DirecTV THR22 HD TiVo With External 2TB Hard Drive Review
We love digital video recorders (DVRs). The ability to store HD programs and view them at will captured our imagination since the first TiVo and Replay TV were demoed at the 1999 Consumer Electronics Show. We prefer the TiVo user interface to any other DVRs we’ve sampled over the years (Replay, Cisco, Motorola, Moxi and DirecTV’s.)
After numerous delays DirecTV finally released the THR22 nationwide in January 2012. We’ve been using it for five months and really like it. For those of you not familiar with TiVo, they distinguish themselves from DirecTV’s DVR and cable DVR models in a number of ways. Besides its own guide and look and feel, this TiVo allows an unlimited number shows you can place in queue to record called “Season Pass” while DirecTV limits the user to just 50 different titles. While that may sound like enough, with the advent of many cable/satellite channel series such as those found on USA and HBO, we needed to constantly add and subtract series to remain at or below the 50 program limit , often resulting in missed episodes after a show returns from hiatus. This reason alone makes the TiVo a better choice for DVR users.
The THR-22 has a built-in 500 GB hard drive rated at 61 hours of high definition programs or 529 hours of standard defintion content. We found this to be inadequate due to our aversion of deleting anything we have not seen, and/or just plain laziness. We cured this deficiency by upgrading to an external 2 TB external hard drive which increases the storage to 302 hours of high definition or a whopping 2641 hours of SD. Yes, you can record both formats and you’ll get a figure between those two capacities. DirecTV provide no instructions on adding an external hard drive. They say they do not support this feature, making our attempt to add the drive a science experiment.
With no guide found anywhere on the Internet as to which make and model drive works with the THR22 or instructions on connection, we provide our readers a bill of materials and procedure below, obtained through trial and error and tips from senior TiVo support and some q&a with Western Digital, the makers of the external hard disc drive we chose.
The DirecTV THR-22 costs $199 for the box plus a $7 a month “lease” fee and a $5 monthly “TiVo fee”. We understand you can purchase a lifetime TiVo subscription which would eliminate the $60 yearly TiVo charge but not the DirecTV lease fee.
What We Like
TiVo is the only DVR to employ heuristic logic which permits the TiVo to pick programs it thinks you will like. By using the thumbs up and thumbs down buttons on the remote control you can help the TiVo fine tune your preferences. This feature can shut-off.
This TiVo operates faster (though we won’t call it speedy) than the DirecTV OEM model HR20 we replaced. There is a built-in 30 second commercial skip, a feature that need to be activated in other cable TiVo models.
You can switch between the two built-in tuners with a button push, a feature lacking on the DirecTV models.
We find the TiVo peanut remote far more convenient to operate than the DirecTV TV model. However it uses infra-red signals to control the box, rather than a choice of RF or infra-red control that is built-in to the remote supplied with the DirecTV’s branded DVRs.
What We Don’t Like
DirecTV de-features the THR22 by limiting streaming movies to DirecTV’s own service. The DirecTV branded units offer access to Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and BLOCKBUSTER On Demand. Most of these services are available on numerous Internet streaming HDTVs and Blu-ray players.
A small item that we find a big gripe is the inability to shutoff the center blue ring and power indicator by remote. The manual states it has three modes “off, dark and bright” but it really only has “bright and very bright”. It is intense enough to keep me up at night. It can only be shut off by manually pressing the power button.
For reasons we cannot explain, our unit will list a program as recorded by it really only contains a few seconds of the show. This has occurred four times over a five month period. DirecTV customer service claims they are not aware of this glitch. We are hoping a firmware download will eventually make this problem go away. In the meantime, it’s been weeks since we’ve seen it happen again.
Adding An External Hard Drive
The THR-22 is designed to permit the use of its 500GB internal hard drive OR you may attach a larger drive via the unit’s rear E-SATA port. When the external drive is connected the internal drive is deactivated. While it still contains your season passes and prior recordings, they cannot be accessed as long as an external drive remains connected. TiVo limits the size of the external hard drive to 2TB, which is the model we used. If you ever disconnect the external drive and reboot the TiVo, the programs and season passes you added to the external drive will disappear, replaced by your shows and season passes that appear on the internal hard drive. The external drive data will reappear if you unplug the TiVo power, reconnect the e-Sata cable and then re- power the TiVo (and of course the external hard drive powered up prior to powering up the TiVo). To sum up, adding an external drive requires a complete new set-up of the TiVo but increases the capacity from 500 GB to a maximum 2TB.
We used a Western Digital AV-GP 2 TB SATA II Intellipower 64 MB Cache Bulk/OEM Internal Hard Drive – WD20EURS $129.99 Amazon (click links to see and order) and a Rosewill RX-358 V2 BLK (Black) 3.5″ SATA to USB & eSATA Ext. Enclosure w/Int.80mm fan from Newegg.
The Rosewill enclosure comes with an e-SATA cable and power supply. You need a small Philips screwdriver to open the Rosewill to install the hard drive. Newegg packs instructions with the enclosure.
After following the instructions and installing the hard drive within the enclosure and using the supplied screws to secure the new drive within the enclosure and close up the hard drive you are ready to connect the hard drive to the TiVo. Important note: Do NOT initialize partition or format the new hard drive via your computer. The hard drive must be in out of the box “virgin” condition to work with the TiVo. The TiVo will take care of all these requirements.
Before going on you’ll need write down all your existing season pass programs as they will disappear after the new hard drive mates with the TiVo and you will have to reenter the information after the install is completed.
With all you settings written down follow the next sequence.
Unplug the power cord that goes to the DirecTV TiVo. Connect the E-Sata cable to the Rosewill’s E-Sata port and the other end to the rear E-Sata port on the TiVo. Next connect the Rosewill power supply to the enclosure and the other end to your power outlet, UPS or power strip. Give the new hard drive a minute to spin-up to speed. The blue power indicator light on the Rosewill should now be lit. If you reposition the TiVo, confirm all your cables (HDMI, e-SATA, etc) have not come loose and are still connected.
Now plug the power cord for the TIVO back into you power outlet and make sure your HDTV turned on and on the TiVo HDMI input. Next wait and be patient. It will take up to five minutes before you will see power light illuminated on the TiVo and noting but a black screen on your TV screen. The first thing you will see on your TV screen is the message “Formatting Hard Drive”. Once this appears keep waiting. The TV will enter the boot-up screen and take up to 30 minutes to get to the DirecTV set-up screen. Now you will need to go through DirecTV set up as you performed when the when you first set up your DirecTV TiVo. This can take up to sixty minutes as it needs to download date, update and do its thing.
When you are completely through the DirecTV initialization, you will be able to access your settings menu and confirm the 302 HD hours. Because the DirecTV acts as if it is a new install, the guide data will take two or so days to fully populate. You can’t re-enter your Season Pass programs until the guide is populated. Also you will not be able to enter a Season Pass if a program is on hiatus, so it’s a good idea to check off the ones you that you can’t input into the TiVo and go back to it when the show is about to start a new episode run.
With the 2TB drive attached, and the marvelous TiVo interface we find the THR-22 our favorite satellite DVR. HD Guru awards the DirecTV THR-22 TiVo a ♥♥♥♥ out of five hearts rating. If not for the glitch we list above, lack of light switch and DirecTV’s omission of the movie streaming service, this THR-22 would have earned our top honors.
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