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Details from TiVo's Quarterly Conference Call

If you missed TiVo's quarterly con all today, you can get the reply via phone or web:

TiVo Third Quarter Fiscal Year 2005 Results
Host: Mike Ramsay, Chairman and CEO of TiVo
When: Monday, November 22, 2004; 2:00 PM PST
Replay dial-in: 888-203-1112; Password: 976927
Webcast link

Helpful commenter MegaZone posted his notes here and Thomas Hawk posted a review of the call on his site.

TiVo reported sales and membership numbers, but the real meat of the call were the details on new features and directions the company is heading. Here are the main points:

  • TiVo To Go is coming by the end of the year. That's great to hear and backs up beta tester info I've gotten recently. It's almost ready for prime time and will definitely come out in the next four weeks. My secret hope is TiVo drops the news tomorrow, to help spur on more holiday sales of the units, especially this big shopping Friday following Thanksgiving.
  • They're hot on the DVD burning TiVo. TiVo sold a bunch and feel it's different than anything else in the marketplace. While that sounds great for them, I'm not sure if it's a good long term solution for increased sales. I've always imagined my TiVo like a computer, which gets upgraded every two years, but I think of my DVD player as an object that only gets replaced when it breaks. When we're up to series 4 tivos that can levitate, the humax might not be looking so hot. Still, not many people have DVD burners, so maybe that's a great point at which to combine with TiVo and let them kill two birds with one stone.
  • They talked about a standalone HD Tivo. They liked that DirecTV couldn't keep the HD DirecTiVos on the shelves this year, despite the high price, and are thinking of releasing a standalone unit. Of course, not many people will be hip to it if it only records OTA signals, so they'll have to get the cablecard stuff working for Comcast customers.
  • Other stuff. They talked about delivering content via broadband, like the Netflix deal, since 80% of their userbase has broadband. I see mentions of the move towards advertising revenue, but not nearly as much as in the CEO's talk a couple weeks ago.

Overall, sounds like TiVo's working on a lot of cool stuff coming soon, with more on the horizon for them. [thanks Thomas and MegaZone]

November 22, 2004 in News, SuperTiVo Project | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Mounting a second drive in a TiVo using Weaknees' Twinbreeze kit

twinbreeze.jpg In the previous stage of the upgrade process I covered how to prepare a new 120Gb drive for a series 2 TiVo. I purposely left out the steps where you install the drive back into the TiVo, saving that process for this review.

The first TiVo I upgraded last year was a Directv comibnation tivo/satellite receiver, and it was designed to handle two hard drives (but shipped with one). Adding a drive to that machine was no problem, since it was already pre-drilled for the drive and there was even spare IDE cables and power connectors available. The series 1 and series 2 standalone TiVos require a special bracket however, making things a bit trickier (I don't know if series 2 directivos have the bracket for a second drive still).

There are other kits out there for adding a drive, but I decided to go all out, picking up Weaknees' TwinBreeze kit with the optional fans and PowerTrip. After checking out the options, it seemed to have the best fit and finish, and they offered additional things to help keep my upgraded TiVo running safely. I had heard some horror stories on the TiVo boards about kits that used velcro and adhesive to hold drives, and how they weren't very sturdy.

The kit runs a bit on the expensive side, at $58 for the full package with everything. You could conceivably buy just the $29 bracket and pick up your own cables at a place like Fry's or CompUSA, but I took the easy route. Cooling is always a problem when adding an additional drive to a small space, so the additional fan for the bracket is a nice addition along with the quieter replacement fan in their optional cooling kit. The PowerTrip is necessary if you are using a new series 2 box made by Tivo. TiVo decided to downgrade the power supplies to a very low 38 watts (the power supply in standard PCs is probably 200-300 watts), so the powertrip staggers the startup of the two hard drives, making the wattage hit a bit easier on the small capacity supply.

0_twinbreeze-kit.jpg The Weaknees Kit

The kit is straightforward with nice printed directions that feature photos, and you can download a full color pdf version of the same from their site. I installed the small bracket fan early so I didn't have to do it later when it was inside the TiVo.

The Install

The first order of business is to attach the two drives onto the bracket and is pretty simple to do. The only trick is making sure the new second drive is pointing in the right direction (I messed this up the first time around).

1_drives-mounted.jpg Two drives mounted

2_installing-drives.jpg Two mounted drives, from the bottom

Next, you attach the IDE cable to both drives, and feed the cable down the hole between them (which is right above the connection to the motherboard). This was easy to do, but complicated to explain in directions and I had to read it through a couple times to figure out what drive got which connector.

3_ide-cables.jpg IDE cable attached to the drives

Once that's all connected up, you need to get the power cables connected to the drives, with the PowerTrip connected between the cables and the motherboard. The bracket fan requires a connection as well, and I ended up with a bit of a rats nest of power cables.

4_bracket-installed.jpg All cables attached, including the PowerTrip

Next, the large plastic bracket slides neatly into the old hard drive bay using an ingenious design. The last step is to secure the bracket to the TiVo. With most series 2 machines, there are brackets on the side to make this easy, but on my personal TiVo (model 24004A), there are no brackets and a couple screws are required to form a bracket (the red arrows point to the bracket holes that do not have anywhere to screw into.

5_needed-brackets.jpg Non-existent brackets for the opposite side (arrows show where special screws will attach)

In the absence of brackets, two long screws are used with spacers, and they attach on the bottom side of the tivo.

6_screw-spacers.jpg Screws passed through, with spacers to hold them up

7_screwed-through.jpg shot from the side, showing small bolt on the bottom that tightens the screw

When the bracket is firmly in place, the drives are connected to IDE and power cables, you're done. The kit included a replacement fan for the factory fan, but unfortunately, my 24004A unit has a larger fan that the replacement doesn't fit.

8_install-complete.jpg Everything secured and complete


Once the bracket install is complete, the cover can go back on and you're ready to plug it back in and enjoy your new upgraded TiVo.

9_done.jpg The last screw

The Verdict

With the second drive in place (and set to run quiet per my earlier instructions), there was only a slight increase in noise from the additional fan and drive. As for temperature, I moved my TiVo off the floor, and onto a speaker cabinet with some short spacers to give it air flow from the bottom. Previously, the single drive stock tivo ran around 38 degrees Celsius. With the new setup it has been running right around 32 degrees Celsius for the past week, even during a heat wave (and sans air conditioning in my new home).

The kit is a tad expensive but is very sturdy, with everything firmly bolted in. It took about 20-30 minutes to install the drives onto the bracket and the bracket into the TiVo. The illustrated instructions were clear and complete, making it a painless process. I'm very happy with the purchase and with the second fan, the temps are running great, so I'm confident this TiVo will run smoothly for a long time.

Update: In a follow-up post, I covered the question of whether you should do this yourself or pay someone to do it.

July 28, 2003 in Product Reviews, SuperTiVo Project | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Preparing an upgrade drive for the TiVo

open tivo I decided up front to buy a 40Gb TiVo knowing that I could upgrade it myself cheaper than what TiVo sold the 80Gb model for (an extra $100). To start off, I browsed the forums looking for tips and found that adding an additional 120Gb drive would be pretty cheap and be pretty painless.

After reading a lot of forum posts, it seemed clear that most people say you should get a 5400rpm upgrade drive, because the extra speed of a 7200rpm drive isn't really necessary in a TiVo, and only contributes more noise and heat to the machine. While shopping around for cheap 120Gb drives online, I couldn't find anything in a slower 5400rpm setup so I just decided to go with a 7200rpm drive from Maxtor.

Oh, there are a couple issues on putting large drives into a TiVo. One is that the linux kernel used to only recognize drives up to 137Gb in size, ignoring any additional space, but with a bit more hacking it is possible to get around that. I wasn't going to use anything larger than a 120Gb drive so this wasn't an issue. The other big issue is the swap file in TiVo's version of linux. When you take a series 1 machine beyond 140Gb or a series 2 machine beyond 180Gb, if the box ever gets a GSOD (green screen of death -- a very rare major error), the required rebuild cannot properly complete because the swap file will be too small. There are ways around this, where you can increase the swap file to 127Mb reliably. Increasing to 128Mb or beyond seems to cause a lot of problems, but again, since my setup was only 120Gb + 40Gb I was in the clear.

I picked up a bare 120Gb 7200rpm Maxtor drive from newegg.com, a place I buy a lot of PC upgrade parts. It was only $98 at the time I purchased it, but may be less (or more) at the time of this writing. One thing about the maxtor that intrigued me was a quieting utility maxtor made called Amset. Amset lets you set your drive's speed to either ultra quiet at the expense of fast seek times to or still fast but only slightly quieter. It sounded like a great feature and everyone on the tivo boards raved about it so I decided to give it a go before I added it to my TiVo.

Small, tedious problems

I only have a newer PC running XP at home and knew that I couldn't boot the machine into XP with the new drive attached, as Win2k and XP add drive signatures that will harm the drive. The amset utility would only run in DOS so I went to bootdisk.com to find a simple win98 boot disk I could boot into and run the program. Unfortunately, my floppy drive is toast, which I found out only after searching for 30 minutes to find an old floppy in my house and finding it couldn't be recognized.

I thought I was sunk, but I noticed bootdisk.com linked to a pretty cool site with software written by a guy that has created bootable CDs that pop you into DOS just like a floppy. Eventually, I found a method to create a bootable ISO that you could also toss your own programs onto, so I burned a CD with DOS and amset. I unplugged my XP drive, popped the new drive in as the primary master, then used the DOS boot disk (ha! DOS boot!) to get a prompt and ran the utility successfully. All told it took me 90 minutes to figure all this stuff out and complete it to this point.

And now, the TiVo

startingtivo.jpg
The unsuspecting TiVo

I powered down my TiVo and gently removed the case, the power cables, and IDE cables from the drive, and then the drive itself. There are a couple things to watch out for when messing with your TiVo internals. One is that you should never touch anything near the power supply, as you can fry it and hurt yourself in the process. The other, and this is specific to series 2 Tivos, is to be careful with the white ribbon cable on the front of the motherboard, if you touch it, make sure it's properly seated before you ever turn the box back on, as that can also fry the whole system.

opentivo.jpg The open TiVo

opentivo-nodrive.jpg The original drive removed

The only thing left to do is run some software to prepare the new drive and marry it to the original one. I used the popular and super simple-to-use MFS 2.0 tools, which can be downloaded as a bootable ISO here. Once burned, I placed the TiVo drives into my computer as suggested, with the new drive jumpered as a slave drive on the primary controller, and the original drive kept as master (with slave present for my stock western digital) on the secondary IDE controller (I kept my XP hard drive unplugged).

drives-connected-pc.jpg
Drives connected to my PC

laptop-pc.jpg MFS Tools booting while reading the how-to

I loaded up the hinsdale how-to instructions on a separate laptop so I could read it, and booted the system up. I checked the boot sequence to see that indeed linux could see I had 120Gb and 40Gb drives attached (if it reported an incorrect size, there could be problems).

The how-to instructions are pretty complete, but entail making a backup and restoring your TiVo's original drive and writing that to a windows hard drive, but it requires a fat32 disk that I don't have handy. I decided to skip all the backup procedures, knowing that there are places online that people store and share their TiVo rom backups if I ever needed them someday (probably not -- didn't with the past TiVo's upgrade).

With that, I could skip all the way down to Step 10, and follow the first scenario, since I was adding a new B drive. I only had to run one command, typed exactly as shown in the tutorial. After a second or two, it was complete and reported a new size and approximate number of hours for the TiVo.

success.jpg Success!

This was surprisingly smooth, easy, and fast. I could upgrade another tivo in probably ten minutes start to finish. Previously I had done some upgrades on a DirecTivo that required copying the original drive to a new one, then adding in a second drive and that took the better part of a day to complete, but this couldn't have been smoother.

That's it! All that was left to do was plop the drives back into the TiVo and power it up. I'm going to hold off on the details of reassembly, saving that for the next stage of upgrade which includes a review of the Weaknees Twinbreeze package.

Update: In follow-up posts, I covered the install of the Twinbreeze package and the question of whether you should do this yourself or pay someone to do it.

July 23, 2003 in SuperTiVo Project | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

It's alive...alive!

188hrs.jpg
This is a shot from the output of my newly upgraded series 2 Tivo (project described here), after I added a new hard drive tonight. All told, it took a couple hours and I took many photos along the way and wrote a lot of notes, which I need to organize and clean up before posting the full report here. For now, my work is done and I'm off to set a few dozen new season passes.

July 22, 2003 in SuperTiVo Project | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Linksys WUSB11

wusb11

The Linksys WUSB11 is TiVo's suggested usb-to-802.11b adapter for the new series 2 TiVos. The TiVo store offers it for $64.95, though I got mine at Amazon for $49 with an additional $10 rebate.

My first thought was how amazingly small the unit was. I suppose it's basically just a PCI card combined with some usb circuitry, but from the pictures on the Amazon site, I assumed it was the size of a desktop PC. The photo to the right is the unit in the palm of my hand.

The signal strength was great, though my base station is only about 30 feet from the TiVo, with no obstructions (second story loft down to the first floor). It doesn't require a power adapter which is great (my outlets are already crowded with gadgets), drawing power from the usb connection. It plugged in, grabbed an IP, and has worked fine ever since. I think it's going to be one of those set-it-and-forget-it kinds of products (the kind I love — they don't require futzing around every so often).

The biggest and only drawback to this in regards to a TiVo is that you must have the 4.0 TiVo OS in order to use it (which requires a Series 2 box as well — Series 1 owners can use a slightly more hacky TiVo Airnet from 9thTee). If not, you'll run into the problem I had, where you'll have to use a phone-line (or usb-to-ethernet if you have the 3.2 OS) to force an update to the latest OS before it will function.

Once the setup was complete, the unit has worked flawlessly, it's small, fairly cheap (40 bucks after rebates), and I'll be getting updates every 30 minutes or so from TiVo, all without ever needing a phone line again.

July 20, 2003 in Product Reviews, SuperTiVo Project | Permalink | Comments (47) | TrackBack

First thoughts on Series 2 TiVos

34_button_remote_charcoal_picture.jpg

After some initial setbacks (had to take the box to a friend's house to use his phone line, which required 3 forced calls to pick up the 4.0 OS), the SuperTivo project is finally underway and I'm enjoying the new Series 2 features. In the past few hours of tinkering, here are some highlights and lowlights of the new system:

highlights

The new 34-button remote makes an already great tool even better. They've added a few new buttons, including a TV input button and info buttons, and a single remote can now power two different systems in a house.

My favorite new feature on the remote is the finer-grained "universal" remote control capabilities. In the past, the power/mute/volume buttons could be programmed to control the TV. The problem was, once I got a home theater system, I stopped using the TV's built in speakers altogether and those two buttons became useless on the Tivo remote. So that forced me to use two remotes at all times, one to turn on the TV and control tivo, the other to control the volume and system input. I wanted to get down to one remote and almost sprang for a whole Pronto system.

My prayers were answered with the new remote. I can have the tv power button work the power on my tv, but the mute and volume buttons work with my home theater setup. I can finally go down to one remote, and it even works with my home theater system that offered almost nothing in terms of codes for its universal remote.

Other things I noticed right away were the Now Showing list has sort options which enables you to make Groups (folders) to organize shows. That'll be great when I've got 50-100 things in the list.

Getting the Tivo onto my open, wireless network was fairly smooth, and updates after switching to the network were very quick and started happening automatically every 30 minutes or so.

lowlights

One problem I found after changing to a network setup: when repeating guided setup, the tivo box still tries to use a modem even though I'm successfully connected to a wireless network. I couldn't escape the guided setup's failed phone calls until I added the backdoor network dialing prefix. When your call fails, you have to change dialing prefix, telling it to use ,#401, or [pause] [enter] 4 0 1. Then it connected in seconds and finished setup. I shouldn't have to know how to complete this hack for a network-connected Tivo.

A couple hours ago, I purchased the Home Media Option for it, but so far forced connections haven't seemed to download and install the software yet (though the box is going through its first batch of network data, which warned me that it'd take 4-8 hours to complete first). When I've got the HMO running, I'll post a full review.

Next up for this project is adding in the second 120Gb hard drive and Weaknees Twinbreeze upgrade bracket and parts.

July 20, 2003 in SuperTiVo Project, TiVo | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack

How to setup a new TiVo without a phone

Since I moved recently, I went with a Vonage phone that works with my cable modem instead of opting for a standard landline from the local teleco. I knew going in that Vonage clearly states: "We do not currently support DirecTV and TiVo."

So instead, I checked around the TiVo Community and noticed a lot of people happy with their Linksys wusb11 wireless adapter. The problem I found tonight is one of the first steps in the guided setup requires a call to TiVo. All the TiVo docs about getting your machine on a LAN present screens from a fully functioning Tivo, and there didn't seem to be a way around it in the setup.

I decided to call customer service and get the secret backdoor to skipping the call. The customer service phone number listed on the TiVo site has turned into what my friend Merlin dubs "phone jail". You can't hit buttons, skip to a live person, or otherwise get around a slow talking robot that requires you to speak in order to issue commands. Eventually when the robot couldn't help me they gave out the real customer service number: (505) 348-2800. After talking to a human it was revealed that you can't setup a brand-new tivo without a landline. The reason he said, was that TiVo doesn't ship all new units with the 4.0 OS, and without it, LAN connectivity doesn't function. He said that hopefully in the next six months, setups without phonelines would be possible, but currently it was not.

July 16, 2003 in SuperTiVo Project, TiVo | Permalink | Comments (328) | TrackBack

I want to give you money TiVo

As much as I love TiVo, their website has been giving me fits. The first problem I encountered was ordering it. Despite entering in my contact information exactly like it was on my bank statements, the site refused to sell me one and kept giving me invalid home address errors. I spent an hour on the phone with their customer service, only to be told they got the same errors when they tried it. My bank meanwhile was giving approval codes and I got a call from them asking me if I really authorized the purchase of 10 TiVos. The problem was never resolved and I ended up ordering it after a recent move and update of my address with the bank.

Tonight I tried to activate the new series2 project TiVo, but I encountered error after error. I repeated my entries several times, attempting to figure it out. It appears at least for me, that I can't activate a TiVo and also order the Home Media Option or change the system name of my TiVo, even though those are options on the signup page. Worse yet, I get an unhelpful error (in red text, it says error, try back again later and then there is a long string of ascii that appears to be a hash of some sort). By skipping the Home Media $99 and keeping my cryptic name, I got through, though I guess I'll try to adding the Home Media option later.

TiVo, I want to give you my money, if you'd just let me do it.

July 16, 2003 in SuperTiVo Project, TiVo | Permalink | Comments (23)

The parts list

Here's a sampling of what is going into the project tivo:
Maxtor 120Gb hard drive
Weaknees TwinBreeze Complete upgrade kit with a PowerTrip
Linksys WUSB11 Wireless-B USB Network Adapter
Window kit + EL cable

This will yeild a 160hr TiVo for about the suggested retail cost of a 80Gb TiVo. It will be quieter than a standard TiVo, use less power, and look better in the process.

July 16, 2003 in SuperTiVo Project | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

And So It Begins...

2.0_new_boxshot_75.jpg

Using the deal mentioned in the previous post, I've just gotten my hands on a $199 bone stock 40Gb Series 2 TiVo, model number TCD24004A. This machine will the be basis for an ongoing project outlined here in text and images, tentitively called the SuperTiVo Project.

I'll be upgrading just about every aspect of the machine, and along the way I'll post how-to articles about installations and configurations, and reviews of products used in the box. I'll be starting with adding the TiVo to a wireless home network, then adding a 120Gb hard drive will take place. After that, internal upgrades (new fans and wiring) will be done. I'm planning to install packages such as tivoweb, and hopefully I'll be publishing information from this TiVo directly on this site.

July 16, 2003 in SuperTiVo Project | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack