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Supersize Your Set-Top Box


There comes a time in the life of every dedicated couch potato when you run out of TiVo (TIVO). Or ReplayTV. Or whatever your brand of PVR (personal video recorder), those set-top boxes that let you pause and rewind live TV and that automatically record and store your favorites, letting you watch them whenever you want.

For me, it happened earlier this year. My three-year-old Sony (SNE) TiVo box hit its max -- some 30-or-so hours of TV programs and movies -- and started deleting the older stuff before I had gotten around to watching it. (It's worse if you have young children, who want to save their favorite shows forever.) The options are costly: Replace your box with a more capacious, expensive model, or buy a second one and give the first to the kids. Either way, you'll also have to pony up for a new subscription, usually $13 a month or $299 for the life of the box.

Or you can do what I did: Supersize it. TiVo and its ilk are not much more than a little computer with a big hard drive, and there are instructions on the Internet for replacing that disk drive with an even bigger one. A good place to start your research is tivocommunity.com.

The easiest solution for most people is to buy an upgrade kit. It's a new hard drive or two with the PVR software already loaded, and all the cables, brackets, and tools you need to install it. I got mine from WeaKnees.com. It cost me $159, little more than the price of another low-end TiVo, but it nearly quadrupled my storage space, to 105 hours. Such Internet retailers as DigitalRecorder.com, PTVupgrade.com, and tvrevo.com sell similar kits.

BREAKING THE SEAL

O.K., so i had to open up my TiVo. The biggest hurdle was breaking the seal that voids the warranty but, heck, that expired two years ago. After that, it took me 35 minutes from start to finish, not bad for a novice. For about $50 extra, plus shipping, you can send your PVR to the companies, and they'll do the work for you. But, even with overnight shipping, that's two or three days, and who wants to give up their TiVo for that long?

If you're a die-hard do-it-yourselfer, you may want to tackle the job without a kit. But if you have a newer PVR, by the time you buy the necessary hardware and tools -- the two special screwdrivers you'll need are $6 each -- you'll only save about $50. Tip: Most PVR and kit manufacturers use QuickView drives from Maxtor, which are quieter than hard drives in used PCs.

Someday, I may be sorry I didn't spend more. WeaKnees has kits with two hard drives for up to $329 that will give you more than 300 hours of space. But, for now at least, my souped-up TiVo has given me the means to build a vast library of must-see TV. Not to mention a new respect from my techie friends.

By Larry Armstrong


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