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Replacing your Sky+HD’s hard disc Swapping the hard disc in your Sky+HD for something larger isn’t that difficult if you follow our practical guide When Sky HD started nearly three years ago, there were only eight hi-def channels to choose from (including BBC HD). By February 2008 that number had increased to 31. But in that time the capacity of the internal hard disc drive that the Sky+HD box uses as a recording medium has not been increased proportionately. Odd, given that the price of high-capacity drives has plummeted. The Sky+HD has a 300GB drive (320GB in the latest models), which was admittedly enormous by 2006 standards. This has been ‘partitioned’, so that a fixed 140GB of this capacity is reserved for ‘Anytime’ – the surprisingly useful service that automatically captures high-profile programming Sky thinks you might be interested in. Only the drive’s remaining 160GB is available for your recordings. This may be acceptable for standarddef PVRs like Sky+, but hi-def video has a voracious appetite for drive space. You need only schedule a handful of docs or films for it to disappear! And with all those HD channels now on tap, that 160GB is showing its limitations more than ever. When Sky+ was launched (with a whopping 40GB of capacity) about 10 years ago, it was discovered that you could upgrade the hard drive for more capacity (and so recording time). The same, thankfully, is possible here. All Sky+ units I’m familiar with employ hard drives with a ribbon-cabled interface known as ‘IDE’ or ‘PATA’. Drives with this interface are now obsolete and difficult to obtain – for the benefit of Sky+ users we hope to discuss a workaround in the near future.

Doubling Sky HD capacity The news for Sky+HD subscribers is much rosier. Their boxes use the newer SATA interface – which is the current mainstream – so there’s a wide choice of suitable drives. If you want to use a drive with a capacity of between 300GB and 500GB with your Sky+HD, then you can simply replace the old drive with a new one – following many of the steps here. Carry out a full system reset (quickly 2  What Satellite & Digital TV

A Sky+HD’s hard disc can be extended beyond the basic 300GB

press: [services] 4, 0, 1 [select] and choose option 8) and the replacement drive will be initialised. Sub-500GB drives may be acceptable if the drive in your machine has failed, or you just want a little more capacity. Hard drives of much greater capacity aren’t much more expensive, and if you have access to a reasonably modern PC and are prepared to put in a little extra effort, then you can more than double the capacity of your Sky+HD PVR. Here, we detail the steps involved in replacing the standard 300GB unit with a 750GB one – in this case a Samsung HD753LJ. Bigger drives are available, but some users have reported problems with drives larger than 1TB (e.g. 1.5TB). This is apparently due to a Sky firmware bug. You’ll keep your existing recordings – important, given that many of the films that Sky has broadcast in HD aren’t yet out on Blu-ray. When I carried out my upgrade the programme planner showed 4 per cent remaining capacity. With the new drive that became 74 per cent – with all my recordings intact. The reason for the disproportionate jump in capacity is

Polite disclaimer:

These instructions are for the first thomson-made Sky+HD box (model number ds18215). The same basic procedures apply to all boxes, though. If you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing, leave it to someone who does! Neither the author nor Future Publishing can be held responsible if you blow up your box – or yourself.

because the proportion eaten up by Sky Anytime has not similarly increased; its partition size is unchanged at 140GB. And so with a 750GB drive, 610GB is available for your recordings! You can’t talk about increases in recording time because channel bit rates vary enormously (and that’s before you start considering HD’s requirements). Sky+ and Sky+HD don’t directly use PC disc formats like FAT32 and NTFS. They rely on a proprietary FAT32-based one, known as ‘XTVFS’, that has been optimised for the efficient storage of the large files associated with TV recordings. Were you to connect up a Sky+ or drive to a PC, you would not have much luck. The capacity reported in My Computer, if it’s seen at all, will be the raw capacity of the drive. But with some free software, known as Copy+ (downloadable from, on a standard Windows XP or Vista PC you can ‘migrate’ your recordings (and Anytime content, if desired) from your original drive to the new higher-capacity one. We’ll tell you how next month n Martin Pipe

project Project: Supersizing your Sky+HD These are the power (left) and data (right)


04 cables that connect the hard drive to the

n Set of Pozidriv screwdrivers n Disassembly guides for all Sky+ and Sky HD boxes: php?f=18 n A modern PC running Windows XP or Vista n Samsung Spinpoint F1 HD753LJ 750GB SATA hard drive (e.g. £69.49 including postage from n SATA data cables (e.g. Maplin A40AX, 45cm length, £4.99 each) and SATA power supply adapter cable (e.g. Maplin A17GG, £5.99) OR USB SATA external drive enclosures (e.g. Maplin A83HQ ‘docking station’, £29.99) n Copy+ and XTVFS:

Sky+HD motherboard. Carefully pull out the plugs from the hard drive – they should require little force. SATA power and data connections

that secure the drive to the cradle. Note that one of the relevant holes is covered by a tamperproof label. If your receiver is out of warranty, then you’re OK. If it’s not, then you might want to reconsider and wait until the warranty has expired. HDD and bracket –top view

Completely-disconnect the unit from the

01 ‘outside world’ (LNBs, TV, mains and so on). Leave it in this state for a few hours (ideally overnight) thereby giving the power supply’s high-voltage smoothing capacitor sufficient time to discharge safely. Only 4 per cent free

Remove the four screws that hold the

05 cradle to the chassis. The cradled drive can then be carefully pulled out to reveal the cooling fan cable. Carefully unplug this from the motherboard.

Removing HDD retaining screws from bracket (bottom view)

Remove four screws holding HDD bracket to chassis

The next stage requires a PC, but don’t

07 connect your drives to it yet. After removing a screw at the back of the

02 receiver and prising up three front-

mounted retaining tabs, the metal-cased receiver will slide out of the plastic outer enclosure. The metal top panel is ‘tab-hinged’ to the box on one side; three screws secure it to the opposite side. Undo these – and don’t forget to carefully remove the top-mounted control panel, which is held in place by two countersunk screws. The lid can be swung open and removed, revealing the unit’s complex circuitry.

Remove bracketed HDD

Removing top cover retaining screw Unplug HDD fan connector from motherboard

The hard drive can also be seen – typically

03 made by Maxtor, it resides in a plastic cradle and is partially covered by a self-adhesive synthetic sheet that either dissipates heat or reduces vibration. Not all Sky+HD units are equipped with such sheets.

The cradled drive can now be pulled

06 completely clear of the Sky+HD chassis. Turn it upside down so that its cooling fan can be seen. You’ll now have access to the four screws

The safe-but-slow way is using an external hard drive USB-to-SATA enclosure or even just a USB-to-SATA data cable. An enclosure is better because data copying could take several hours and it will protect the new drives .Your computer must have USB 2.0 ports, or copying will take a very long time indeed, but it saves you opening your PC and works if you have an older PC that uses IDE/PATA hard drives. Connecting direct to SATA inside your PC is much faster, but carries the risk that some BIOS and motherboards have issue with SATA/PATA drive configurations. Having such drives connected at startup runs the risk of Windows running a disc check on them at startup. However, I experienced no such problems with direct SATA connections to a PC based around a Gigabyte GA-MA69GM-S2H. If you’re happy to open up your PC, then do so and discover if your PC uses SATA drives. Chances are that it does if it’s a modern design. Look for spare SATA ports on the motherboard – you’ll need two of these if you’re going to transfer recordings from your old drive to your new one. You’ll also need the appropriate number of SATA power cables, which will originate at the power supply. Maplin also sells a handy four-way SATA power supply cable. Fed from a PC power supply’s spare AT/ATX drive power-connector, this provides four SATA power-connectors. The photos show typical motherboard SATA ports, a What Satellite & Digital TV  3

Project: Supersizing your Sky+HD (continued) data cable and a power cable. If an insufficient number of SATA ports is available, consider external hard drive enclosures.

Right-click on disc in windows disc manager to initialise it so it can be recognised by Copy+

SATA data connectors fitted to PC motherboard

XTVFS2 reboot prompt

Now it’s time to get the drives connected to

SATA power connector (pin side)

Run Copy+. This friendly and well-designed

09 your PC, so that the new drive can be

11 program will automatically deal with the

appropriately formatted and copying can begin. As you can see from this picture, we have opted for the internal SATA approach. However, the same principles apply if you’re using external USB-interfaced drives. Once everything has been connected, reconnect the PC to the mains and reboot it. Disable any virus-scanners, disc optimisers and anti-spyware software.

trickier settings (like the disc format used by a specific Sky box). From the ‘source drive’ pull-down menu, choose the original 300GB drive. After a while, Copy+ will the display the drive’s recordings. Next, specify the ‘destination drive’ – choose the drive (0 to 3) as it was displayed in Windows Disc Management. Then click on the big ‘start copy’ button – and let the program work its magic! With a direct SATA connection, it took us 90 minutes to copy a nearly full (only 4 per cent free) drive. With external drive enclosures, you might have to wait longer because the USB interface slows things down somewhat.

PC-based HDD copying setup

SATA data connector

Windows (and thus Copy+) won’t recognise

10 a factory-fresh hard drive, like the 750GB

Boot up the PC, and then install the

08 software you need.

First and foremost is Copy+, which may be downloaded free of charge. Also available from the same site (see Toolkit box) is XTVFS. Using these ‘read-only’ drivers will prevent Windows from corrupting your Sky+ and Sky+HD hard disc drives by attempting to write to them. Now you should shut down the PC and disconnect it from the mains.

XTVFS diver install 4  What Satellite & Digital TV

Samsung we’re migrating to here. You’ll need to initialise it first. We’re using Vista, but the same principles are also used for XP. Click on the ‘start’ button, and highlight ‘My Computer’ (XP) or ‘Computer’ (Vista). Right-click, and select ‘management’. Select the ‘storage/disc management’ option. The new hard drive can be identified by a black bar, which denotes that its storage hasn’t yet been allocated. Right-click the relevant disc number – note this down – and select ‘initialize disc’. On the pop-up that appears, ensure that the relevant disc and the ‘MBR’ partition-style are checked. Then click ‘OK’.


Select source drive

Source recordings shown

Select destination drive


Screw the HDD cradle to the Sky+HD

14 chassis, and connect the SATA power and

in free capacity (from 4 per cent to 74 per cent in our case).

data cables to the drive. Connect and test Screw HDD bracket to chassis

Copying roughly midway through

Now 74 per cent free Replace SATA power and data cables

Drive copying finished

This is how the original and new drives

12 appear under Vista. C and E are the ‘guinea pig’ PC’s NTFS (Windows) formatted drives; E and G are, respectively, the old and new drives. The free capacity reported by Windows is the same as the unused capacity, despite the recordings. Windows is incompatible with the XTVFS format used in Sky PVRs; that’s why we use those XTVFS read-only drivers. Shut down the PC, disconnect from the mains; disconnect the drives. When booting the PC, re-enable any disabled software.

Check that all is well by playing a few

New drive in situ

Carefully peel the synthetic pad from the

15 original drive – if one is present – and stick

17 recordings and trying to make some new ones. As soon as you are completely satisfied that the hard-drive transplant has been successful your box can be reassembled. First of all, disconnect the box. Re-fit the top plate, and screw the control panel to it. Finally, insert the unit into its plastic jacket and fit the retaining screw. The reconnect your supersized Sky+HD to the rest of your system – and you are ready to enjoy all that extra recording time. Disconnect and replace top lid

it onto the top of the new one.

How the Sky drives appear under Vista

Unpeeling thermal sheet ftom old drive

Screw the new drive into the Sky+HD box’s

13 plastic cradle, and reconnect its fan to the motherboard. Screw new drive into HDD bracket

Replace top cover

Reconnect the display, power and LNB

16 cables to your Sky+HD box, and then turn on. Now it’s time to carry out a Sky+ Planner Rebuild (quickly press: [services] 4, 0, 1 [select] and choose option 7). This will take a few minutes – when your box is restarted, you should have access to all of your original recordings and Anytime content – in addition to a useful increase What Satellite & Digital TV  5

Replacing your Sky+HD’s hard disc