Thursday, June 09, 2005

TiVo: Secret Tips and Tweaks


If you own a TiVo digital video recorder, you know that this magic appliance can change the way you watch TV. But, with a little work from you, your TiVo is capable of much more. With several innocent gimmicks, you can make using TiVo even slicker.

Whether it's a simple trick, like turning your TiVo into a clock, or a serious hardware hack to increase the amount of storage space in the device, we're here with several tips, tricks, and pointers to more information, so you can get more out of your TiVo time.

We'll begin at the basic couch-potato level, but will move progressively further toward serious hacking on the workbench.

Note: Modifications or additions to your TiVo hardware (internal network adapters, adding or changing hard drive) beyond what is allowed by TiVo (such as connecting a USB network adapter) may void your warranty. Program changes made through the remote control should not affect your warranty, but they may be lost after a restart or after getting a software upgrade from TiVo.

Simple Screen and Remote Control Tricks

With 34 control buttons to push on its remote (including three with multiple functions) and more than a dozen built-in on-screen menu options, there are bound to be some surprises inside your TiVo waiting to be explored.

It's unlikely that you'll stumble on any of the combinations we're about to reveal by accidentally sitting on your remote. But once you know their secrets, they're easy to find--and fun to play with. In some cases, they'll save you hours of fumbling and frustration.

An 'Easter Egg'

There's something about showing off some cute trick your gadgets can do that tempts all of us to push the buttons to see what happens. Many electronic devices and software programs have hidden features--often called "Easter eggs"--tucked away behind obscure keystroke combinations. TiVo is no different. To see a TiVo Easter egg, follow these steps:

Enable closed-captioning display on your TV.
Using your TiVo remote, go to Browse by Name.
Select the characters SHAGWELL.
Press Thumbs Up.

You'll be presented with a short video hidden inside your Tivo.

If you look closely, there are more Easter eggs inside this one.

Check the Time

Your TiVo and television can become one of the biggest, most expensive clocks you own by entering the following button sequence:

Select, Play, Select, 9, Select

Progress Bar, Be Gone--Quicker

Annoyed with the lingering progress bar at the bottom of the screen? Make it fade out faster by entering the following button combination:

Select, Play, Select, Pause, Select

Navigation Shortcuts

The number buttons on the remote allow you to jump quickly to some of the more common screens without navigating through the menus; using the buttons will thus save you a lot of time while also allowing you to demonstrate your TiVo finesse. (Note: These shortcuts are undocumented and could change in different software versions.)

From the TiVo Central screen (press the "TiVo" button to get there), press the following keys to jump to their respective functions:

0 = Show the TiVo cartoon introduction

1 = Season Pass Manager

2 = To Do List

3 = Search Using Wishlists

4 = Search by Title

5 = Browse by Channel

6 = Browse by Time

7 = Record Time/Channel

8 = TiVo's Suggestions

9 = Showcases

TiVo = Now Playing

The 30-Second Skip

Series 1 TiVos (those that don't feature a USB port on the back panel) can have the benefit of the 30-second skip-past-commercials feature found in Series 2 boxes. The Advance button that normally brings you to the end of a recorded program will become the "30-Second-Skip" button:

While viewing a recorded program or live TV enter the following sequence on your remote:

Select, Play, Select, 3, 0, Select

If your TiVo plays three Thumbs Up "blings" in a row, the Advance button is now reprogrammed to skip forward by 30 seconds. This bit of reprogramming is not permanent--you'll have to redo it if your TiVo reboots.

Sorting the 'Now Playing' List (Series 2 TiVos)
To sort the "Now Playing" list, call up the list from your TiVo Central screen, and then enter the "S0RT sequence":

S = Slow Play button
0 = Zero button
R = Record button
T = Thumbs Up button
You'll hear the "three blings" sound effect and see "Press DISPLAY for sort options". Press Enter to see the following choices:

1 = Newest (most recent items first)
2 = Display the list ordered by expiration date, oldest first
3 = Display the list alphabetically
Press 1, 2, or 3 to try out a sorting order. Pressing "Enter" will prompt you to make one of the choices permanent.

Sorting the 'Now Playing' List (Series 1 TiVo)
If you have an older TiVo, you too can sort your "Now Playing" list. It requires opening a back door into the software. If you're running TiVo OS 3.0 (to find out the version of software running in your TiVo, go to the 'Messages & Setup' menu and select 'System Information'), follow these steps:

Head to either the Browse By Name or the Search By Title screen, where you can enter letters and numbers.

Enter the following code as shown, including the spaces between characters (backdoor codes for other TiVo OSs can be found in TiVo Hacks by Raffi Krikorian, at the O'Reilly Books site):

3 0 BC

Now press the Thumbs Up button. You'll hear three thumbs-up blings, and your TiVo will briefly display the words, "Back doors enabled!" (To disable back doors, reboot your TiVo.)

Next, to enable sorting, head to the Now Playing screen and enter the following sequence:

Slow-Motion, 0, Record, Thumbs Up

You'll again hear the three thumbs-up blings and see a menu bar appear at the bottom of the Now Playing list, stating "Press Enter for sort options". When you press "Enter" (the small "Enter/Last" button at the very bottom of your remote), your TiVo will zoom to a 'Now Playing Options' screen.

From here, you can sort by Newest (by record date), Expiration (by expiration date), or Alphabetical (by program name). You can also enter 1, 2, or 3 at the 'Now Playing' screen as a shortcut to these options.

Change Your TiVo Banner
For variety, you can change the style of the TiVo banner strip by following these steps:

While watching live TV, press the Right Arrow button repeatedly to sequence through three different TiVo program banners:

The blue banner that runs across the top of the screen.
The blue banner plus a large, transparent description box that fills most of the screen.
A tiny blue banner only in the top right corner, with the channel number and name.
You get only the first two options if you do this when watching a selection from 'Now Showing'.

Slightly More Advanced Tips
Here are some more things you can do with your TiVo.

Control the Power to Your Sound System
Your TiVo remote can be programmed to turn your TV on and off, but did you know it can also control your sound system? Hold down the TiVo button and the power button just as you do to put in the TV remote code, then enter the remote control code for your sound system. The remote will now control the power to both the TV and the audio. This can also give you volume control for some systems.

Add Unlisted Channels
TiVo provides a method to add your own channels, albeit without TiVo-provided program listings for them. For those times when you switch to local on-air programming, or need to play your VCR into your TiVo system, the ability to add a few channels is very handy. To squeeze in your own channels, follow these steps:

Enter a channel number manually.
Press Record.
While recording, press Record to cancel the recording.
Repeat for each channel you want to add.
Go to Setup, then Channels You Watch
Place checkmarks next to each of the channels you entered.
This process will leave behind listings in 'Now Showing' that you may want to delete.

Reboot TiVo Without Unplugging
Every computer needs a restart once in awhile, and TiVo is no different. The TiVo Setup menu provides a 'Restart Receiver' option that restarts without wiping out your personal settings. Do not select 'Full System Reset' unless you need to do a complete reboot that will wipe out all of your settings.

Tivomatic (Keep Those Commercials--or Not)
With a feature officially known as IPreview, TiVo (in partnership with both NBC and ShowTime) may prompt you to "press thumbs up to record" during an advertisement. This feature lets you record what is being advertised and then return you to your show. When you see the prompt you have the following options:

Press Thumbs Up or Select to bring up the recording screen.
Press Clear to make the icon go away until the next preview or you rewind past the point where the preview begins.

Get TiVo Connected
First, there were hacks to add TCP/IP networking into Series 1 TiVos, which allowed you to extract recorded program files. You could save the files or play them on your Windows or Linux PC. Then came the TiVo Home Media Option service, which allows you to remotely program your TiVo from anywhere you can surf the Web.

Now, there's TiVoToGo, which allows you to legitimately download programs from your TiVo to your PC for recording onto DVD.

Network Your Series 1 TiVo
If you own a TiVo Series 1 box, you need to install a network interface like a TurboNet card and install some custom Linux code that allows copying raw TiVo video files to a computer.

To enable network access, you'll need to hack into your TiVo with a terminal program, such as HyperTerminal or ProComm through the serial interface to install and set up network file transfer capabilities. Details on the hack and the code you need, a program known as mfs_ftp, can be found online.

Once your TiVo is accessible over your LAN, follow the steps in the mfs_ftp forum topics mentioned previously and in the documentation provided with the program to upload the program from computer to TiVo; configure the files; then launch the mfs_ftp program so the TiVo is ready for you to move files back and forth.

Once you have TiVo content files on your computer, the next obvious step is playing them, which can be accomplished using the TiVo MPlayer (available here). There are flavors of MPlayer for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X. You can also convert TiVo files to standard MPEG format using TyStudio, available here.

Make TiVo to Go
If you own a TiVo Series 2 box, saving recorded programs to DVD is much simpler--but more costly--with TiVo's new TiVoToGo feature. Series 2 TiVos feature a USB port, to which you'll need to connect a USB-to-ethernet or-wireless network adapter (which costs about $30) in order to connect your TiVo to your home network.

Once you're networked, you'll probably want to sign up for the TiVo Home Media Option, which will allow you to program your TiVo remotely. To use TiVoToGo, you need to be sure you've got version 7.1-X or later of TiVo software in your device. To check your software version:

Go to 'TiVo Central'.
Select 'Messages & Setup', then 'System Information' with your remote.
If you don't have the latest software, you can go to and request the site to push the upgrade to your unit. While on the site, download and then install the TiVo Desktop software. TiVo Desktop collects and presents a list of the programs stored on your TiVo and allows you to download them to your PC. While on the site, click the link to download the 15-day free trial of SonicMyDVD--the recommended software for saving recorded programs from your TiVo onto DVD. (It will cost you $49.99 to use after the trial period.) Again, this solution is a bit pricey, but it is the simplest nonhacker-level method to save your favorite shows.

An alternative to using TiVo's TiVo Desktop software is the open-source JavaHMO project at It includes several more features than the TiVo software, including viewing RSS feeds, images from NNTP postings, and NOAA weather alerts, reading e-mail, and playing MP3 files--all on your TV screen.

Getting Serious: More Advanced TiVo Hacking
Note: Making additions or changes to your original TiVo hardware will likely void the warranty.

Get More Recording Time
A group of Linux gurus have figured out how to replace your original hard drive with a new one, or add a second drive to your TiVo. This allows you to upgrade the number of hours on your TiVo yourself while still allowing it to work with TiVo service.

There is now a whole forum dedicated to help with this procedure at the TiVo Upgrade Center.

Also, check out the TiVo HAQ FAQ site for all the latest details and other hacks you can do. tells you how to upgrade for yourself and sells kits to upgrade storage space, while specializes in upgrade kits for all manner of DVRs.

Get More TiVo Tips
Hard copy guides to many more TiVo features include Hacking Tivo: The Expansion, Enhancement and Development Starter Kit by Jeff Keegan, Hacking the TiVo by William von Hagen, and TiVo Hacks by Raffi Krikorian (at the O'Reilly Books site). For almost anything you wanted to know or ask online about TiVo, visit the tivofaq site.

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