Can you permanently save DIRECTV programs on a hard drive?

Oh if only. But you know, it’s not going to happen. DIRECTV and other providers are not going to let you make pristine digital copies of the stuff on your DVR. They’re too afraid that you would put it up on (legal or illegal) file sharing sites after you took all the commercials out of it. Never mind that this happens already all the time, they’re not about to make it easier.

Can’t you just clone the hard drive?

Even if you were to open your DVR (don’t) and connect the hard drive to your computer, you’d find the files are in an unplayable format. They’re encrypted and tied to your specific receiver in a way that, so far, hasn’t been hacked. This kind of encryption is what gives content providers the confidence they need to let you record stuff in the first place.

So the problem is, if you can’t store it permanently, and it’s not the sort of thing you’d be able to find on streaming, what are your options? You can actually do video capture, although you have to make some hard decisions. You can stream it in SD quality with a very inexpensive device or you can try to find something that will let you capture HD over a component output. The best choice for this process is this HDMI to USB device. It’s also extremely inexpensive. The problem is, depending on the program, there may be content protection that will render this device useless. This HDCP protection will stop you from using any capture device, which is why I recommend getting an inexpensive one. If it’s not going to work — and there will be cases where it doesn’t — it’s best to spend as little as possible.

This basically leaves you with pointing your smartphone at the TV screen and shooting a movie. Obviously that’s not the first choice, but it may be your only choice.

What are your rights?

Right now, this sort of technology is still too new for the law to know what to do. In theory you have the right to make copies of stuff for your fair use but if you do, you could also send them out to the rest of the world. So we have things like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows music and video to be encrypted in most cases. You could redistribute the encrypted file but you can’t decrypt it. The DMCA is an old law that was written long before most of today’s technology came into being and it desperately needs rewriting. However, it seems pretty unlikely with today’s logjam in Congress, so it’s what we’re stuck with.

The good news, and it’s probably the only good news here, is that more and more content is becoming available for streaming all the time. If the content provider has a streamed copy available, that will give you some peace of mind. It still won’t help you preserve the video of that time your 6-year-old was on local TV, but it’s something.

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About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.