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How to expand the hard drive capacity of your Direct TV satellite receiver or cable box for only $399
In a previous article, we wrote a story about using your existing cable box or satellite DVR to create a flexible and cost-effective high-definition movie server. We received a tremendous amount of feedback on that article and many of our readers indicated that method of viewing would work best for them, particularly as compared to paid third party solutions such as Apple TV or Vudu (read previous article for full details).
In this article, we’d like to expand on the concept and show you how to give your Direct TV satellite box a huge storage capacity boost by pairing it with a specialized external hard drive. By choosing just the right add-on storage solution you will be able to create a super high-capacity television and movie server that can triple or even quadruple the storage capacity of your original cable or satellite box.
Before we get started, let's clarify a few technology issues. All cable and satellite boxes use internal hard drives to store things you record. The storage capacity (or in plain terms, how much space there is to record) of a given box is determined entirely by its manufacturer. Usually, the default (or “built-in”) storage capacity of satellite and cable boxes hovers in the 160 to 250 gigabyte range. This amount of space may seem large, but since high-definition broadcasts require a significant amount of storage, drives in this capacity range fill up quickly, especially if you use the box as a movie server or use it to record entire series of television programs. A few high-definition movies or full seasons of popular programs such as American Idol, Survivor, or CSI could surely put a big dent in your hard drive’s storage space!
When your drive is full, you have two options: don’t record or delete some of your recorded programs. In fact, most boxes will automatically start deleting your "oldest" content as the drive becomes full. You can imagine the frustration you or your family might feel if you lost the season finale of Grays Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, or your favorite edge-of-your-seat drama. Even worse, what if your favorite high-definition baseball game or play-off game was missing? Or what if you simply want some storage space for your programs because your spouse and kids have filled up 90% of your hard drive? At some point you will be faced with a compromise of what to keep and what to delete.
The best way to resolve this storage issue is to give your cable or satellite box a major boost in storage capacity. By pairing your DVR with just the right high-performance external hard drive you'll enjoy a dramatically increased recording ability. The upgrade process documented here was completed on the Direct TV HR20 satellite receiver but is compatible with other models. It has also successfully been completed on the Direct TV HR21, Direct TV HR22, and Direct TV HR23. Further, the upgrade is compatible with select cable boxes such as the Scientific Atlanta 8300 HD (only with a 1TB drive however, not being sold here). The exact process of upgrading the drive may vary slightly from box to box, but the concept is universal.
The goal for our upgrade is to provide an easy plug and play solution. We started out by testing three large one terabyte hard drives (1terabyte is about 3-4 times larger than the standard hard drives) from Western Digital, Seagate, and Apricorn. These hard drives all connected to our Direct TV HR20 through the eSATA connection on the rear of the Direct TV box. Unfortunately, we did not have much luck with the Western Digital and Seagate drives; both of them were not successfully recognized by the Direct TV boxes. After determining two of the three drives were not compatible with our upgrade, we realized choosing the right drive was critical to the expansion. As the saying goes the third time is the charm, and our third hard drive attempt connected flawlessly and allowed our upgrade to go smoothly.
Here is the process we followed to upgrade the Direct TV HR20 (also works with HR21, HR22, and HR23):
IMPORTANT NOTE: Once the external hard drive is properly connected all of the previously existing recordings and To Do List items are reset. You will need to re-establish all of your recordings. (It should be pointed out that if this process is followed in reverse and the external hard drive is removed from the setup the old recordings and old To Do List items will still be on the internal hard drive).
Now that we had a properly installed massive hard drive we wanted to see just how much real world recording we could do. We immediately went into the guide, filtered out the high-definition channels, and started recording. Since we are planning to illustrate what a great high-definition movie server this box can be we focused on recording HD movies off of HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, etc. We also recorded several 'normal' programs such as sporting events, cooking shows, and some popular TV series.
TIP: To take full advantage of your high-definition TV and DVR you should record as much high-definition programming as possible (as opposed to analog or standard definition programs). Direct TV provides an easy way for you to filter out and show only the high-definition programs in the guide. If you press the guide button once you will see your standard channel guide, if you press the guide button again you will see a menu called "Filter The Guide". The last selection in the Filter Guide is "HDTV Channels". Select this and your guide will now only display high-definition channels.
TV Recording Tip: The new high-capacity hard drive is also perfect for recording weekly TV programming. In fact, you could set-up the DVR to record the entire season of either your favorite program or a new series. Once the entire season had been captured you could watch the individual episodes at your leisure. One of the major advantages of recording in this fashion is if you get really into a program you could watch multiple episodes in one sitting (or within few days) without having to wait an entire week for a new episode. And of course you will always be able to skip through the commercials.
After about a week and a half of recording (with the older 1TB model) we had amassed a collection over 65 high-definition movies and shows totaling over 120 hours of HD footage – and the hard drive was only 68 percent full! Our new high-definition movie library included some major blockbuster titles such as Shrek The Third, Night At The Museum, Evan Almighty, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Ratatouille, Spider Man 3, and Transformers. We even had classic and all time favorite movies such as Titanic, Hairspray, Truman Show, 300, Austin Powers, Mission Impossible 3, Bridge To Terabithia, The Patriot, Gladiator, and The Mummy.
Since our initial testing the 1TB drive has been doubled to 2TBs! This gives you even more storage for more movies. I currently have over 100 high-definition movies on hard drive with plenty of room to spare. It is estimated the 2TB drive will record up to 250 hours of high-definition programming.
TIP: Families with children know how often kids get a movie stuck in their head and they will watch it over and over again, day after day. This high-capacity movie server is a perfect solution as you will have plenty of space to record your kids favorite programs.
In addition to our enormous recording capacity, we noticed that the hard drive worked exactly like the standard internal hard drive. We experienced no speed or latency issues.
Recommendations and Conclusions
We found that expanding our DVR’s recording capacity to create a massive movie and TV server is an easy process. However, to do so, it is absolutely critical the right hard drive is chosen for the job. We found out first hand that the expansion is not as easy as just picking a random external hard drive. As with most things in life choosing the right tool is critical for the job.
Remember, just because you have a 3DTV does not mean you have to wear glasses. The majority of your TV viewing will still be glasses-free in stunning 2D. View 3D as a special event for the big game, special program, or family movie night. For those special occasions make sure you have enough glasses for the group as everyone will need a pair. For the best experience go with the largest TV possible. The enhanced depth of a 3D television can make a good size TV seem smaller. Your best bet is to go with a 55" television or larger.
For More Information or to Purchase - Only $399
You may purchase the 2TB Direct TV hard drive expansion kit by clicking here. The upgrade is sold for $399 and comes with a one years manufacturers warranty. The kit comes complete with drive, stand, eSata cable, and power cord. Alternatively, you may order by phone by calling 714-630-8100 and speaking with either Steve or Dave Hartfelder.