After midnight tonight, owners of Bell TV’s (formerly Bell ExpressVu) 9242 HD/PVR will be able to connect external USB hard drives giving them virtually unlimited recording space for their favourite movies and TV shows.
This new option which will be released as a free, automatic software update to 9242 model satellite receivers, marks the first time a Canadian TV provider has officially supported the use of external storage to enhance the capacity of a PVR.
To take advantage of this new functionality, 9242 owners need simply buy a compatible external hard drive. The minimum specs are:
• USB 2.0 connectivity
• 7200 RPM disk speed
• External power adapter
• Always-on (no-sleep mode)
While there is no minimum disk size, not every external drive that meets the above specs is guaranteed to work with the 9242. Bell is selling a Lacie 750 GB external drive for $199 via their website (and soon in Bell World stores) which they guarantee will be compatible.
There are a few caveats with this announcement:
• Flash-based USB 2.0 drives are not supported
• Content cannot be recorded directly to the external hard drive, instead you use it as an archive volume for freeing up space on the 9242’s built-in HD
• Once connected, the 9242 will format the drive if it has never been used with the PVR before. This formatting is not compatible with PCs.
• If the hard drive is subsequently connected to a PC, the built-in software will instruct the PC to automatically reformat the drive
Playing back programs that have been transferred to the external hard drive is simple and can be done via the 9242’s on-screen PVR interface. The external hard drive appears as a ‘group’ in the PVR list labelled "External Hard Drive".
There is no limit to how many external drives can be used with the 9242, so theoretically, your recording capacity is unlimited and the cost for expanding capacity is determined by which external hard drive you choose, giving you much greater flexibility than with the built-in disk in the receiver.
There are no specs available on how fast program transfers take, however the software allows you watch TV while the transfer is in progress, instead of simply having to stare at the progress bar.
It had been rumoured that this software update was going to be applied to Bell’s 6141 receivers as well, which are PVR-ready, but lack an internal hard drive. Unfortunately this is not the case. But, I have good news for 6141 owners: your time is coming. I have it on good authority that the software needed to connect an external HD to these receivers will be released before the end of the year.
Now some of you may remember that back around the time of the CES show in January, a certain Bell VP promised to support recording from a Bell PVR to an Archos portable media player. It seems that this project is – for the time being at least – on hold. The VP is no longer with the company and it remains to be seen if anyone within the Bell TV division has the necessary enthusiasm for the project to get it back on track.
Update, August 8: Despite the fact that the older, 9200 HD/PVR is equipped with USB ports, the external hard drive feature is not going to be enabled with this software release, and none is planned for the future. On a bright note however, Bell TV seems to have quietly added a cool new feature for the 9200: Photo Viewing. Load up a USB flash drive with .JPG files and plug it into the 9200’s USB port. Or use a USB cable and plug in your digital camera directly. Doing so activates the USB host feature on the 9200 in much the same way it does on your PC. Once your drive or camera is plugged in, you can browse and edit your photos and watch them as a slideshow. Apparently this unpublicized feature has been enabled for a while now. Who knew?