NICE AND EASY: Can you use an external hard drive with your DIRECTV DVR?

Except it’s not so easy, and it’s not very nice.

If one terabyte of recording space isn’t enough for you, you may be wishing that you could upgrade that DIRECTV DVR with a larger hard drive. You may have noticed the USB ports on the back of the DVR and thought it might be fun to hook up an external drive, just to see what happens. Of course, nothing happens.

DIRECTV DVRs can use external drives, but there are some things you need to know. Not every hard drive will work — in fact most won’t — and you’ll lose access to the recordings you have on the internal drive. Let’s go through the details.

There needs to be an eSATA port on the back of the DVR.
Look at the back of the DVR. Do you see a port labeled “eSATA”? Look at the back of an HR54 DVR:

Here the eSATA port is just to the right of the Ethernet port. Not every DVR has one, but most do.

You need an eSATA hard drive.
You need a hard drive with an eSATA connector on it. These are less common than USB hard drives and harder to find. There are USB to eSATA adapters but a lot of people have reported that they don’t tend to work with DIRECTV DVRs. I don’t know why.

You’ll lose access to your internal drive’s recordings, and then some.
When you connect an external drive and reboot, you lose access to the internal drive. You can’t use both. So, if you’re going to add an external drive, make sure it’s large enough to handle all your needs, and first watch everything that’s on that internal drive (yeah, that’s going to take you a while.) You’ll also lose some odd settings here and there, so be prepared for that.

Forget about moving recordings from DVR to DVR, or from DVR to PC.
It just doesn’t work. If you connect a new DVR to an external that was used by a DVR already, the drive will be wiped and all your programs erased. If you copy the files to a PC you won’t be able to play them because they’re encrypted. If that’s why you’re considering an external drive, it’s not worth it.

As you can see, adding an external drive isn’t a great value in most cases, but remember that you can’t open up the equipment without voiding the warranty and breaking the terms of your customer agreement.

So what can you do? A DVR isn’t a great archiving solution anyway (unfortunately) and the best solution at the moment is to rely on DIRECTV’s own on demand programming or network apps for whole seasons of your favorite programs. That’s not a great solution either (it does, but it’s probably the best you’re going to get right now.