Extending the Recording Capabilities of your Videotron Illico DVR

Videotron Illico PVRs are neat, but they’re somewhat limited. Even the recently-released HD PVR will run out of disk space pretty quickly. If you like recording high-def shows, you will fill that disk in a rather meager 30 hours. This is not an issue on a day-to-day basis, but go on vacation for two to three weeks and you may well get to that limit. Even worse, the PVR I have is a first-generation HD PVR, which can only take 16 hours of HD programming. Sometimes you just need more.

Fortunately this can, in fact, be done. The PVR terminals sold by Videotron have at least two interfaces you can use to connect an additional storage device. When you do the PVR will format the storage unit you have connected to it; when the PVR is restarted, the disk’s capacity is combined with the capacity of the internal disk. This extends your recording capacity.

The PVR has two interfaces that are used for this purpose: a Firewire/IEEE1394 port, and an external SATA (eSATA) port. It is recommended that the eSATA port be used as it offers much higher bandwidth and throughput rates. Moreover a lot of affordable, consumer-level external drives have recently come on the market offering eSATA as an interface.

Choosing a fast interface is particularly important if you like watching a lot of high-definition television. The Videotron PVR uses its internal hard drive fairly constantly to decrypt the HD signal, and when you add an external disk the external disk is used for signal decryption. When viewing an HD channel I can see the “activity” led on the drive flash pretty constantly; when viewing a standard-definition channel the activity becomes very infrequent.

What’s more, if you use an external disk with a poor throughput the delay in decryption processing can cause rather annoying “hiccups” in HD playback when watching live television. For some reason I have not noticed this effect when watching a recorded HD programme.

So, if you want to really extend your recording range, I’d recommend a disk with a 7200RPM rotation speed, and preferably connected to the PVR using as short a length of eSATA cable as you can find. Right now I’m using a standard desktop disk in a Thermaltake BlaX hot-swappable eSATA adapter, which is very practical and versatile but potentially not the fastest interface you can get. I’m guessing that a Seagate FreeAgent 1TB or a LaCie D2 1TB Big Disk would offer the best money for value, as you can get either for less than $250 nowadays. Note that depending on the disk you buy you may have to purchase the eSATA cable separately.

How to do it

  1. Attach the disk to a running PVR. You will see a message that the disk has to be formatted; push the A button to format the disk.
  2. Shut down the PVR. for best results, you should then disconnect the power cable from the PVR and reconnect before proceeding.
  3. Restart the PVR. You will see a message that the attached disk is now used by the PVR. Note that until you see this message, your recording range has not been extended.

That’s it… it doesn’t get much easier than that.

This technology, although it’s been present on Videotron PVRs since at least 3 years, is not officially recognized nor endorsed by Videotron. Other cable providers tend to disable those ports, but Videotron does not (as far as I know). So, if you experience problems while using an external disk their tech support services will most likely not be crazy about dealing with them and may refuse you support. Should this happen, simply disconnect the external disk, see if the problem still occurs, and proceed accordingly.

Something else to keep in mind is that you cannot transfer a portable disk between PVRs. If you do, it will have to be reformatted before it is used in the “new” PVR.

If anyone else has done this before and can offer pointers, please do get in touch.

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