Your hard drive will die. But what if it’s in your PVR?

Ahh, there I was, having got back and already set the Sky+ to record the first episode of the new series of Six Feet Under on E4 while I slept off jet lag. Truly, the Sky+ (PVR to the rest of y’all) is fabulous.

Until, that is, you try to use the Live Pause facility the next day, and you get a message saying “System Fault. Call 08705 800800”. Worse, when you go over to the “Planner” section of the Sky+ menu, where all the programs you recorded are shown, it says “You have no recorded programs. Press ‘Back Up’ to return to menu.”

Back Up is sure what you want to do there. Huh? All the things I’ve recorded and marked with a big K (for Keep) are gone? Can we rewind time a few minutes and I’ll not do whateveritwas that I did?

Unfortunately not. A call to the helpful (Scottish) folk at the Sky customer service centre implies that it’s a hard drive problem that crops up from time to time. A quick excursion into a hidden menu (I could tell you, but then I’d have to.. oh, perhaps I wouldn’t), press a couple of buttons, and the whole disk is reformatted, pristine, and apparently well-behaved again, though the Sky man suggested recording a few programs of “absolutely anything, even stuff you’d not normally watch” just to check it’s all working OK. (“No, darling, the Sky man suggested I record Teen Babes Hot Stuff Weekend, just making sure the hard drive is all right. And he said I should watch it to make sure the recording quality is OK too..”)

So what happened? My best guess is that the directory got corrupted somehow. Reformat and you’re back at square one. OK, so it’s a hard drive. At some time it is going to die.

But now here’s where it gets tricky. All right! It’s going to die one day! But how do you save the things you want to save? With a computer HD, you’d plug in a USB or Firewire cable, and you’re away. Settings and all. But with a PVR, the settings and stuff are all hidden away. Where and how can you back them up? I’d imagine this is even more important, and befuddling, with a TiVo, where you have loads of personal preference settings that get built up over time.

Though if anyone does know a good way to back up a Sky+, I’m all ears. The best we’ve managed is to play it out through the SCART output via an Elgato EyeTV Wonder onto my computer, but it’s not the same as having the original. Now if Elgato could do something that could decode Sky, then perhaps that Mac Mini Media Centre would start to make more sense… is there a remote control for the Mac Mini?

31 Comments

  1. Here’s a question for you. Hypothetically, if I subscribe to, say, the comedy channel, yet I forget to record “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”. Why is downloading the show off bittorrent illegal? Couldn’t it be argued that I’ve already paid to watch that show, and hence its my right to watch a copy of the program, even if I watch it on my computer, not my TV set?

    I’m just playing devils advocate here, but I am waiting for someone to explain a good answer to that question.

    By the way, there is a remote for the imac mini. Its called Clicker and requires bluetooth(and a bluetooth phone).

    http://www.theregister.com/2004/03/05/the_macs_ultimate_remote_control/

  2. Paul
    I’d second your comment on Salling Clicker, and perhaps take this opportunity to plug a review I wrote at the Powerpage two weeks ago of this very device:
    http://www.powerpage.org/cgi-bin/WebObjects/powerpage.woa/wa/story?newsID=14844

    Also, to be a pedant here, I think rather than mean the “imac mini” you mean the “mac mini”. Although, the software works of course on all macs that have bluetooth installed or as an add-on (note: all bluetooth add-ons are not created equally at least in the mac world, and only a D-Link DBT120 device can apparently be relied on).

  3. Charles
    Right, so you have problems with a Sky+ box; I’ve had problems with a Pace Twin Micro box; and now with an EyeTV setup.
    Really, it’s sad to see that mass-marketed stuff is basically so unreliable – even in the hands of geeks like us.
    I’ve missed a few programs too – sometimes through my own stupidity, but more often because the technology has failed me.

    It certainly makes me consider Paul’s point above quite strongly.

    And, if you read this too:
    http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/hardware/hdcp-vista.ars
    you get an understanding why the HD model is going to make life even more difficult for the consumer.

    The problem is that the content providers just don’t get it, and never will. In another posting on Charles’s site today, he points to the record companies wanting different iTunes pricing. He’s absolutely right. And here (TV recording and HD) are two other ways in which the content companies combined with their hangers-on are making life too difficult and frustating for the average law-abiding consumer. Both parties (consumer and business) will lose, and in the intervening years we’ll have all suffered a very sub-optimal solution to what we could have had, while these content companies bumble along towards the inevitable that they are too frightened to grab by the horns and run with.

  4. Best bet is to record from Sky+ onto a dvd recorder hdd or dvd-r or dvd RAM

  5. Charles

    Monday 3 October 2005 at 1:32 pm

    Nice idea, Peter – but have you got a Sky+? Have you tried getting any sensible output from a Sky+ that you could put onto a DVD-R? Do let me know if so. I suspect though that Sky would not be pleased.

  6. Hi, I just stumbled upon your blog site while searching for some Sky + information.
    With regard to the question about archiving stuff from Sky + to DVD, I do this all the time.
    I have a philips DVD recorder connected to my SKY + via SCART, I get crystal clear backups every single time, you can also set the sky + to play more than 1 recorded program so you can cue them up and back several episodes up onto the same disc.
    Do you have problems getting a good picture output from your Sky+?
    Hope my comments may help.
    cheers :-)

  7. The SKY+ BOx have a USB! Is it possible to connect the sky+ in the Computer and then save a recorded program as a “file” and then watch in the computer with WindowsMediaPlayer ????

  8. Charles

    Wednesday 12 October 2005 at 9:30 pm

    Anthony, thanks for that – now just have to lay out for a DVD recorder…
    Moacir – no, the USB port doesn’t have that functionality.

  9. Sky + and USB 2.0. Your quite right it does appear that you cannot use the usb socket to archive stuff of to a computer but does anyone know what the usb socket is for then ?? Unless it is to connect to the Sky (Rumoured) portable PVR solution. I guess this would be able to de encrypt skys format for saving programmes and then play ??

  10. Re: Paul Guinnessy’s original question about bittorrent – though I think you might have a chance at saying “I’ve already paid via my subscription to Lost so I should be able to download an episode of …” the problem is that if you use a P2P program, you’re not just downloading the program, you’re also then serving it out, quite possibly to people who don’t have Sky/TV license. I think the issue of also serving, rather than just downloading is the biggest problem with the P2P model (though of course I’m not saying I don’t do it).

  11. “I’ve already paid via my subscription to Sky so I should be able to download an episode of …” that should read, but now you all know which program I keep missing ;)

  12. I have been looking for the USB port on the Sky+ box and I can`t find it??
    Help please??

  13. Charles

    Saturday 4 March 2006 at 11:12 am

    Finding the USB port: if you have one of the newer Sky+ boxes (white, mine is) then there’s a flip-down flap at the left front. It’s behind there.

  14. I tried pluging in my psp but i didnt pick up anything. I read that u can plug an ipod in and it charges it up. Unfortunately i lost my lead so i cant test it.

    So the only way of backing up stuff on a sky+ box is throguh a dvd recorder. Might have to wait till xmas for that :)

    I think u can now watch programs off the internet for free legally. for example u can watch the apprentice on the bbc website and lost on the abc site with all the usuall adverts (which u cant skip). i dont know y they didnt do it earlier

  15. I found this page looking for more information on how Sky+ boxes work, and have both questions and an answer:

    The main reason why downloading TV programs from anywhere unauthorised is discouraged is because TV networks have no way to monitor this accurately, which has 3 main consequences:

    1. It is impossible to accurately monitor how many people watch a given show, making viewer ratings skewed;
    2. This leads to channels and networks being unable to correctly gague the popularity of shows (for example, did the latest season of a show get fewer viewers because people don’t like it any more, or did they just download it instead?) which makes it much harder for them to know which rights to air to purchase and how much to offer for them;
    3. The ease of availability may well affect future DVD sales.

    Although morally I fail to see the problem with downloading anything that’s currently being shown on TV, I can see how it would make TV executives’ lives more difficult.

    If anyone’s worked out what the USB port is for (other than the rumoured iPod charging) or how to back up from Sky+ to a computer (Mac or PC, I have both) I’d be forever in your debt.

  16. Charles

    Sunday 13 August 2006 at 9:50 pm

    Victoria – re your three points
    1) there’s no accurate way to measure viewing now. The way it’s done is truly prehistoric: people writing stuff down in little books about what they watched. It’s pathetic, to be honest. So that’s not what it’s about.

    2) see 1. They already don’t really know what people watch. They just guess it from the prehistoric methods they use.

    3) Naah, the number of poeple who download stuff doesn’t really affect DVD sales – because you can put extras on DVDs. People who are prepared to download stuff are *more* likely to buy the DVD for the extras if they’re that keen to download it first.

    TV executives’ lives are already hard. Though they bring a lot on themselves.

    The USB port… nope, its purpose remains obscure.

  17. *Too my knowledge Ipods do not charge.* My Sony A-3000 does not pickup any power at all from it.
    Using the port to connect to a PC wouldnt work. Its in input, not an output.
    For anyone who knows about USB Ports, should know that they are powered, so power from either end is going to more than likely render one device buggered.

    My view is that once this anonymous device becomes available, the firmware will be updated and USB port will then be activated through the BIOS.

    **Backing up Programs??**
    Why not unplug the HDD from your box. Plug it in your PC, take an image with Norton Ghost, or Backitup, or anything really providing it restorable.
    At least you can backup in case of a failure.

    **Downloading??**
    I am yet too see anyone even get caught/fined for downloading TV series. It just doesnt happen. Movies and Music are more targetted.

  18. Charles

    Monday 20 November 2006 at 3:50 pm

    @Ben – unplugging the HDD from one’s Sky box is not for the fainthearted, which includes pretty much all of its audience. Are you certain, too, that it’s got NTFS (etc) formatting? What if Windows decides that it doesn’t like the formatting and helpfully erases it? Goodbye all your programs and everything.

    Downloading TV series.. well, give them time. NBC Universal seems to be at war with the world presently, so I’d not put it past them.

  19. Hi everybody, i found out what the usb slots are for on this website
    http://www.digitalhomemag.com/reviews/default.asp?pagetypeid=2&articleid=33860&subsectionid=1306&subsubsectionid=957
    You’ll notice two new USB ports on the rear panel, but they haven’t been activated yet. The idea is that these will allow you to connect to your portable Sky+ device when they become available, probably later next year.
    Just thought you should all know !!

  20. Backing up programs from Sky+ box?.
    I don’t own a Sky+ box so don’t know for sure BUT using a Pinnacle dazzle video creator and software I am able to back up my old VHS videos. Connects up to scart socket via scart socket to phono converter. Does the job and includes software to edit the movie. with that i get a choice of format to save the file in. Finished files are ok considering they have been ripped from VHS tape. Also includes dvd software but haven’t tried this yet.
    Perhaps it would work on Sky+ box?
    Worth a try.

  21. Hi Guys,

    just been on the phone to Sky regarding te USB ports on their Sky+ box.

    I asked what they are for, and was told, “nothing, they are just for show at present, they are not switched on, but however, they might be used in the fitire, with further developments”

  22. oops, my spelling is getting worse! they might be used in the FUTURE

  23. Hi fellas,
    to backup your sky+ visit
    http://www.copyplus.artisswebdesign.co.uk/instructions.php
    I have attached my HD externally to my sky+
    for quick exchange.
    Get an extended ID cable and aextended ID power
    cable. Feed these out through the plate at the
    back of the box.UNPLUG WHEN REMOVING/REPLACING
    EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE.
    Even a 2GB hard drive will work here.
    Also a quick test on hard drive failure can be performed.
    It is also handy for a quick FDisk for new large disks.
    Just plug in new disk. Select “services” “4” “0 1”
    press “select” “7 (Planner rebuild)” after STB switches
    off remove mains lead and then remove disk. This is now
    ready to be formatted on your PC with the correct
    capacity already set.
    Hope this helps someone

  24. Hi fellas,
    To backup your sky+ use copy+ available through
    a search engine. I did enclose the address but it
    was spurned as a spam.
    I have removed my hard drive from my sky box
    for accessibility. Just use a long IDE cable
    and an extension to the drive power cable.
    Feed these through the removable plate at
    the rear. when swapping drives ..unplug
    from mains … hot swap will not read the
    drive unless you wipe it.
    (you can also send 5v or 12v where it is not welcome.
    Put your removed drive either on top using
    an insulator or an extn IDE box.
    I have had no problems with this on Pace or Amstrad boxes.

  25. Here’s a link for Copy+ it is solely for backing up your hard drive in case of failure or if you wish to upgrade to a larger drive (500Gbs) you cannot just back up individual programs or edit them just back up.
    Also you will need to remove the drive from the box . Also you will need two spare ide connections available on your computer (Xp not mac or Linux) your can also back up to DVD on you computer.
    Hope this helps someone.
    h t t p : / / co py plu s .ar ti ss webd es ign .co. uk/
    remove spaces for link to work anti spam kept blocking it

  26. I though USB would be for engineers at repair centre to Reprogram the box and update firmware. I am going to try and pulg the hard disk into my PC and see If i can copy the recorded data off the Sky+ hard disk onto the PC. Will let you know how I get on.

  27. I kept getting System Fault errors on a one and half year old Pace TDS470N. I tried a Full System Reset numerous times and it just came back.

    Found XtendedPlay who do Sky+ hard drive upgrades and replacements. I upgraded with the 250GB Sky+ Upgrade Kit

    I used Copy+ to recover what I could from the old disk and now I’ve got massive amounts of space.

  28. I’ve purchased an Archos 604 (Portable video/msuic etc) with a DVR docking station which is connected between the Sky+box and the TV. With the DVR station, I can record everything that goes through it (live and recorded material) and if I wanna back it up, I USB the archose 604 to the PC and save! expensive, but really worth it.

  29. With hard drives there is always a possibility that they will fail. And data even if it is on a PVR is important and also the time put in to saving it. To backup PVR data you will need special software as the data is going to be saved RAW on the hard drive and most probably not detected by Windows.

  30. speaking to sky man other day out side an house ask him what the u.s.b was for.he said.to upload your films (WHEN THEY TURN IT ON NEXT YEAR)so all will have to wait till next year.if this is true.

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