DirecTiVo Owners Have a Pretty Simple Upgrade Option to Get Series 2 Features

On Thanksgiving, my cousin Brian Lynch and I exchanged emails about our dilemma as owners of DirecTV Series 2 digital video recorders. Brian said:

My DirecTV Tivo has two USB ports in the back. The instruction book says the ports are for "future use". Do you think I can hook a USB cable from the Tivo to my computer and get movies & shows from Tivo to my computer? My laptop has a DVD burner... So that would be valuable to me.

He and I are in similar situations because I have a Philips DSR708 which was sold to me by DirecTV in July 2005. My response was:

... it's unlikely that {the USB} ports will ever work unless you hack the OS. DirecTV forked the OS before TiVo rolled out many Series 2 features.

I looked into this back in July when we moved to Newtown. Someone has done an unofficial kit to upgrade the DirecTiVo to Series 2 features, but I wasn't interested in doing that level of modifications at the time. We could look at it again now that DirecTV has {stopped selling} TiVo-based units.

I went back and reviewed the information available on the Internet, and found that PTVupgrade.com offers some upgrade kits that enable many Series 2 features. These upgrades are about as plug and play as you can get. You simply open up the enclosure following the instructions, install the replacement hard drive, reassemble the enclosure, attach a compatible wireless network adapter, and restart the DirecTiVo.

Matt Haughey of PVRblog reviewed the PTVnet DirecTiVo drive upgrades back in February 2005, and he was impressed. He includes screenshots of most of the new features that are enabled by the upgrade.

As good as this upgrade looks, it still voids your DVR's manufacturer's warranty, so make sure you understand that you are taking a risk before ordering an upgrade.

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I have a few remaining questions that I want to get answers to before fully recommending the PTVnet upgrades to Operation Gadget readers:

  1. Do the PTVnet upgrades fully support the TiVo Home Media Option? This would be a key feature for me, as I mentioned in TiVo Programs Coming to Your iPod or PSP.
  2. What happens to PTVnet-upgraded DVRs when a new TiVo OS feature is added or a bug is fixed?
  3. Do these units look for updates from PTVnet, from TiVo, or from DirecTV? If not, are future OS upgrades limited to whatever the owner hacks into the DVR using kernel patching techniques?

I'm going to contact PTVnet and see if I can get answers to these questions. I will update this story when I have more to report.

I also want to point out that some TiVo upgrade companies don't really address DirecTiVo feature upgrades. I'm speaking specifically of Weaknees.com, who states in their upgrade FAQ:

...these types of upgrades are not as user-friendly as adding capacity. Adding hours to a TiVo is a "do it and forget about it" experience. Adding RAM, ethernet or other types of enhancements can require Linux and networking experience that many of our customers do not have. These hacks requires a knowledge of home computer networking. As of now, we have decided not to offer that product line.

Weaknees believes that upgrades of this nature are not sufficiently plug and play for non-technical customers. I disagree with them at the moment, but I note that YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). If I decide to do a PTVnet upgrade myself, I will give a more definitive opinion on how user-friendly the upgrade process is.