UK TiVo Upgrading

The TiVo, in my mind, is one of the best media inventions – basically ever. It’s been around for quite a number of years now, starting life as what’s now seen as a simple PVR (personal video recorder). The biggest selling point when it first launched was the ability to pause live TV, and when it launched in the UK it was decidedly ahead of it’s time – it launched at around £500, plus subscription, and people didn’t really understand what the point was.

The exclusive distributor in the UK was Sky – and of course they quite happily ripped off the product when Thomson decided to stop making it, in the form of Sky+. In the US, meanwhile, where there’s somewhat less of a TV monopoly, TiVo have continued to innovate. The software is available in standalone units for both standard and HD TV and also embedded in satellite and cable providers’ boxes as a premium option. It also now integrates with the (again US-only) Amazon Unbox movie download service, and can stream a variety of other sources of media from your own home network and assorted internet download sites.

So this takes me to the subject in hand. I bought one of the last TiVos from a store in London, an ex-demonstration unit. I absolutely loved it, and for a long time resisted the urge to swap my Sky and TiVo combination for a Sky+ unit – the functionality of the TiVo is so much better implemented, with a clean and easy to use interface that masks a wealth of functionality in comparison to the continual disappointment of Sky+. I’ve recently sold my TiVo for the ease of a one-box solution, however I kept a variety of links for the upgrades I’d made to my TiVo and thought it might be worthwhile listing them for someone to find via Google.

Hard Drive

The TiVo came with a 40Gb hard drive, which allows for around 20 hours or so of recording on ‘best quality’ mode. It’s a standard 3.5″ IDE hard drive, and the TiVo itself runs Linux, so it’s a relatively easy thing to do to add a new drive. You’ll need a PC with a CD/DVD drive, from which you boot an image CD that lets you modify the hard drives, and ideally a spare FAT-formatted drive for a backup. There are a variety of guides for this, but the best I’ve found are:

Steve Conrad’s Upgrade Diary – A UK TiVo user’s upgrade experience
MFSLive – The best download source for boot images and TiVo drive tools, as well as a (non-UK) upgrade guide
ljay’s guide – Another UK guide

An upgrade to a 300Gb drive (very cheap these days) will give you over 100 hours of recording space

Ultra-Mega-High-Quality recordings

Next up, now that you’ve got a whole heap of disk space you might want to improve the quality of the recordings. The TiVo has a number of recording modes – Basic/Medium, at 352×576 resolution, High at 480×576 and Best at 544×576 are the ‘normal’ ones available. There is also a hidden extra mode, mode 0, at 720×576. The easiest guide for doing this is again at Ljay’s site. This can cause the odd adverse effect – particularly some flickering lines at the bottom of your picture. The background to the Mode 0 upgrade is on the TiVo Community forum.

Web Upgrade

TiVo Central will sell you for under £70 a network and cache-card combined. The network card plugs into a slot on the motherboard of your TiVo and allows you to access it over your network… Moreover it allows you to avoid the nightly phone connection, instead downloading TV listings over the internet.

There’s an actively developed web server, which lets you remotely schedule recordings of TV. By means of port-forwarding, this means you can access your TiVo from anywhere and set, change or delete recordings or Season Passes. The web server is called, cunningly enough TiVoWebPlus – being an evolution of the TiVoWeb project.

TiVoWeb is pretty advanced – as well as setting recordings, you can also control the TiVo – remotely accessing all of the functionality of the TiVo’s menus and also getting at the innards. There are a vast array of scripts you can download, allowing you to receive daily emails (or RSS feeds) of the programmes that have been recorded or that are scheduled, or to add dynamic padding so shows are less likely clash whilst still ensuring you don’t miss the start or end of a show.

You can also update the channel logos seen on the TiVo – there are logo packs, and scripts for doing this.

There are scripts that allow you to validate the data in the channel guide and improve it, too.

Finally, for those with good TVs, there are scripts that allow you to modify the graphics for the TiVo’s on-screen menus to avoid flickering.

Hopefully this is useful to someone who’s recently acquired a TiVo and would like to play with it… At least to tide them over until one day TiVo comes back to the UK.