plugged in. Since this sounded a little more like a hardware problem than a bad drive, I took a chance and bought a new (used) DirecTivo of the same hardware vintage off eBay (it was only $60 including shipping, so what the hell). But, when I moved my old drive into the new box, it didn't boot. Just sits there at the "Tivo is powering up" screen forever.

Which leaves me with some options.

  1. Use the drive from the new tivo. This will probably work, but the downsides are: A) I lose all the old recordings I have not yet watched, B) it's a smaller drive, C) it doesn't have any of the hacks installed like the web server or the ability to talk to ethernet instead of a phone line.
  2. Get a new drive and re-hack the new tivo from scratch. Downsides: A) lose my old recordings, B) Doing this is hellaciously complicated. It took two of us days to figure it out last time. I'm really not looking forward to doing that again. Is there some dead-simple way to do this that involves only using a Mac, and does not involve lugging home and tearing apart some random PC, and does not involve digging through a dozen years-old, wrong, un-cross-referenced pages on that despicable "Deal Database" site?

  3. Cancel my DirecTV subscription and just torrent everything from now on. Downside: it's not very automatic. I liked being able to just give Tivo a list of program names and have the new, unwatched episodes just show up with no manual intervention or record-keeping on my part.

What are your recommendations here, oh Lazyweb?

Update: For the record, to move a drive from one Tivo to another of the same hardware vintage, you have to: A) pay DirecTV $20 for a new access card (you can't move them) and then B) run the 51killer.tcl script to tell the Tivo app that it's ok that the crypto key has changed (without this, it will give an error #51 every time it wants to record a program, even though crypto is turned off.)

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48 Responses:

  1. louiseroho says:

    Get a new drive and re-hack it.
    The old one is a door stop and the "new" one isn't big enough.

  2. krick says:

    Wow, I thought that DirectTV killed off all the DirectTiVos some time ago. I have one boxed up in my basement that a friend gave me and I thought it was just a giant doorstop. Who knew?

    • zonereyrie says:

      They never stopped working, they just stopped selling new ones. (The HD DirecTiVo can't record the new MPEG4 HD channels though.) TiVo & DirecTV have re-partnered and will be bringing new models out - but they've been pushed from late 2009 into 2010.

  3. mtbg says:

    Until I got a real job (and U-Verse service), I was all about option 3. Moreover, I had Azureus Vuze set up with the RSSFeed plugin, so new, unwatched episodes did in fact just show up. The per-show configuration was not as simple as just handing it a show name, but it wasn't a tremendous hassle either. Unfortunately, is pretty much down right now, but I'm sure there are other sites that serve the same purpose.

    • pavel_lishin says: and SABnzbd let you automatically download shows as well. The downside is that newzbin requires a subscription; the upside is that it's cheap.

      • says:

        You don't even need newzbin; sabnzbd has regular old RSS import functionality, for free.

        I feed mine, and then the config looks like this:

        Just plug in your shows and it repairs, unpacks, renames (based on your preferred naming convention), and moves to wherever you want it.

        Then watch via Boxee or XBMC or something else with a nice show browse menu and it's like a super-Tivo. The best part is that SABnzbd does all the retarded usenet stuff for you; all one has to do is type in the names of shows and then they'll magically show up after they air. (Or, depending on your time zone, BEFORE they air.)

        SABnzbd runs on every platform; good usenet service can be cheaper than Tivo fees.

        One of the cool perks is that you can add an 'Accept' rule like "History.Channel" with 'Reject' rules like "Hitler" and "UFO" to get non-annoying 'educational' content that you didn't even need the title of.

        SABnzbd/usenet changed my life. (Pathetic, but true.)

        • says:

          oh yeah: usenet is freakin' FAST. I get 30-min shows in about a minute and a half, and an hour program in 3 minutes. Not that that matters since everything automatically downloads without intervention from me.

  4. jcheshire says:

    I've used the torrent route in the past. Azureus (Mac version available) has a plugin that will read rss feeds and automatically download shows based on various filters you set. is a good source of said feeds snagging US and UK shows. Set it up, sit back and watch.

    • hadlock says:

      Yeah I was gonna say, Azureus + that RSS plugin + EZTV (their website is down, but their RSS feed, Twitter account (RSS'able) and Pirate Bay account (also RSS'able) are all active) will pretty much meet all your quality TV needs. Most downloads these days have 800-10,000 seeders, and come in at 400-800kb/s which is under 30 min for the download.

  5. artkiver says:

    Tv is a huge waste of time; tivo is a ruse making you think you're wasting time more efficiently. Ditch it all, torrents/nzb-powered-usenet works fine if you get a craving so that at least you won't be wasting money as well as time. I grabbed over a tb of tv shows from an excoworker if you need a head start; I find I never watch them unless horribly sick & can't move out of bed anyway.

    • jesus_x says:

      Thank you mister "I don't own a TV and if I did I'd only watch PBS". Your input is so valuable that I have decided not to store it in my head, as I do not wish muggers to try to carry off my brain.

      Guess what? People who toss out blanket statements like this are full-of-shit-snobs. There is some excellent programming on TV and your attitude means you're just missing it. TV is no more a waste of time than movies, books, radio, the internet, or your mom's sloppy vagina. All are enjoyed by millions of people, and people like you are just stuck up dweebs. Please take your holier than thous attitude and shove it in your retentive ass.

      Thank you.

      • pavel_lishin says:

        I like how his argument is "TV is a waste of time, but I watch a lot of TV."

        • hadlock says:

          I think the term you're looking for is "Vice". It IS a huge waste of time, but if you pull it down as a torrent and watch it without commercials, or an episode before or after, it's only 20 minutes of wasted time, instead of 3-4 hours of your day.

      • pozorvlak says:

        As another person-without-TV, I try hard not to be that guy. But people keep trying to talk to me about TV shows I could not possibly have watched (and in many cases wouldn't have watched even if I could).

        Yes, there's some good TV out there, and occasionally I miss being able to watch it. But overall, I think not having a TV is a net win.

        • ciphergoth says:

          jwz, I'm sure you'll let us know when to shut up about this.

          You only present arguments in favour of owning a TV in your comment, so I can only guess why you don't own one. However, for myself I largely hated TV right up until the point where I could pause it - I went through many years of using the TV only for watching DVDs, and converted to broadcast TV right after I got MythTV working. So if you ever have cause to reconsider your TV decision, try a PVR.

          • pavel_lishin says:

            An easy way to get out of a conversation about show X is to just say "Sorry, I don't watch show X", instead of "Sorry, I'm too good for television."

            I watch a few shows online, haven't plugged in a TV in a few months, but try to avoid mentioning that fact (obviously failed here in the comment, but this is like a meta-mention, making me merely a meta-snob.)

          • pozorvlak says:

            Thanks, I'll bear that in mind.

            There are basically two reasons I don't have a TV. An evening spent watching TV generally feels like an evening wasted to me, and I wanted to make it hard-to-impossible to do that. Of course, an evening spent surfing the Web isn't much better :-( The other reason is that I live in the UK, and, much though I admire the BBC, I didn't want to stump up £150 or whatever it is these days for the TV license fee.

        • lionsphil says:

          Unfortunately, "don't watch TV" is only a valid answer to "my TV-watching capability is broken" on Bugzilla.

          • pozorvlak says:

            True. So, um, in an attempt to answer the actual question, I'd suggest option (3): manual downloading is a mild pain, but as a side-effect you'll probably discover that most TV is actually quite missable.

    • vordark says:

      I didn't know the Amish were allowed to use the internet. Who knew!

    • jwz says:

      All of you people responding to my question by telling me how worthless television is are complete tools.

      The only reason I haven't banned you all already is because I'm currently enjoying you digging your own holes.

      • scullin says:

        Oh, and comics are for children, drinking rots your liver, and running a nightclub is injurious to the public welfare and morals, in case you thought we approved of your other recreations. You do crave our approval, don't you?

      • elusis says:

        When I think of you, I always think of someone who needs unsolicited advice.

        You know, some other guy.

      • lohphat says:

        Can't I just masturbate feverishly while *imagining* I'm watching TV like I always do?


  6. grahams says:

    My sinlaws DirectTivo died a few months ago.. I ended up ordering the "instantcake" iso from 9thtee:

    You can pick the right disc for your model tivo, boot it, and after a few prompts the new drive is filled with the proper image and good to go.

    The only thing I don't know about is whether or not you can do this on a Mac. It might work in VirtualBox or some such, but I still had a PC around the house when I did the hack back then, so I can't say for sure.

    • mattyj2001 says:

      I second this emotion. I haven't had a DirecTivo in a couple years but the tools from 9th were always good to me. I'm also not sure about how it'll run on a Mac but it's just imaging a hard drive so I'm guessing it'll work fine with VirtualBox or whatever it is you Mac people use for virtualization.


      Since you have to hook up an IDE drive anyway, I'd hook the dead one up to some sort of Linux pc or mac and try to fsck it. It's worth a shot. If it's just a few bad blocks here and there you may be able to salvage it long enough to watch your recorded shows, even if you can't mount it. There are also tools out there that should be able to rip the recorded streams off the hard drive and convert them to mpegs. Depends on how desperate you are to do that and how much work you want to put in it, but trying an fsck should be relatively painless and you'll know right away whether the shiz-net is really toast or not.

      In the event that you can salvage the old hard drive, I'd buy another one that's the same size, save an image of your semi-dead one:

      dd if=/dev/cdrom of=mytivo.iso

      Plug in the new drive and save the image to it:

      dd if=mytivo of=/dev/cdrom

      Then you won't have to go through all the hacking shenanigans with the 9th Tee disk (which, actually, is pretty simplified compared to doing them all by hand.) This works better if you watch your shows on the dead drive then delete them. Your image will be much smaller (I believe about a gig per hour of TV.) Be sure to back-up and save that iso so you'll have it for next time.


      PS Don't even bother with torrents. You're relying on basically illegal sites, seeds, rss feeds etc., which go down, then suddenly you have to find a new source, the Internet is broken, you want to watch a show now and not wait 20 minutes (or longer) while it downloads. It's all hacked together crap that is nothing like turning on the tv and watching it. You'll be sorry if you go this route, what with your low tolerance for bullshit. I have the same affliction. Why go through illegal torrents when 90% of what you want is already available for free through the networks' websites, Hula, etc. If it all came down to it, I bet if you canceled your DirecTV subscription and put that money toward buying shows off iTunes and getting what you could for free, it'd pretty much even out.

      I hate people that post 'solutions' that don't answer the original question, and I hate being *that* guy. But, you know, fuck bittorrent.

      • kaishaku says:

        I like how you try to explain to jwz how to use dd here.

        • mattyj2001 says:

          I prefer to spell things out as to not leave any ambiguity or guesswork. If you read JWZ's comments with any regularity you'd see that he prefers this, also.

          You can 'save an image of your hard drive' in a zillion different ways, with or without third-party software, with or without built-in Unix-like commands, and I wanted to be certain he'd know what I was talking about.

          If I even said 'use dd to save an image of your hard drive', I can just hear the flames coming from JWZ. Why would I assume he knows how to do this? Because he's a good programmer? Or at least a good programmer of screensavers?

          I'll accept the egg on my face if JWZ wrote dd, too.

  7. dossy says:

    When I hack my TiVo, I boot the MFS Live CD in VMware and connect the TiVo drive to my MacBook Pro using a USB-to-IDE cable.

  8. twiin says:

    If you use binaries/usenet (through newzbin) instead of torrents, you can create RSS feeds for whatever filtering criteria you want, and have it automatically downloaded by your usenet daemon of choice (sabnzbd+ is mine).

    Other advantages: No uploading, moderator approval to avoid mislabled files, and most usenet providers will max out your downstream.

  9. tithonium says:

    Back when I was still torrenting shows regularly, I had it pretty well automated. My mac pro was running azureus/vuze with the rss plugin (now built in) and the auto-remove plugin to remove items after they were shared to a specified ratio (usually 5:1, tho I played around with anything up to 20:1). Once they were removed, the files were moved to a 'completed' folder, where a perl script would look (via crontab) hourly for anything new. If it found anything, it would transcode it to be itunes compatible (if it wasn't, since that's where I watched most of it), then transfer it over to my mac mini, which is connected to the living room TV. These days showRSS will take care of making sure you get the episode torrents, and the commandline version of handbrake will do your transcoding, even mkv files (I used to use quicktime to transcode, but so many things started coming up mkv).

    If you decide to go that route, and want the perl script, I can provide. It should be pretty easy to adapt to your needs.

  10. giantlaser says:

    All of you are wrong. The answer is Miro, plus an RSS feed to torrents of shows you want, such as what ShowRSS provides. You don't even need to create an account if you just use the torrents of each show.

    This gives me the same functionality as Tivo - automatic downloading of shows as they appear from the dump groups. With no commercials, and nothing else.

  11. schmoomom says:

    Screw all that, get MythTV. And alt.multimedia.*

  12. allartburns says:

    When my drive started dying I was able to mount it on my linux box then build a new drive by just duplicating the partitions from the dying drive. There was also some futzing about with the boot blocks, but it was pretty simple.

  13. wtfwtf_ok says:

    Tivo and DirecTv are supposedly working on a new HD box, originally slated to come out this year, but now delayed.

    Doesn't help you now. I say option "1". A few years back I decided that it wasn't worth it to hack my personal devices and constantly have to maintain my hacks. This extends even as far as installing software on my mac. I don't want to download anything that needs configuring or installing, install anything that was downloaded or needs to be configured, or configure anything that was downloaded or installed. Friends say "use Adium", I say "but ichat is already there". I do install firefox though...

  14. danomite55 says:

    This is a great piece of software to automatically download shows. Keeps track of episodes, etc.

  15. amaranthyne says:

    personal assistant in India to torrent everything for you?

  16. jccd says:

    I ditched cable and my Tivo about 3 years ago and went fully to downloading off of Usenet. Get an account with Newzbin for about $20 per year for indexing. Setup HellaNZB (it's in MacPorts). HellaVCR gets you recurring recording. HellaHella gets you very convenient on demand downloads with a bookmarklet. Enjoy the selection of content from all over the world, not just the crap that DirectTV gives you.

  17. fantasygoat says:

    Mac Mini + TED + Transmission + XBMC

    In my opinion, the Tivo interface is 100 times better than XBMC, but watching all my shows commercial-free in 720p quality is worth it.

  18. disconn3ct says:

    If it was mine (and random aside, I have a couple of dtivo units sans drives that are gathering dust if you want them for the price of shipping from DC) I'd go with #2, almost. You can reduce 2a to zero by slightly increasing the mess in 2b - the "newer" scripts/tools (which some people have linked above) let you do stream backup/restore, so as part of rehacking you can restore all your recordings. (I wouldn't count on season passes, although if it had a reasonably modern tivoweb you probably have those backed up already.)

    If you want a quick and dirty way to see why it won't boot, slap a serial console onto it. But I'd bet that it won't go because the rom is still evil - might be able to save a lot of time by unlocking (and nothing else) with the new drive, then try again. (OTOH I'm not sure it is possible to simply move drives between units, even with encryption off and the flash defanged.)

    When I went from dtivo to s3, I just went with option 4 - extract all my streams, recompress the ones I wanted and dump them into the mythtv box. (Although these days its an xbmc box with torrentflux, and its pretty slick.)

  19. ffletch says:

    In the event that at least one of the things wrong is the hard drive, its definitely worth running Spinrite on the drive. You'll still have to take the drive out and tear apart a random PC but if there's something fixable on that hard drive, this thing will find and fix it. Oh and you'll have to drop $99 to pick up a copy. Not sure if that's worth it for you but its saved my bacon a bunch of times.

  20. zonereyrie says:

    The truly lazy solution? Pick up a pre-hacked drive and drop it into the box. DVRupgrade sells imaged drives - I believe they have hacked drives, if not you'd need PTVNet to make it easy. For less cash you can pick up a CD-ROM (or .iso of same) and image one yourself - I believe you'd need InstantCake and PTVNet.

    They CD's are Linux boot discs, I've used them on a PC but I'd think they could boot on an Intel Mac.

    I've had TiVo since 2002 and I've used InstantCake to recover an old unit with a failed drive. More recently, when I was feeling more lazy and had another unit get flaky, I picked up a ready-to-run 750GB drive to just drop in and be done with it. Both solutions worked great - these were older, non-DirecTV Series2 units. The DVrupgrade folks are good.