Upgrading your Shaw HD PVR

I was searching the web recently trying to figure out how to move recorded content from my Shaw HD PVR to my DVD recorder via firewire. While searching I saw that many Shaw users were indicating that their Motorola HD PVRs had received the firmware that enabled the eSata port on the back of their boxes. More searching indicated that the while the firmware could activate the port it was not yet active. Forum posts indicated that Shaw had told several people that the ports would be activated soon.

Last week while checking out the Shaw site, I saw that the Shaw was now selling a PVR expander for 200.00 CAD. This PVR expander is a Western Digital external 1TB eSata drive. I called Shaw to find out if you needed the Shaw PVR expander or could you use any external eSata drive.

Update November 13, 2009 – I just found out that Shaw has dropped the price of their PVR Expander to 150.00 CAD. TIt looks like they now have the Western Digital drive and a Seagate Drive Available.
I was told that you could use any drive, and that the eSata ports on the Motorola boxes were globally enabled at the end of October.

I ran down to Memory Express (http://www.memoryexpress.com) where I picked up a Velocity external USB/eSata enclosure and a Seagate 1 Terabyte drive for 119.00.
Once I got home it took me about 15 minutes to install the drive in the enclosure and then another 5 minutes to plug it into my Shaw box’s eSata port and get it powered up. When I fired up the Shaw box it indicated that I was not authorized to have an external drive. I 10 minute call to Shaw Technical support and the enabled the port on my box and rebooted it.

When the box came back on it indicated that the drive was not formatted for the PVR and did I want to format it? I indicated yes and within a couple of minutes I flipped to the PVR menu. Sure enough all of our old recordings were there however there was a nice number 0% of space used. we have since recorded several shows and space is no longer an issue.

So I upgraded the box in less than half an hour with a new external drive and now we don’t have to worry about space. I haven’t tried this yet but I should be able to plug in yet a different eSata drive if I ever need more space. I should be able to swap between a couple of drives over time.

Shaw indicated that they wouldn’t support a drive other than the one they are selling however it is a very easy procedure. One problem with the Velocity enclosure is that it is a little noisy compared to the Western Digital firewire enclosure I have but it is not too bad. If you are looking at a little quieter solution Costco in Calgary is selling a 1 TB external drive with USB, Firewire and eSata for 159.99. So it is still 40.00 cheaper than the Shaw drive. See below for updates. There is not really much to performing this upgrade. If your port is not activated it is a simple call to Shaw support asking them to activate it which requires a box reboot and you lose your programming guide and menus for a short period of time, but it truly is a plug and play install.

I have read that the largest drive supported is 1 TB but I haven’t confirmed that as of yet but better to stay with the 1 TB size. It will give you significantly more recording space than the default 160 GB drive that comes with the box.

Important Update November 19th, 2009

I have been reading the forums and have discovered a few things about upgrading your Shaw PVR with an external hard drive enclosure.
1) There is a problem with external enclosures that feature a sleep or low power setting (most of the desktop style drives from Western Digital and Seagate). These drives will go to sleep and not work with the PVR. The lower costs enclosures don’t do this nor do the dedicated PVR Expanders. I would suggest staying away from the Costco WD drive mentioned above.

2) There is a known problem where your Motorola Box will not be able to track space on the external drive and will always register at 0% full. Some people have had Shaw fix this by resetting their boxes several times however another reset (even a firmware upgrade or a power failure will reset this down to 0 again). When the box starts tracking again it will ignore what content is on the drive and start counting at 0 again not indicating how much space there is. To check you use the diagnostics. Power off your box and power it on hitting select immediately, go to PVR diagnostics and use option 13. The first two numbers on each drive will tell you space available on the drive in GB. Motorola will have to release new firmware to connect this and it looks like it might be spring of 2010 before seeing it. This happens with all drives attached.

3) If your PVR box is connected to your TV via an HDMI cable, some people have reported that they do not see the format option. Connect your PVR via component or composite cabling to the TV  to set up the drive

4) Once a drive is connected to the PVR it cannot be swapped. Contents are encrypted and tied to the box they are connected to. Swapping drives will not work as you will not be able to get your old content back after changing external drives.

5) The enclosures that Shaw sells contain special drives designed to record video. These are non error correcting drives (unlike desktop drives). I have had no issues with my EC drive but some people have reported video and audio dropouts in recorded shows and this can be caused by built in error correcting on the drives. With the lower price being offered by Shaw on their expanders (in addition to a 3 year swap warranty) I would suggest that these drives are the best way to go. I may soon be switching my drive to one of the Shaw Expanders.