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Hacking TiVo: 23 Tips to Turbocharge Your DVR

Justin Ewing

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1. Convert your Recorded Shows to MPEG and then to a DVD

If you're a hardcore DVR user you've probably spent some time collecting missed episodes of your favorite shows. But pretty soon that hard drive fills up and you have to make a decision between missing new shows and dumping old ones. With a little hacking, however, you never have to dump shows again. Just convert those old shows to MPEG format and either store them on your computer or burn them onto DVD's. (TiVo Series 2 Only)

This hack is pretty simple to do, and just requires that you download DirectShow Dump (DSD) from http://prish.com/etivo/tbr.htm, and install it. Be sure to download version 0.1.1029.0 or newer. The tool will convert your TiVo recordings to unencrypted MPEG2 format. For more detailed instructions, read "Tin Man's" instruction page.

2. Increase the Recording Time for your TiVo

Everybody wants to be able to store more shows on their TiVo. The good news is, increasing your recording space is not as hard as you might think.

If you are new to TiVo hacking, and are looking for an easy DIY solution you should try Mfs Tools 2.0 (for series 1 and 2). This online video offers easy to understand guidelines that in 11 steps will take you from start to finish.

If you don't feel brave enough to do the upgrade yourself, you can just buy an upgrade kit after you have bought your DVR that will increase your recording capacity within minutes.

For those of you that are feeling a bit more adventurous and want to try some more creative hard drive upgrades, you can find some great step-by-step instructions that are specific to your particular type of TiVo here.

3. Add a second drive the cheap and quick way

The standard way to add a second hard drive to your TiVo (and increase your recording time) is to first create a backup of all your data and then to install the second drive. But if you're short on time and money, you can skip the whole backup process by using the program "mfsadd".

The "mfsadd" hack is a bit more complex than the standard hard drive upgrades discussed above, so I wouldn't recommend it if you haven't cracked open your TiVo before. But if you do decide to give this one a try, O'Reilly will give you some excellent step-by-step instructions.

4. Restore from backup

Hacking your TiVo is not without risks, and one of the biggest risks is the possibility of accidentally losing your recorded shows and data. But even if this does happen to you, don't panic, because your info may be recoverable through this little recovery hack.

5. Access your TiVo via the Web

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you had remote access to your TiVo via the net? TiVoWeb, one of the most popular programs in use among TiVo hackers, has been written by Josha Foust (a.k.a. Lightn of the AVS Underground). TiVoWeb allows you to access most of your TiVo's on-screen functions, as well as a host of additional functions that are not accessible via your TiVo's standard menus, through a Web browser. That means that if you forgot to record your favorite show before you left on vacation, you can now do it anywhere you can get web access.

If you aren't satisfied with TiVoWeb, you can try Tivo Web Plus, a download that will give you a whole new set of web interface innovations for your TiVo.

For those of you who want to get really serious about accessing your TiVo via the web, the ultimate plug-in is the Hackman which is an add on to both TiVoWeb and TiVoWebPlus that will let you turn your hacks on and off remotely or reboot your entire TiVo system via the web.

6. Transfer Files Back and Forth from the Unit to the PC

For those of you that like to watch shows and videos on both your TiVo and your laptop, it can be a real hassle that the two aren't compatible with one another. Thankfully, the GoToTiVo hack will allow you to transfer video files from your PC to your TiVo and back again.

The GoToTiVo hack, also known as TiVoBack, will also let you use your PC as a video library for your TiVo. That means you'll have unlimited space for ripped DVDs, archived TiVo content, home movies, etc. and you'll be able to use your PC to organize all those videos. If you are a Mac user, you'll need to use a slightly different hack, but the Mac hack isn't any more difficult to do, and with it you can still get the same Mac to TiVo transfer capabilities as PC users.

7. Download Files Directly to your TiVo

YouTube junkies: want to avoid the hassle of first downloading your videos on to your PC, and then transferring them to your TiVo? Steve Jenkins, in his TiVo Network Hack How-To Guide offers step-by-step instructions for first-time TiVo network hackers to be able to download directly to your TiVo (look at section 4.4).

This hack is one of the simplest to get working because it builds off of the http_get command, which is already a default feature on your TiVo. So you won't need to download anything new to get this feature, you will just need to access the hidden command.

8. Start Programs Automatically (like TiVOWeb) when TiVo boots up

If you've installed hacks like Caller ID or Web access to your TiVo, you will likely want them to start up automatically whenever your TiVo boots. Otherwise you will have to go through the hassle of starting up each hack individually every time you reboot.

Most hacks don't run automatically when TiVo boots because the commands needed to start them up aren't in your TiVo's standard startup files. So getting your hacks to automatically startup comes down to just transferring the hacks start up commands to your startup folder. For detailed instructions, see section 5 of Steve Jenkins' How-To guide.

9. Set up a static IP address for your TiVo

One of the problems with using a cable or DSL router for TiVo is that every time your TiVo reboots, the IP address changes – which means that you will have to search for the new IP address after every boot. This happens because your TiVo is set to get the information it needs about how to access your local network from what's called a DHCP server. In order to avoid the problems associated with a dynamic IP address, you can assign a static IP address to your TiVo. For detailed instructions, go through Jenkins' how-to guide, section 9.

10. Sort your Now Playing List in New Ways

How boring is it to have just a standard Now Playing list that does not let you customize! If you have TiVo OS 4.0 (found on the Series2 TiVo), then you can sort the Now Playing list in more ways than just the default reverse-chronological order. With this simple hack you can sort your Now Playing list by expiration date or in alphabetical order.

Some older TiVo's (OS 3.0) also have this capability built into it, and it just requires that you enter a very easy remote-control code in order to access the new sorting options. Before entering the remote control code, you will first need to open the TiVo back door, which allows you to perform remote-control hacks, but the whole process is simple even for those new to TiVo hacking. Detailed instructions have been provided by Raffi Krikorian.

11. The 30-Second Skip

If you're like me, you think it's unfair that you have to fast forward through commercials while the ReplayTV users jump over them entirely using the 30-second skip. Thankfully, a very simple hack will let you reassign one of your remote control buttons to become your own 30-second skip button. This hack is really simple, so even the newest TiVo user should be able to manage CNET's instructions, but if you are having problems with the hack you can also look at O'Reilly's guidelines.

12. Use Navigational Shortcuts

We all use shortcuts like Ctrl + V (paste) on our PC's to save some time and make navigating easier. You can quickly and easily get shortcuts for your remote control if you have a Series 1 TiVo.

13. Personalized Screen Configuration – Weather, Stock Quotes, and Sports Scores

Yes you could flip your DVR over to SportsCenter, the Weather Channel, or Bloomberg to get your fix of sports, weather, or stock quotes, but why if you can have all those on your screen at once without flipping channels.

A little hacking is all it takes to populate your TV screen with all this and more. This hack isn't for novices, but if you've done some DVR tweaking in the past, you won't find this one too daunting. You'll need newtext2osd, JPEGwriter, and the TiVo Control Station (TCS). Once you have those, it's a pretty simple step-by-step process to get what has to be one of the coolest hacks onto your TiVo.

14. Play downloaded Video Streams right from your TiVo over your home network

If you want to watch your TiVo recorded streams on your PC, but don't want to take up space on your PC's hard drive by first downloading the shows from your TiVo to your PC and then playing them, you can use the 'vserver' hack. This hack will let you stream your TiVo recordings directly from your TiVo and show them on your PC or entire network.

With these step by step instructions, anyone who has cracked open their TiVo before should be able to handle this one. So start streaming and save your local hard drive space for something else!

15. Caller ID on your TV

You're absorbed in the climax of a movie, and you're about to find out who the murderer is…then the phone rings. Sure, you could just pause the movie, but that would ruin all the suspense. And now with the 'elseed' hack, you won't need to pause ever again.

The 'elseed' hack allows you to view your Caller ID through your TiVo. So when someone calls in, you'll get to see who it is immediately without having to pause the show to get up and check who it is.

16. Rename Recordings

Want to shock your friends by including your name in the show title? Want your name to be included in the star cast of the movie? Krikorian comes up with a fun hack yet again, by letting you edit and personalize the title of a show, name of a particular episode, even the program description, to include your name (or any other).

The best part about this hack is that it is so easy to do, it's hardly even a "hack" at all. For those of you who even the least bit tech capable, you should definitely give this one a try.

17. Undelete Recordings

Panic strikes as you realize that you have just deleted an episode of Grey's Anatomy that your wife specifically told you not to touch. Before breaking into a cold sweat at the thought of sleeping on the couch all night, take a deep breath and relax!

Krikorian explains, "Deleting a television program puts the show into the TiVo equivalent of limbo; while not actually deleted immediately, the show is effectively deleted, since it is no longer visible on your Now Playing List. In actuality, the location on the hard drive where the show lives is simply marked as available for reclamation; at any moment, TiVo can overwrite it with a new recording. This leaves you a small window of opportunity to reclaim that soon-to-be-lost show you deleted just a few minutes ago."

18. Enable Advanced WishLists

Okay, so you're in a mood to watch a Bruce Willis action movie, but your wife wants something with her favorite actress in it, Julia Roberts. Rather than having to sort through every one of your recorded shows and try to remember who stars in them, an easy hack that will give you access to "Advanced WishList" will let you specify combinations of actors, titles, directors, etc. to find and record.

With Advanced WishList you are moving beyond specific shows that you already know you like, to having TiVo perform a search engine like function such that it is finding shows and movies that you will like based upon your past preferences. With these WishLists stored in the TiVo software, your TiVo will continue to look for matches and will record anything that fits your list criteria.

19. Are your Favorite Actors who you Think They Are?

Most people think they know who their favorite actors and directors are, but when you actually get statistics from your TiVo based on what shows and movies you actually watch, the results can be surprising.

This is one of the easiest and most fun hacks available as it only requires a special code to get up and running. And I can guarantee that you will find yourself checking your stats once a week to see who your favorite actors and directors really are.

20. Disabling the Live TV button

When it comes to children, you can never be too careful. And while it's easy on a standard DVR to restrict the recorded shows your children can watch, they can still quickly circumvent your efforts by using the Live TV button. That is, unless you disable the button with a quick hack.

21. Browse Flickr from your TiVo

Flickr has some of the most innovative photographs in the world, and with their search feature, you can quickly find a picture of almost anything through the site. This great hack by Developer Andrew Wallace will let you browse Flickr through your TiVo.

Think about all the great applications… you could pick a new picture to display on the TV every day to create an ever-changing mural in your home.

22. Getting Around DirecTiVo Limitations

While series 1 devices offer tons of hacking options, DirecTiVo owners don't have the same range of possibilities, since newer devices have been locked down by DirecTV. But, if you still want to get in on the hacking fun, all you have to do is get around the DirecTV limitations by doing a couple of extra hacks.

If those instructions leave you a bit confused, there are some great online accounts of Do-it-yourselfers who have hacked their own DirecTiVo systems. Check out a hacker's tale of how he accomplished a DirecTiVo hack, as well as Peter Gibbons' instructions on DirecTiVo hacking.

23. Delete TiVo Background Video

If you're in the middle of watching the big game but need to toggle some TiVo menu options, this hack is for you. The 'Menu Background Hack' allows you to get rid of the background that pops up on your screen every time you use the TiVo menu options. That way, you can still see whatever how you were watching in the background while you have the TiVo menu open.

These resources and tips should get you started with your own hacking project. Whether you have DirecTV, Dish Network, or a Stand-alone unit, hacking your DVR will make the whole experience a whole lot more fun. Happy Hacking!

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