How-To: Revive your TiVo

Will O'Brien
W. O'Brien|08.15.06

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Will O'Brien
August 15th, 2006
In this article: directivo, features, how-to, tivo
How-To: Revive your TiVo

It's no secret: we love our DirecTiVo. But last week a power outage mysteriously took out one of our poor, beloved time shifting friends. After the carnage, the poor critter powered up and displayed the Green Screen of Death. In today's How-To we'll grab some junk out of the closet and rebuild our TiVo -- maybe, just maybe this could help if you too have a dead or dying TiVo in your home.

For today's How-To you'll need:
  • DirecTV Series 2 TiVo (aka DirecTiVo)
  • PC with CD burner, optional hard drive
  • #10 and or #15 Torx screwdrivers (you can even find Torx drivers at Wal-Mart now)
The first step in restoring our dead TiVo is to acquire a backup copy of the TiVo software. TiVo isn't very fond of people who host copies of their operating system online, but it can usually be found on various file sharing sites. If that's not your bag, you can buy a CD with the system you need from a few vendors online. (Like the Instantcake CD from PTVupgrade) In our case, we dug through our huge, freakish pile of CDs and found our original system backup. Hard drive selection is another issue. Series 2 TiVo's are less picky than their older brothers. We used a spare Western Digital 80GB drive for ours. (Which is the same as the original one in our TiVo anyway.)

To open up the TiVo, grab your Torx drivers and remove the screws from the rear. Once they're off, just slide the case back a little bit and you can lift it off. The power supply inside is exposed, so don't touch it. Even when it's unplugged, some of the capacitors can hold enough charge to hurt you (or melt a screwdriver).

Carefully unplug the power and IDE cables from the TiVo - Watch out for the white ribbon cable that connects to the front panel. You can seriously damage the TiVo if you power it up with that cable disconnected.

Remove the pair of torx screws that hold down the drive bracket. They're in between the drive and the front of the Tivo. When they're removed the drive and bracket easily lift back and away from TiVo.

Download a mfstools boot CD image from sourceforge. Burn the image with your favorite burning software.

Crack open your work PC and disconnect the hard drive. You'll need the CD/DVD drive to boot from and restore the system. Connect your future TiVo drive to the cables you disconnected from the hard drive.

Insert your mfstools boot CD and boot the machine using it. During the boot process, you'll get a prompt. Just hit enter.
Once it's booted, we want to make sure that we know which drive is which. Type in the following commands and hit enter after each.
cat /proc/ide/hda/model
cat /proc/ide/hdc/model
If the string that's returned by the command spits out something describing your drive, you've found it. The drive is indicated by the hda or hdc. If neither looks right, try replacing hda with hdb and hdd. If hda is your drive, then it'll be /dev/hda for later on. Now, note where your CD drive is. Our TiVo hard drive is /dev/hda and our CD drive is /dev/hdc.

Eject the CD you booted from and put in the disk with the backup copy of the TiVo software. To mount the disk, run the following command. (Be sure to adjust the command if your CD drive isn't hdc.)
mkdir /mnt/cdrom
mount /dev/hdc /mnt/cdrom
cd /mnt/cdrom

The command shell should be in the directory with your TiVo system backup. The ls command should have given you the directory listing.
To restore the drive on a Series2 TiVo like ours, do this:
mfsrestore -s 127 -bzpi tivo-backup.mfs /dev/hda
You may need to add an x to expand the backup to your drive, like this:
mfsrestore -s 127 -xbzpi tivo-backup.mfs /dev/hda
When you're done, shutdown the machine with the 'halt' command. (Don't worry if it says kernel panic, it's fine.) Turn the box off and unplug your TiVo drive. Install the drive on the bracket and put your TiVo back together.

TiVo lives! Now that you're not afraid of opening it up and you're interested in hacking your TiVo, go check out the dealdatabase forums. It takes a while to trudge through all the information there, but you can add some pretty sweet features to your TiVo with a little bit of work. But we'll save that for another week's How-To. Enjoy!
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