Can you use an old access card in a new DIRECTV receiver?

This question recently came across my desk. It takes a minute to explain. In fact, before I even get to the question I need to give you some backup.

You can’t move recordings from receiver to receiver with DIRECTV.

Some other providers let you do this, but DIRECTV doesn’t. If you were to attempt to move the hard drive from one DVR to another, the recordings wouldn’t play. They’re all encrypted to play only on the receiver they were made on.

You can’t move recordings off your DVR’s hard drive.

Well, at least not legally. I’m not saying you couldn’t cobble together some weird black hat thing to capture the output of the hard drive as you play a recording, but unless you have that high level of skill, you’re not going to be able to get something off the DVR’s hard drive, at least not in high definition. If your DVR has standard definition outputs or component HD, you can get a capture device to do it. Those things are becoming rare, and there are some programs that won’t play at all in standard definition.

Your DVR is going to die, eventually.

Honestly these things are incredibly reliable. I know people who are still using DVRs from 2006 and they still work, slowly. But the point is they still work. But that’s rare. I tend to think that 5-7 years is a good life for a DVR and it seems AT&T does too. They don’t ask for equipment back after the lease is up, unless they still manufacture it. That locks out older DVRs. Those should be responsibly recycled.

So… here’s what that all adds up to.

Let’s say your kid was on the local news in 2013. You recorded it and you’ve been keeping in on your DVR, since there’s basically no way to get it off there. You’re worried about the DVR dying. Maybe it already has. You’re terrified that you’re going to lose this little bit of family history and so you start asking, “how can I save this recording so I can still play it?”

That leads you to questions like, “Can you use an old access card in a new DIRECTV receiver?” which is the title of the article. You might be asking this because you think this will let you watch that recording on the new DVR, if you pull the hard drive out and put it in the new DVR.  Before I get to answering the question though, there are still some things you ought to know.

If you’re returning the old DVR, you can’t take the drive out. And either way, you definitely can’t put it in the new DVR.

Not only is it against DIRECTV rules to open up your new DVR, it might not even be worth it. Every DVR is designed around a specific model hard drive and the hard drive you pull out of the old one might not even fit. I’ve seen before where some DVRs use standard size hard drives where others use “slim” ones. Only the Genie 2 uses a 2.5″ laptop sized hard drive but even so, it could be impossible to get that drive to fit.

It’s impossible to use an old access card, but it’s rare and it doesn’t usually work.

Access cards are usually tied to the kind of receiver they are supposed to work with. This is another security precaution. You can’t take an access card from an H21 and put it in an HR54. The DVR will just reject it. Even if you’re going between two DVRs of the same model, most of the time the system will reject an access card that has already been paired to another receiver. The experts at Solid Signal have ways around this but it’s difficult and takes time.

More importantly…

It’s not going to get you what you want. Even if you use the access card from your old DVR and the hard drive from your old DVR, you still won’t be able to watch those old recordings because the two DVRs have different receiver IDs. In order to play something off a hard drive, you need the right receiver ID as well as the right access card.

So if that doesn’t work, what can you do?

Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of legal alternatives. As I said you can output from the RCA connectors in most cases and that gives you something. You can see if the content is available online to buy. If it’s a news story from a local station, contact them to see if you can get a copy of it.

Another option, and sometimes it’s your last-ditch effort, is just to point your phone at the TV. Believe it or not this works fairly well. It’s not perfect but it’s better than nothing.

If you are thinking of upgrading your DVR, you might want to check first with the fine folks at Solid Signal. They can help you with any available upgrades and any incentives you might not have known about. The number, as always, is 877.312.4547.