Ryan Kanno: The diary of an Enginerd in Hawaii

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Upgrading your DVR: How to increase your DVR’s recording time

This blog is for all my Hawaii television addicts.

Since I rarely have time to watch live television, my Oceanic Time Warner DVR is constantly filled to max capacity. This means I’m always battling my inner demons on what shows I have to erase… Rock of Love, A Shot at Love, Flavor of Love… you know, all the good stuff. To solve my problem, I’ve finally decided to invest the $150 to upgrade my DVR and increase its total number of recording hours.

Luckily for you, I’ll walk you through the steps to upgrade your own DVR!

As a standard disclaimer, if you attempt to upgrade your own DVR and f-it up, I can’t and won’t fix it. So… if technology scares you, please parents, do not try this unless supervised by your technology-oriented youngster. If you don’t understand what SATA, external enclosures, or hard drives mean, do not, and I repeat do not try this at home!

The setup

Before you can upgrade your DVR, you’ll need to make sure that you have the Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD. Just match what your DVR looks like to the one in the picture. It’s not that hard. This is what mine looks like: the front and the back. I do know for a fact that Oceanic has a few versions of their cable boxes out in the wild. I’m pretty sure you can upgrade (some of) the other models as well, but I’ve personally only upgraded the 8300HD. So if you want to be ballsy and upgrade a different cable box, feel totally free – just be warned that this guide won’t apply to you. I’m not even sure if you can still turn in your old cable box because of the demand for HDTV in Hawaii, but calling up Oceanic can’t hurt.

Aside from owning an 8300HD, you’ll need three additional components to make this upgrade work. I’ve included links to where I purchased the following items. Fear not, I don’t make any commissions on these links so feel free to buy these products from anywhere you see fit.

Here are a few pictures of the aforementioned items.

External SATA enclosureMaxtor SATA 500 GB hard driveeSATA to SATA cableEverything unpacked!

The results

First, make sure your 8300HD is turned off. Place the hard drive into the external enclosure. Next, after connecting the external SATA enclosure to the 8300HD (with the SATA to eSATA cable), power the external hard drive before turning the DVR box back on. Note, it’s extremely important that the external SATA enclosure be turned on prior to the cable box being powered on. Once booted, the 8300HD should recognize a new, external data source and prompt you to format the new drive. The following message should appear:

Format hard drive prompt

Once formatted, you should see a success message:

Format success!

Voila! DVR Upgraded!

The benes

There are numerous benefits to increasing your DVR’s total recording time.

  • No more having to rush home because you forgot the DVR is full.
  • No more making those life-altering decisions about what movies to delete.
  • Being able to store almost a year’s worth of reality crap is fun!

Of course, there’s the almost 4X increase in the DVR’s recording time as you can see by the following before and after pictures. Not bad!

Before upgradeAfter upgrade

The cons

There’s no such thing as a free pass in life… so here are a few of the cons.

  • As I wrote earlier, the external hard drive needs to be powered on before your cable box. This means one of two things. Either you always turn the external drive on first or leave it on permanently. Since I know I could never remember to do the former, I’ve decided to leave the device on permanently – meaning a slightly larger electricity bill. As someone trying to get off the grid, that makes me sad.
  • You can’t rip the recorded video off the external hard drive. Unfortunately, the data is encrypted. Unless you’re a cryptographic expert, worked on the 8300HD, or have a few Beowulf clusters, deal with it. You won’t be able to share your recordings.
  • $150 bucks is a lot to spend on easing one’s mind, but I think it’s money well spent considering the prices here and here.

Some linkage

Of course I couldn’t have upgraded my DVR without the Internet. Here’s a link to the forums and guides I read to assist me along the way. Check them out, some of them are quite interesting.

Finally, check out my flickr set if you need to see any more pictures!


  1. Very nice. I’ve got a motorola hd receiver with a firewire port. And lucky for me OS X has a firewire dev kit which allows me to stream videos straight off the box and record it with VLC :)

  2. @Darren

    Damn you. :) Too bad Oceanic won’t carry it out here!

  3. did your upgrade affect your ability to pause or fast forward live tv using your dvr?

  4. @ime

    Nope, didn’t affect any functionality of the DVR. It still allowed me to pause/fast forward live tv. 😀

  5. I understand I can record to a VCR tape, but what about a CD? I have several tapes which I think will wear out, so I’d like something which will last longer. SATA drives are not that expensive, but I can’t take it with me every where I go. Right now I have the Scientific Atlanta, 8300(HD)?

  6. @Dave

    You can definitely record it to a CD… but it takes a bit more effort. On the SA 8300HD, there’s video out (OUT 2, I believe) – the same ones you would connect your VCR to. You can connect these outputs to a video input on a computer or a video capture device such as this: http://www.google.com/products?q=video+capture+device&hl=en&aq=f. Once you get the video on a computer, you can burn it onto a CD. The problem is that you can’t take it directly off the SATA drive because of the encryption.

  7. Your entry was posted back in 2008, since then the industry has come out with big (capacity) portable hard drives, such as Seagate, Western Digital, etc. Are these newer portable desktop hard drives the same thing as your mentioned, external SATA enclosure and SATA/IDE harddrive. To be more precise, Seagate 500 GB External hard drive – 480 Mbps – 5400 rpm, would this work in place of what you mentioned. Thanks.

  8. @milmauka –

    Typically, the newer portable hard drives don’t have SATA connectors – many of them typically have only USB connectors. I did look here for you: http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/external/freeagent/. It looks like only the ‘Go Flex’ models have the ‘Optional powered eSATA Cable’… so it appears that the Go Flex drives would be able to work in the place of what is mentioned in the article. :)

  9. Ok, I was told I can add more recording time if I go buy more gigabytes, or something like that. Something you just plug in giving you more time to save your favs.
    Does anyone know what I’m talking about???

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