Monday, August 18, 2008

Playing with the PVR

Since I won't be flying tonight. I decided to tinker with the PVR. A few weeks ago I bought a PVR Plus 9242 for our Bell TV (formerly ExprssVu) satellite TV system. That is a bit of a long story, but one of the reasons I wanted the 9242 was that Bell had announced they were going to roll out storage expansion for the PVR through external USB drives. Apparently around about August 7th they pushed out the firmware upgrade. So a rainy day is a good time to check it out.

The official way to get expanded storage capacity is to buy a LaCie 750GByte drive from Bell. The list price (as I write this) is $199.00, which isn't horrible, but Future Shop had a stack of them for $129.00 (also as I write this). I picked one up for the better half's computer, but I have disk drives and USB enclosures around my office so I decided to see if the system was Bell specific, LaCie specific or open.

Good news it is open. I used a 120GByte Seagate Barracuda IDE drive with a USB 2.0 adapter. Followed the instruction from the Bell site above, wait for the PVR to format the drive, reboot and hey presto I have an external hard drive. Archiving shows is straight forward if not blindingly fast. One hour of HD takes nearly 20 minutes to copy over. The system is fast enough to watch shows from the external drive, and I don't see any reason why one can't buy as many external drives as one's piggy bank will support to archive favorite shows.

Other bloggers have reported that plugging the drive into a PC once it has been formatted by the PVR will result in an automatic reformat of the drive. Since I have auto run disabled on my PC this did not happen when I connected my drive back to my PC. A quick check with PowerQuest tools shows two Linux EXT3 partitions one with about 1% of the capacity, the other with the remainder. Looking at the partitions with IFS Drive (a Windows EXT2 driver) shows the partitions unformatted, but PowerQuest indicates about 40MByte used on each, so either there is something non-standard, or it really was reformatted. Hmm, needs more investigation.

The really good news is you don't need to buy the external drive from Bell if you don't want to. The LaCie unit they specify should be a good one, but you may be able to get it cheaper at a big box store. Plug it in, format it, use it. It is really that simple.

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