09 July 2015

Adventures in Consumer Electronics, Part 2: We Can Rebuild It

The TiVo model I have came out in 2009, so there was a reasonable argument for upgrading to the newest model, which has four tuners (I can't imagine needing to record that many shows at the same time, but you might be recording two shows and still want to watch something else) and much more standard storage capacity. At the moment TiVo is selling that model starting at $200 for the device, plus you then have to purchase service for the device from TiVo (pretty clever business model), which costs $15 a month if you choose to pay for it monthly, $150 annually, or $500 for "product lifetime service" which covers the life of the device. There are also some current deals on refurbished products; you can get the basic model DVR (which is perfectly well feature-filled for most people) with the same one-year warranty as a new model for $50, and product lifetime service for $350.

$400 is still a chunk of money, and since I've only just gone back to work, I didn't want to have to spend that much if I didn't have to, so I decided to look into getting a new drive. A google search led me to Fix my TiVo, which has lots of troubleshooting information (sometimes the units can be revived) and links to companies that sell replacement hard drives. One of these sites has its hard drive replacement instructions online, and a look at those convinced me I could handle the swap. (For those who are not comfortable undertaking such projects, that company also offers replacement service: you box up your unit and ship it to them, and for an additional $50 they install the new drive for you and ship the unit back.)

I purchased a 1-terabyte drive (much more capacity than I had previously) and it arrived in two days via Priority Mail. A printed instruction sheet was included, along with the two Torx (hex-shape) wrenches needed to open the unit and remove the hard drive bracket. The whole process took me about half an hour total, and I was moving slowly to make sure I got it right and didn't damage anything in the process. There's no soldering required, because the wires attach to the drive via a small connector that snaps into the back.

The whole procedure was very easy, and required only the ability to follow directions, a modicum of dexterity (one of the screws is a bit tricky to get back into its hole), and enough common sense to avoid touching things that shouldn't be touched (the power supply). Total cost to me was less than $150. A smaller drive is available (500 gigabytes) though it's only $20 less, but if you're really trying to do the swap as cheaply as possible, that would be the way to go. Drives are also available for other TiVo models, and some of those cost slightly less.

The key thing to know about doing a TiVo hard drive swap is that it does not affect a device's product lifetime service status. When you reconnect the unit after replacing the drive, you have to go through the setup process as if you had a new device, but as far as TiVo is concerned it's the same unit you've had. So my revived TiVo is not their latest and greatest model, but it suits my needs, and if it lasts me another four or five years I will consider that a pretty good value. By then I'm hoping we won't need DVRs anymore; tomorrow I'll have a few more things to say about other TV-accessing devices and the state of TV services.

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