Do-it-yourself SA8300HD PVR Expander

The Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD is a high definition, two-tuner personal video recorder (DVR) that is currently being marketed by cable companies throughout North America including Rogers Cable and Videotron. The unit has been well received by Digital Home members and a common complaint is that it can only record about 20 hours of high-definition programming.

This article, from one of Digital Home’s most well regarded members, was written some time ago and recently updated, however, it is still the standard for explaining how you can quickly and cheaply add additional recording capacity to your SA 8300HD PVR.

Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD

Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD

Adding an External Hard Drive to your SA 8300HD

Although many people are happy with the storage capacity of their PVRs, some people require more storage. This can certainly come in handy if you wish to keep some of your favourite programming on the PVR for demonstration purposes, or a bit of archiving, or if you are going on vacation and need to record more programming that you normally do before getting a chance to watch it.

Increased storage capacity will become increasingly important as more programming becomes available in HD. HD programming requires roughly five times the storage of SD programming. The SA8300HD PVR can currently record about 20 hours of HD programming on its 160 GB Hard Disk Drive (HDD). A few HD sports events and a few HD movies and you’re starting to push the limits of the drive.

Although it’s possible to add additional capacity to a number of different PVRs, this article is specific to the Scientific Atlanta 8300 series PVRs.

If you have an SA8300HD PVR close to capacity then here is how you can add an external drive via the SATA port on the back of the unit. SATA is an acronym for Serial Advanced Technology Attachment and is the latest in a series of connections for HDDs.
What You’ll Need

It’s fairly easy to purchase the HDD, cable and enclosure for the HDD, however, one must take care to purchase the appropriate equipment. That equipment is outlined below:

  1. An external SATA I drive, 7200 RPM is recommended, 133 MB/sec is recommended.
  2. An enclosure for the drive. Various people use various enclosures, but in addition to housing the drive, the enclosure should also be designed to keep the drive cool, since heat is an enemy of electronics. Metal enclosures with fans are usually the coolest.
  3. A SATA II (also called e-SATA) to SATA 1 cable is required. A SATA I to SATA I cable that comes with most enclosures will NOT work. (Some drive enclosures do come with the appropriate SATA II to SATA I cable.)

Installation

Once you have all your equipment, you need to install it. Here are the guidelines for that installation:

  • Make all connections to the SA8300HD while the SA8300HD is unplugged. (Unplug it when you know that you don’t have any scheduled recordings). Wait for the “ready” light on the new HDD. Sometimes the SATA cable may require a small “trim” to make it fit into the plug. Once you have the drive connected, you should also not turn it off, or disconnect it, without again unplugging the SA8300HD itself.
  • You need to plug the drive into an outlet that has continuous power. DO NOT connect the drive to a switched outlet or a power bar that you switch on/off. If the drive turns off during recording, you can lose the recording, and perhaps even damage the drive. Do not plug the drive into the electrical outlet on the SA8300HD because the drive should be “ready” when you boot the SA8300HD and that’s not possible if you plug it into the SA8300HD itself.
  • Power up the SA8300HD and wait for it to boot to the time display. It should then ask if you want to format the drive.
  • Press the yellow triangle to proceed/confirm. Wait for formatting to finish and power cycle the STB again.

After it finishes booting for the second time, turn it on and there will be a message saying the external drive was recognized as well as a warning not to turn the power off to the drive. You should be all set to go. You can confirm the additional HDD space by viewing the “fuel gauge” indicating the remaining space. It should have increased dramatically from before.

Disconnecting your External Drive

If you wish to disconnect the drive from the SA8300HD, you need to follow the following steps:

1. Power off the SA8300HD. Unplug it. Wait for a few seconds.
2. Disconnect the power from the HDD and disconnect the cable.
3. Plug the SA8300HD back in and power it up. If you disconnected the external HDD improperly, you may get an error message.

Other Important Information:

  1. The list of your recordings is stored on the internal drive of the SA8300HD. If you have disconnected the external HDD, you will not be able to view those programmes stored on the external drive, obviously.
  2. The recordings are balanced between the internal and external drive. Any “new” recording will always go to the drive that has more space available. Individual recordings are not “split” between the internal and external drives.
  3. SA8300HD owners have installed external drives up to 1.5TB however care should be taken care to select the correct drive/enclosure combination when using a larger drive.

Project Cost and off the shelf solutions

The total cost of this project is approximately CDN $100-$200 depending on the size of the drive and the cable/drive enclosure used.

For SA 8300HD owners who prefer not to have to do it themselves, there are also “complete” systems that you can purchase from various vendors like Iomega Maxtor. These are usually more expensive and typically available only from your cable company.

Finding out more

If you have question about adding an external hard drive to you SA8300HD then please visit this thread in the Digital Forums where this subject is discussed in great detail.

About the Author

57 is a retired professional engineer, who sold technology into the oil/gas industries for 31 years. His hobbies and interests include: home theatre, computers, good red wine, good beer, X-C skiing, cycling, running, travel, BBQ’ing and cooking. He has over 38,000 posts on the Digital Forum and is reknowned for his in-depth home theatre knowledge.

Comments

8 Responses to “Do-it-yourself SA8300HD PVR Expander”
  1. Timmer says:

    This is a very informative article, yet I wish it went the extra step and provided some recommendations and links to specific drives, enclosures and cables. I’m sure they’re not hard to find, but I think that sort of detail would have been appropriate in this article for those that are not inclined to do the search themselves.

    • 57 says:

      The information you seek is in the forum thread – see the link under “Finding Out More”, the second last paragraph of the article.

  2. riggit says:

    Can you use the outlet on the back of the 8300 if you have set it to “always on” in the settings for the 8300?

  3. Gilles says:

    where exactly can I find and buy a hard drive for the Videotron’s 8300HD box that plugs in the SATA and will add time to the recorder .I was suggested so many stores -FS,BB.. but they only have hard drive that plugs in the USB ,wich is not fonctionnal to record or add time to the recording device .

  4. Wayne says:

    I have purchased a Western Digital MyBook 1.5 TB external drive from Best Buy for $139 on sale. I have tried both an eSata to eSata cable as well as an eSata to Sata cable to work with my Rogers SA 8300HD box and nothing works. As well, I have formated the WD box for FAT32 as suggested on another site. Can someone please help me with this. I ABSOLUTELY refuse to pay Rogers $249 for a PVR expander box as that is highway robbery and holding their customers to ransom.

    • Jay says:

      I did the same as Wayne and also cannot get it to work. I have not formatted the box, as I was expecting it to be read on power up and formatted by the 8300 as suggested in this article, but no luck.

      The 8300 does appear to be reading it, however. If I disconnect the eSata cable while both the 8300 and the MyBook are running I get a message saying that “a cable may be unplugged from my external storage device.”

      Not sure what to do now and hoping that it’s not a case of this particular external drive not being compatible with the 8300!

      Any help or suggestions are appreciated.

      • Tyler says:

        I did the same thing as Wayne and Jay! Purchased the exact same WD hard drive at Best Buy duriong their boxiong week sale. I have been unable to get this thing to work! When installed, I get a message from my PVR saying “The external storage device is not fucntioning properly. Check your power and cables.” Everthing is connected fine. If I take the sSATA cable out, I get a message from my PVR saying “You cannot disconnect your stoarge device while the PVR is still on” (or something like that).

        HELP!!

  5. HappyUser says:

    As noted in the article, check out the thread in the forum where you can get your questions answered. That’s what I did.