• Repurposing a TiVo Series 2, Part 2: The build

    UPDATE: After a few months in service, it was clear the AMD board and CPU were not cutting it. MicroCenter had a crazy sale on i7 2600K quad-core 3.4GHz processors, so I picked one of those up. I put it on an ASRock H67M-ITX board and added a 220W PSU, the latter requiring more fabrication on the TiVO case. This setup flew and was then used for the review of TVersity on SmallNetBuilder.

    In Part 1 of the Repurposing a TiVo Series 2 set of articles I walked through my plan of repurposing our TiVO Series2 as a home theater PC (HTPC). For those of you coming here on this page and not seeing Part 1, you're probably thinking, "but I just want to install Linux on my TiVo and use it that way". Give up on that thought. The TiVo hardware is proprietary (ie limited or no drivers) and CPU power is very low. I explored this route for quite sometime and eventually gave up. I eventually settled on gutting the TiVo, doing some fabrication to make it in to an HTPC, and then placing it inconspicuously in to our cabinet under the TV. What I found was that was easier said than done. Granted, I did do some things along the way that took a lot of time, but overall this was what I could describe as a moderately difficult project. Let's press on!

    Virgin TiVo case

    On the surface the TiVo is like a little mini computer. It has a power supply, it has a motherboard, it has a hard drive, and it has LEDs. That's about where the similarities end. Everything, and I mean, everything in the TiVo is proprietary, with the exception of the hard drive. All power connections are made by ribbon cable, except for the fan and hard drive, making it difficult to reuse things such as the power supply or even case LEDs. Soooo...

    TiVo entrails

    Quite obviously you have to gut the TiVo. You can leave the case fan and hard drive, but that's about it. You'll want to pull the hard drive while you work on the case, because you're not going to be gentle with it.

    New TiVo parts

    Here are the new parts going in to the case. I'll provide a build list at the end, but highlights consist of the ASRock E350M1 mini-ITX motherboard (with integrated, CPU, ATI Radeon 6310 graphics and HDMI port), Habey power supply, and an IDE-to-SATA adapter so I can reuse the 300GB hard drive. As measured by Kill A Watt, the TiVo was consuming about 21W on normal usage, I was hoping to stick around that figure.

    Cutouts for ITX motherboard

    I considered this to be the hardest part, marking the case for cutout. The TiVo standoffs are actually part of the case, pressed in to it. This helps with marking the location, but it will be a big pain later. You'll want to pay close attention to where the motherboard lines up in relation to the hard drive mount of the case as even a little mini-ITX board extends far enough back to conflict with it. I placed the motherboard in to the case, marked both sides as well as I could see on the outside, did a lot of measuring, and then added just a tiny bit of fudge room. I then fired up the power jig saw.

    Above is the mini-ITX backplate installed. The jig saw really tears apart the aluminum case and I had to do a little straightening once it was done. I then took a file to it and got rid of all the sharp edges. Once done it fit very nicely, the hardest part is over.

    TiVo case w/ switch

    The TiVo case has 3 standoffs which are pressed in to the case itself, these are a pain in the ass. You'll need to hammer those back down. Conventional wisdom says to start at the edges work your way around, allowing the metal to shrink back in to shape. In practice I started doing that and then just ended up doing some heavy whacks with a punch. If you're using the Habey power supply you'll also want to drill the hole and mount the plug. A switch also needs to be added so you can power it down and up. Any momentary, normally open switch from RadioShack should work. At this point you can carefully lay the motherboard and power supply in to place and mark the standoff locations, drilling and tapping them later. I chose to reuse the TiVo's plastic power supply standoffs for the Habey power supply.

    New components installed in TiVo case

    Once done, you can install the components in the case. The Habey power supply to motherboard harness is very short, so mount the power supply appropriately. You can also reuse the 70mm case fan if you don't mind it running at full-bore all the time due to its two-wire configuration, just cut the tab on one side of the connector so that it fits nicely on to one of the chassis fan connections on the motherboard.

    TiVo LED board

    I really wanted to reuse the TiVo LEDs. Following the traces I found that J11 was the common. J6 appeared to light the top LED which illuminates the TiVo icon on start, J7 did the left LED, and J8 did the right. Unfortunately it's not just a matter of connecting the connectors as, once again, TiVo uses a ribbon cable for connection. I attempted to solder the LED wire to the leads off of the ribbon connector but the connections are very fine and I didn't have the right soldering tip. It ultimately rendered the TiVo LED board unfunctional, which was a shame, but oh well.

    Before we go in to how well it performed, let's look at the final build list.

    So about $220.94 in hardware costs, if you need to buy a Windows license the total jumps to about $320.93.

    The plan was to use this to run Boxee to our Samsung TV. It would also be running SqueezePlay to pipe music to our downstairs stereo. LAN Speed Test Server would be an ancillary use. We already use PlayOn and the Vortexbox, so the TiVo repurpose really wasn't for using as a media server, but more as a YouTube/web content type of machine. To be honest, it seems to be a bit of overkill for those simple uses. On the Kill A Watt the new repurposed TiVo measured about 38W. Slightly more than I was hoping for, but reasonable considering the onboard ATI Radeon 6310 graphics adapter.

    LAN Speed Test for TiVo Repurpose

    The purpose of the TiVo rebuild wasn't file serving, but a quick test file transfer test showed it performing quite nicely. Writing to the repurposed TiVo from our quadcore box (both with Realtek NICs) via LAN Speed Test came in at 544Mbps (68MBps), whereas reading from it registered 821Mbps (102MBps). Not bad for a lower power machine. Video performance was as expected, which was good, and no problems with the HDMI port for either audio or video. I didn't have a chance to test any HD content, but I did stream some SD content from the Vortexbox with no problems. Internet content was fine, with a couple of the Boxee apps having to buffer, but that seemed related to their bandwidth vs the TiVo system. Overall I'm not all that impressed with Boxee after using PlayOn and our Vortexbox, the "Apps" portion seem to be the Boxee's biggest selling point, the rest just seems well, kind of blah.

    In the end, this was a very fun project to work on. Using power tools and fabricating parts is very rewarding. I am sort of suffering from builder's remorse however. The DLNA portion of our Samsung TV, when used in conjunction with PlayOn and Vortexbox, work so well that it has us spoiled. The addition of Boxee seems like an afterthought which is like a cool toy at first, but after awhile may just be discarded and not used. Only time will tell and I will continue to look for other functions for the repurposed TiVo Series2 in the meantime. MediaMall just gave me a license to review PlayLater, so it may have a new function after all.

    TiVo HTPC in the cabinet

    Here's the new TiVo HTPC in it's dusty old cabinet. Can you name some of the ancient home audio network devices in with it?

    UPDATE: I got this funny and somewhat clever response from TiVo.

    Hi Scott!
    Thank-you for contacting TiVo email support! We love hearing from our long time TiVo customers and at over seven years, you are certainly a dedicated fanatic! If you were not aware already, TiVo policy states that we do not support your unit once it is opened. Of course, since you have Product Lifetime Service, it sticks with that box for as long as it works! We understand that at some point with all technology, products go out of date and cannot be used quite the same way. That being said, as long as you understand our policy on your modifications, we're happy that you were able to find a new way to continue to use your TiVo!

    Just to let you know, while we're on the subject, if you were interested in getting another TiVo that is set up for all digital, you should consider getting a TiVo Premiere! It has the same basic recording features you know and love from your Series 2ST, plus access to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and a slick HD menu. It sounds like you were able to transform your Series 2ST to a pretty cool web content machine, but as you know, there's still nothing like a TiVo.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. BigTechie805's Avatar
      BigTechie805 -
      Hi, this is a cool idea, I have one of these lying around. What did you use to cut the metal? I have a jig saw, i'm not sure if that would work. Add some front USB ports and you got yourself a PC game console.
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