Thursday, March 26, 2009

Measure your personal Earth Hour this Saturday

Hopefully, you're aware that this Saturday is Earth Hour. Last year, we did our part by using candles and playing a board game (although it was a little tricky to tell the difference between red and orange markings on the board!). One quick thing I just thought of was using your electric meter to measure the amount of electricity you use during that hour versus the following hour when you switch everything back on. I just checked mine, which is a new fangled digital one, but the kWh number should do the trick. This maybe difficult for apartment dwellers, but for anyone living in a house, you should have access to your electric meter. Happy Earth Hour.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rogers (8300HD) PVR Extender

I feel I'm pretty up to date on technology. When I bought my HD TV about 2 years ago, I also started my love/hate relationship with my Rogers PVR. Note that in Canada we seem to use the acronym PVR (personal video recorder), whereas in the US I they use the term DVR (digital video recorder). We like to use "PVR" as we also have another component we call a DVR. It was our first hard drive recorder and we still use it regularly for overflow recording and archiving to DVD. It's a Pioneer DVR-633H-S. It did well, with std def, but the hard drive got messed up a few years back so we can't set it for timed recording any more, Pioneer do have newer versions, but I'm still bitter about their service, but that's another story.

Rogers use the
Explorer 8300HD from Cisco (prev. Scientific Atlanta) which is widely used in North America. It's been around for years, seems to job relatively well, but I've never been happy with its very limited 160 GB capacity. That sounds like a lot of space, but not when you're hooked on HD. It's supposed to get 20 hours of HD programming, but from our experience it's more like 10 hours. We know this primarily because available disk space decreases by 10% for every one hour of HD programming we record.

With the convenience of daily and weekly programming, timeshifting and two tuners, our PVR is used very regularly and we have a constant struggle to keep free space available.

A little while ago, Bell introduced support for external hard drive extensions for its PVR. It allows you to connect any hard drive via USB to increase hard drive space, however I believe the solution required you to manually copy/move items from the onboard hard drive to the external unit (not sure if that's still the case). My wife wrote about Bell's
External Storage for PVR last August and it's still one of her most read postings.

In the last month, Rogers have finally caught up. However, they are doing it a little differently. Their PVR Extender is a 500GB Seagate external drive which is connected to the PVR using a
sSATA connection. This type of connection is more unusual than USB, but isn't rocket science. Consequently you can purchase your own cheaper hard drive instead of paying for the Rogers drive for $200. A quick look around shows you can get a 1.5TB Seagate eSATA hard drive at Tiger Direct for $250. All you need is a cable. I actually have a 500GB Seagate drive with the eSATA connector but it's loaded with a lot of my techie work stuff (e.g. massive VMware images), but I'll probably buy a new large one when I get approval from the HomeCFO. The other option is to use an internal hard drive and eSATA compatible enclosure, probably even cheaper. See this digital home forum for some more info on the options.

The other thing to watch out for is that the eSATA connection between the PVR and the external hard drive is rather sensitive. I've had a few chats with a very friendly and helpful chap at Future Sop that has tried this himself and by reading a few extra pieces online, there is definitely an issue if you disconnect the eSATA cable once the initial formatting has been done (local encryption key restrictions possibly). I'm not certain if there's still an issue when the units are completely powered down. As for brown outs and power cuts, I believe if they're connected, everything will continue to work ok. As for current recordings, I'm not certain if they'll still be available since the PVR begins to use the drive with the most amount of space once it recognizes the external drive. More testing and comments to hopefully come later.

If you
google a little, you'll see that the discussion on extending the 8300 has been going on for some time. If I'd found this info earlier I probably would have jumped on this a while back, but like so many tech decisions, waiting a little sometimes helps. In this case, you can now easily buy 1.5 TB hard drives for very reasonable cost. That is almost 10x the capacity of the current PVR - now we're talking, bring on nightly HD recordings of The Hour and saving HDNet concerts and TMN HD movies for a little longer.