Tinkering with Tivo

Of course you love your TiVo. Here's how to love it 190 percent more, and then some.

Dept: Void Your Warranty

Tech: TiVo drive upgrade

Cost: $210

Time: 3 hours

DABBLER | | | | | MASTER

In the beginning there was TiVo, and TV addicts saw that it was good. Now, just 5 years later, digital video recorders (DVRs) are everywhere from your DVD player to your PC to your cable box. And while TiVo (and its longtime competitor ReplayTV) still charges a fee for its guide service, several of the new DVRs use free proprietary guides. In other words, TiVo's competition is thick.

But TiVo isn't just any DVR. Unlike its competitors, it's got a pathologically loyal customer base. (Googling the phrase "I love my TiVo" turns up thousands of testimonials.) And like Google before it, TiVo has seen its brand become a verb: We don't digitally record shows, we "TiVo" them.

Fueling this cult is the sheer hackability of the box. TiVo runs on Linux, an open-source OS loved by geeks because it's free of the commercial protections placed on systems like Windows. That means a TiVo's brain can be modified to make it do just about anything (see "More TiVo Hacks").

Although most of these hacks, including the hard drive upgrade demonstrated above, will void your warranty, TiVo doesn't mind the tinkering. The company sponsors an online hacking forum called TiVo Underground
(tivocommunity.com), and it pays attention to what posters want. Case in point: This fall it will introduce TiVoToGo, which will enable users to transfer recorded content to their PC, where they can burn it to a DVD or share it over their network--things hackers have been doing for years.

The easiest hacks are "backdoors," specific button combinations on your remote that enable features like an alphabetized personal playlist and a 30-second-skip button (find these codes and others at popsci.com/h20).

For more ambitious hacks, you'll have to transfer your TiVo's hard drive to your computer to modify its configuration files. Then you'll need a network and Telnet software to remotely control the TiVo from your PC. If all that sounds like fun to you, keep reading.

Web Scheduling: Go on vacation without TiVo'ing Alias? The TiVo Web Project lets you correct your blunder over the Web. tivo.lightn.org

Streaming Data:The TiVo Control Station displays streaming Web info, like stocks, scores, weather and eBay auctions, as overlays on your TV screen. zirakzigil.net/tivo/TCS

PC Archiving If you don't want to wait for (or pay for) TiVoToGo, the TyTool does basically the same thing: saves recorded TV as MPEG-2 files on your computer. tipster.stormrad.com/tivo/extraction.html

These are the Cliffs Notes for installing a second drive.

(1) Open your TiVo.

(2) Unplug the existing hard drive(QUOTE)s data and power cables and remove it.

(3) Plug the new hard drive into your computer, and use free open- source software to format it as a second TiVo hard drive. (Preformatted hard drives are available that allow you to skip this step.)

(4) Attach both drives to a special bracket.

(5) Insert into your TiVo and reassemble.