5 Cool Hacks for Your Entertainment Gadgets

When you're serious about entertainment, you don't want to settle for the standard features. You want more storage, more options, and more convenience. But most consumer electronics come with built-in limitations that can prevent you from getting maximum use out of them.

We have some tricks for getting around such technology road blocks. These five hacks will let you take greater control over your entertainment experience. Not satisfied with the puny hard drive in your TiVo or Xbox 360? We'll tell you how to upgrade your device's storage on the cheap. Tired of sitting through commercials with your lousy Comcast cable box? We have the code that lets you skip right past them. We'll show you how to play DVD movies and iTunes purchases on any media player, too.

Add a Cheap External TiVo Hard Drive

Difficulty: Moderate; Time: 2 hours

Don't settle for your TiVo's small built-in hard drive. Add hours and hours of storage by hooking up an external drive, too.
When TiVo hard drives get full, they begin erasing old shows that you might still want to watch. To fight this problem, add an external hard drive. TiVo will sell you an external drive for the TiVo HD and TiVo Series3; but by doing it yourself, you can get twice the storage for the same cost.

Note: This hack will void your warranty, and since the hardware connects online, you will probably get a frowny face written on your account. But TiVo doesn't go out of its way to punish users who try this hack. The process is time-consuming but not too difficult.

If you have an unmodified TiVo Series3, all you have to do is connect an eSATA drive. Power off the TiVo, plug everything in, and power up the DVR and the drive. To enable the drive, simply go to the TiVo's Settings, Remote, CableCARD and Devices, External Storage menu.

Many TiVo HD hackers suggest that you buy an A/V-marketed drive, which is designed for video performance, constant use, and (often) quieter operation. These typically cost a little more than standard PC hard drives, so consider whether that premium offsets possible lost shows and the time you might have to expend in replacing the drive again should it eventually fail. (I decided to use a 500GB drive I had on hand that isn't marketed for A/V use.) You'll also need a 3.5-inch eSATA drive enclosure, preferably one with a built-in fan and a power switch that stays locked in the on position.

You'll need to remove the TiVo's stock drive to perform this upgrade. Reaching the screw located under the DVR's front bezel may require a flexible screwdriver extender.
First, turn off and unplug the TiVo HD. Use a Torx-10 screwdriver to remove the six screws on the back of the DVR's case, and remove the top cover. Always keep your fingers well away from the capacitors on the back left, near where the unit's power cord connects. These can carry a dangerous electrical charge, even when the TiVo is unplugged.

Disconnect the SATA data-and-power cable from the internal hard drive. With a Torx-10 screwdriver, remove the four screws that hold the drive cage to the case. (The screws near the front bezel are difficult to reach.) Lift the cage out of the box.

I recommend that you back up the original drive to another SATA drive. Connect both drives to a PC, and run WinMFS as an administrator by launching it with a right-click and choosing Run as administrator. Be sure to select the TiVo-formatted drive as 'A' and '1', and click Tools, Mfscopy. Select the destination drive in the following screen with the drop-down menu so that only Source A and Destination A are chosen. Be patient; the software takes about an hour to complete the backup process, and at times it may appear as though it has stalled or crashed.

Turn off your computer, and replace the old backup drive with your new SATA drive. Run WinMFS as an administrator again. After clicking File, Select Drive, choose the original drive as 'A'. The software will identify it as TiVo-formatted. Click the check box for the 'B' drive, and choose the new hard drive. Verify that its size matches your expectation. Click Select, and choose Tools, Mfsadd. Reinstall the original ('A') drive inside the TiVo, and then install the new ('B') drive in the external case.

With everything powered off, connect the external drive; afterward, turn on the TiVo and the drive. The TiVo should boot to its home screen after about 5 minutes. You'll have to keep the external drive powered up and connected from this point forward--if you remove it, you'll lose any new recordings made since the upgrade, just as you would with an official TiVo upgrade.

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