• Repurposing a TiVo Series 2, Part 1: The dilemna

    TiVo Series 2

    We used to love our TiVo, loved it so much that I thought we would never NOT have a TiVo. But then we got a nice Samsung HD TV with DLNA capabilities and we soon fell out of love with our faithful little TiVo. Although you can, you just don't want to watch a standard-def TiVo on a hi-def TV. I looked in to a new HD TiVo, but at $599 with lifetime service for even the cheapest box, I couldn't convince myself it was worth it. I found I could stream almost any network TV show from PlayOn to the TV via DLNA, although the rewind and fast forward capabilities are missing. The nail in the coffin was Comcast shutting off their analog channels, making the TiVo useless. This 2-part Repurposing a TiVo Series 2 will explore options and conclude with I ultimately did with our TiVo Series2.

    My first thought in repurposing the TiVo was that the TiVo is basically a little computer. It has a motherboard, a hard drive, a power supply, and it runs a proprietary Linux. The easiest thing, I thought, would be to install a different image and be off and running as an HTPC with an open source media server and some sort of Squeezebox client. I can't say I need an HTPC as PlayOn and our Vortexbox work so well via DLNA streaming, but why not experiment? Surely there would be sites covering how to do that right? Wrong... I found a MIPS Debian image for the TiVo, but also found that the hardware was proprietary and I'd have to write my own drivers, that would never happen. The more I researched, the more I found fanboy responses such as, "Don't cheat TiVo, TiVo can only be used for TiVo, etc." It was probably for the best anyway, the processing power of the TiVo is super weak and would have made for a very slow HTPC.

    Out with the old, in with the new

    As I looked around more, this instructable caught my eye. Gut the TiVo and install new, modern hardware in to it for a solid performing HTPC. Obviously this doesn't have the "cheap" factor to it like just installing a new image, but I figured with reusing some parts and smart shopping I could have an HTPC good for the long haul, and it wouldn't look as dorky as having a computer sitting beside my TV.

    TiVo guts

    It turns out the only really reusable part in the TiVo is the hard drive and maybe the case fan. I had hoped to reuse the power supply, but it connected to the motherboard with a funky ribbon cable design and I deemed it too much trouble to mess with when new power supplies were affordable. Using the instructable as a guide, I first looked at some old laptops I had sitting around with dead IDE controllers. I thought I could move the laptop internals to the TiVo shell, boot off a Live USB and be off and running. During proof of concept I couldn't find any Linux Squeezebox clients that worked as well as I hoped, so I scrapped that option. Next I started looking online for screen damaged laptops, but felt a feeling of impending doom after looking on ebay for a few hours. I felt if I was going to go through the trouble to gut the TiVo and fabricate new parts in to it, I can just as well pick out what I want, and what I wanted included an HDMI connection.

    ASRock E350M1/USB3 motherboard

    NewEgg to the rescue

    I decided I would go with an AMD E-350 motherboard/CPU combo for this build for several reasons. Included HDMI was big, low power usage was another factor, and my general cheapness of not having to buy a separate motherboard and processor was the last one. I had initially settled on the Foxconn AHD1S-K motherboard for its fanless design, but then it went unavailable on NewEgg. I next narrowed it down to either the ASRock E350M1/USB3 or the GIGABYTE GA-E350N-USB3 boards. I ultimately decided to go with the ASRock as there were a few too many reviews with heat problems on the Gigabyte board, which was something I really needed to be conscious of when using the TiVo case. For power supply I would go with the same small Habey power supply as was included in the Habey EMC-600S case, which I used for my low power home server. And then just a couple of cables, memory, and an SATA to IDE adapter (to reuse the TiVo's adequate 300GB IDE drive) and I would be set.

    My tentative build list was as follows:
    • TiVo Series2 case - FREE!
    • 300GB IDE hard drive from the TiVo - FREE!
    • Case fan - FREE!
    • ASRock E350M1/USB3 motherboard/cpu combo - $109.99
    • G.SKILL 4GB memory modules x 2 - $39.98 total
    • SIIG SC-SA0112-S1 SATA-to-IDE adapter - $20.99
    • Habey HB-LR1007-60W power supply - $15.99
    • Habey PW-12V402 power supply adapter - $19.99
    • standoffs and screws from MicroCenter - $6
    • HDMI cable and 3.5mm to RCA cable - $12

    All in all about $220. More than I initially wanted to spend when I was looking for a zero dollar OS install, but should be pretty future-proof and more than adequate to run Boxee and Squeezeplay on a 64-bit version of Windows7. In Part 2 of the Repurposing a TiVo Series2 article I'll walk through the actual build and fabrication of the HTPC in to what was once a TiVo box.