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My TiVo Airnet Upgrade Diary

Here are the steps I took to upgrade my UK Thompson Tivo PVR to work with the Airnet networking card.


For those of you who do not know, Airnet is a small piece of hardware that connects onto an interface inside Tivo.


It then allows Tivo to connect to Tivo central via the web as opposed to using the telephone line. Thus daily downloads are faster, they do not block your phone line and, of course, it will now not cost Tivo anything (call charge wise).

As well as the daily updates, you will now have access to Tivo from your PC, allowing you to Telnet to Tivo and use FTP too.


This will make upgrading software (i.e. hacks) easier next time since you needn't remove the hard drive from the pc to send it software anymore.

Finally, and the main reason I upgraded, is that you can add TivoWeb to the system - allowing remote access to Tivo itself, either from your Lan or from the Internet itself.

You can now set that program you want to record from work!

My machine is an upgraded 120G single drive model number 6023, but these rules will work for all UK models.

Here's how I did it...

What I had at the start.

  • TiVo!
  • The Airnet card ordered from 9thTee. Click here for more information. This piece of kit took about 10 days to arrive here from the US. I did not pay anything further on import duty or Tax.
  • A PCMCIA wireless networking card. I used one from Belkin.
  • A multi bit screwdriver , preferably magnetic.
  • Torx screwdriver bit size T10. (six pointed star shaped)
  • A spare PC with cables for Primary and Secondary IDE ports and a CDROM drive.
  • A FAT 32 formatted hard drive (bigger than 1 gig).
  • An Airnet drivers boot CD.
  • An MFSTools2 backup CD.
  • A pair of needle nose pliers

Web links I used.

Part 1 : Things to know before you start.

The main thing with Airnet, as with all wireless connections, is that signal quality is king!

You need, of course, a wireless network set up beforehand, which will normally include a wireless access point (WAP) which will receive the radio signals sent out by the PCMCIA wireless network card (PWNC).
The PWNC must be able to talk to your WAP when inserted into Tivo. Please remember that Tivo is a metal box that will shield, somewhat, the signals from getting through to your WAP.

You should test your PWNC beforehand, perhaps in a laptop, to see the sort of signals you get near your Tivo. With good signal quality, Airnet should work fine when inside Tivo. However, in 'fair' to 'poor' areas, it is likely that once you close the lid on Tivo and encase the PWNC inside, the Airnet signals will be totally blocked! If this is the case, perhaps you should consider Turbonet instead - which requires a hard (wired) connection to your lan.

On reading other threads about Airnet (mainly US ones) the general rule of thumb seemed to be between 20 and 30 feet 'as the crow flies' from your Tivo to your WAP with the signal going through no more than one main wall (inner) and one or perhaps two floors. Obviously, this would be dependant on the types of walls, brick is worse than plasterboard etc. If in doubt...test it first with a laptop before you order Airnet.

You could increase the range of the PWNC by using one that has an external aerial - which could be fed through to the outside of Tivo.
You could also simply leave the lid of the box off (but this obviously does not look so good).
Both will increase the signal strength of the PWNC if you find the signal is poor when testing.

OK, warnings over... lets get on with the upgrade!

Part 2 : Things to set up first.

I found that whilst doing my upgrade there were a couple of things that I should have done before I started but I only realised this when something did not work! So I'm adding this section before we start to save you all the same grief! These problems were mainly concerned with the network configuration.

It is likely, that your wireless network is already configured and running correctly. Mine was set up with a single WAP and a PWNC running on my Vaio laptop which I had successfully been using for a few weeks beforehand all around the house.

I had configured the network to run with encryption (128bit) and I had MAC address filtering turned ON. This simply means that (supposedly) only network cards with specific MAC addresses can connect to the network and once connected, all traffic will be encrypted with 128bit encryption.

You need to do some tweaks to this configuration before starting the upgrade proper.

MAC number configuration.

You must ensure that your WAP is configured to allow your PWNC correctly. The MAC address of my PWNC is printed on the back of the card itself and looks something like 00:2D:31:44:F2:04. You need to ensure that your WAP will accept this address you hide the card inside Tivo and forget the MAC address.

128bit Encryption key.

When I set up my wireless network to run on 128bit encryption, the supplied WAP software had a helpful utility to aid me in generating an encryption key. You simply enter a phrase word into the software and four 26 digit keys are generated. You then choose any of the four keys and away you go!

This method will cause problems with Airnet, however.

I noticed that when software generated the keys, I could not actually see the values of the keys in question (they are displayed as **'s in the software). This is useless for Airnet, because later in the installation phase, you need to enter the hexadecimal encryption string key. Obviously, if you cannot see the keys used by the software, you cannot enter it onto Airnet!

The solution is to use a manual key by entering your own randomly generated 26 digit hex number into the required box on the WAP software, most should allow you to do this. Write this number down since it will be needed later on!

I apologise if the software on your WAP shows you the HEX keys used for encryption - you won't need to do the manual generation, but you still need to write the number down for later.

This step caused massive grief for me since I was using the PC with the WAP software on to upload the drivers onto the Tivo hard drive - I could not, therefore, simply jump back to the WAP software to change the settings before continuing with the upgrade!
Changing the WAP settings before you start should save you any problems later.

SSID settings.

My WAP had a SSID name given to it (the default on new systems is usually "WLAN", but you may have changed it). You also need to specify the SSID to be used when configuring the Airnet drivers. SSID's are, apparently, case sensitive. However, when upgrading the Airnet drivers, the configuration program did not seem to accept UPPER CASE letters. Now this could be simply my naivety with Linux, but I originally added the SSID as "wlan" and this did not match the "WLAN" entered on my WAP configuration.
Only when I changed the WAP configuration to a lower case SSID "wlan" did both the Network Card and the WAP start talking to each other.

Therefore, you need to ensure that - whatever you have called your SSID on your WAP - it is in lower case.

Check your CDRom images.

One last thing to do is to check that on the PC you are going to use the BIOS has been changed to allow booting from the CDROM drive. One of my older PCs did not allow this!
What must not happen is for the machine to suddenly boot into Windows when the Tivo drive is attached to it. If you run Windows2000 or XP you could damage the Tivo drive.
I simply changed the BIOS on the PC I was to use, placed the CDROM into the CD Drive and turned on the machine. Even with the Windows XP drive still attached, my machine booted into Linux... Everything was now ready to start taking things apart!

Part 3 : Removing and backing up the Tivo drive.

The next job was to open the Tivo and remove the hard drive. This will invalidate your warranty. This was still a difficult part of the process.

First I checked it was no longer plugged into the mains! Then undid the three screws at the back of the Tivo. I needed the T10 screwdriver bit for this.
Once they were clear I had to slide the top of the casing backwards a short way (about an inch) and then lift it upwards. However, the casing was very tight and I needed to place a flat-sided screwdriver under the top edge of the casing at the back and carefully lever it forward. Eventually, it came clear and the full layout of the Tivo was shown as below:

Tivo's Innards

You should be careful of the power supply unit in the lower left hand side of the machine (as shown in the picture) since it could still contain an electrical charge, even when unplugged - and there were many exposed points.
However, the design of the 6023 machine has been improved in that I did not actually need to get too close to the power unit at all , something which was not the case in older models which had to remove an extra screw very close to the power supply!

As you can see , the hard drive is situated above the power supply on the left of the picture. The actual drive is connected to a housing that is itself fixed to the Tivo chassis. The connection for the Airnet is situated to the top right of the motherboard - the gold strip at the edge. We will come back to this later...

I disconnected the IDE cable and power supply from the back of the hard drive and then unscrewed the housing from the chassis. There are two screw holes, at the top of the hard drive near the front of Tivo. Both are size T10.
Once undone, the housing needs to be slid downward slightly to get it clear of the holding tabs at the bottom of the drive. Then it could be lifted clear.

I did not bother to remove the drive from the housing, since it will be going back inside later on.

The next stage was to back the Tivo Drive up, I needed to connect the Tivo drive to a PC which was set up as follows:

  • Primary Master IDE cable - FAT32 hard disk of size > 1Gig. (remember to set the jumper switch on the drive to Master). To be used to save the backup image.
  • Primary Slave IDE cable - empty
  • Secondary Master IDE cable - Tivo drive (jumper should already be on Master).
  • Secondary Slave IDE cable - CDROM drive (jumper set to Slave).
Once everything was connected, I put the CDROM of MSFTools2 into the CD drive and turned on the machine.

The PC booted into Linux from the CD and I did CTRL+C a few times to ensure the Bash prompt (/#) was accepting commands.

To backup the Tivo, I entered the following two commands to ready the disks.

To do the actual backup, I entered the following command:

The l in the command is a lowercase "L" by the way.

The command took about 5 minutes to run and then reported a result:

This had now transferred an image of my Tivo settings (thumbs data, season passes etc, but not programs) onto the hard disk attached to the Primary Master cable. The resulting image, called "tivo.bak" was about 350Meg in size. I later burnt this image onto a CD for safekeeping.

Once the backup had completed, it was time to install the drivers for Airnet...

Part 4 : Installing the Airnet Drivers.

This next part moved the required drivers for Airnet from the CD to the Tivo Drive.

I entered: "Reboot" at the bash prompt and as the machine rebooted, I swapped over the CD to the Airnet Drivers disk.

Once Tivo had finished rebooting again, I typed CTRL+C to check the prompt was responding.

I entered the following command :

This copied the drivers onto the Tivo drive. A screen was then displayed as the install began:

I answered 'Y' to the question and the install continued...

This took a few moments, after which I saw the following screen:

At this point I could now change the settings of the Airnet card.

Part 5 : Setting up Network Information.

note: this step IS repeatable should you make a mistake - simply rerun the "nic_install/nic_install airnet" command

On my Airnet card I wanted to change three things:

  1. Change the IP information - so that the connection would match the settings of the network. I wanted to avoid any clashes with IP numbers.
  2. The SSID of the connection to match that of my WAP
  3. Turn ON encryption - 128Bit is supported by the latest Airnet drivers and is recommended
I could already see that the daily call option had been set to Network - so Tivo would use the Internet for it's daily calls.

IP Address.

I took option 4 and was be presented with the following screen:

The original default IP information was displayed at the top of the screen.

To change this I simply had to enter the IP address I wanted to use in the format XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX into first line. This would become the IP address of the Tivo.

The Subnet mask needed to be matched with that of my network (it's usually

Finally, I needed to enter the IP of my Internet gateway to tell Tivo where to go to find the Internet. (This will normally be the IP address of your router, if you use one, or of the PC connected to your modem if you use Internet Connection sharing (ICS)).

Without this number Tivo would not be able to download new daily information from the Internet.

Once entered, I was returned to the main menu.


I took option 2 and was asked to enter a new SSID that matched the SSID of my network.
It is here that I found I could not enter Upper Case letters (so make sure you have changed your SSID on your WAP to something in lower case so this SSID will match it (see part 2 - things to set up first, above)).

I entered the name of my WAP SSID and retuned to the main menu.


I took option 3 and was presented with the following screen:

Here I was being asked to enter which type of encryption I required. It is advisable to use 128bit encryption, so I entered 128 and pressed ENTER (shown in picture above).

A second question appeared as shown below:

It is here that I needed to enter the 26-character encryption key that I had decided to use on my wireless network (see part 2 - things to set up first, above).

The number looked something like the following: E4F583BC9A01A3CCC8E5F7D43A (but obviously, you should use the key which matches your network!)

Part 6 : Saving The Configuration.

Now I needed to save the new configuration.

I selected option 0 on the main menu and saw the following :

To this new question I answered Y and then saw the following output:

As you can see, I then typed Reboot to restart the machine. As it rebooted - I turned off the machine.

Part 7 : Reattaching the Drive.

A small step this...

I disconnected the Tivo drive from the PC and reattached the hard drive to the IDE cable on Tivo.

I then plugged in the hard drive power cable.

Finally I slid the hard drive back into place on the Tivo housing and screwed the housing back down using the T10 screwdriver.

Part 8 : Adding the Airnet Hardware.

Finally I get to the part where I could add the actual hardware.

Firstly I positioned the airnet card behind the interface slot at the top right of the motherboard in Tivo and tried to push it onto the connector.

It soon became apparent, though, that there was something blocking the card. I could only get airnet half way onto the connector.

note : according to Oliver Dawson, the airnet card is snagging on the Tivo foot which is sticking up from underneath the motherboard.
He suggests removing the foot under the case by undoing the screw in the foot. Once removed, the card should fit on correctly. You can then reattach the foot to the case without causing any damage to the card or motherboard. - thanks for that Oliver!

I, however, did not realise this at the time so proceeded as below...

I removed the card again and had a look at what was causing the problem. It seemed to me that the motherboard in Tivo was very close to the insulation under the motherboard. So much so, that the edge of the airnet card was hitting the insulation.

To cure this, I simply loosened the motherboard from its fastenings slightly to allow the board to be lifted a little.

You can see from the picture below that the motherboard is held in place by multiple twist-locks (arrowed). These are small bits of metal, which poke through the motherboard and are twisted slightly to hold the motherboard down. You can also see the insulation layor (black strip) that was blocking the connection port.

Using the needle nosed pliers I simply straightened the two locks nearest to the edge connector. This made it possible for the motherboard to be lifted slightly.

I then carefully lifted the motherboard by a few millimetres and this enabled airnet to correctly slide onto the connector with a satisfying click.

You can see the straightened motherboard locks in the picture below.

Lastly, I slid the PCMCIA wireless network card into place inside Airnet as shown below:

Part 9 : Testing The Connection.

It was best to test the connection before closing the lid etc.. Just to make sure everything is set up correctly.

So I plugged the Tivo back in.

The PCMCIA card I was using has a light that shows steady when there was a connection and flashes when there was no connection.

As the Tivo booted up and started to play the "Slide" video, I saw the light come on and stay stable. This indicated that the card had connected correctly.

I then tested to see whether other machines on the network could see the Tivo now.

note: for the next part I will use the IP of Tivo (as set up in part 5 - IP address, the first IP addres entered on that section) as - you should obviously use the address which you entered

I started up a Dos Command window on my PC and typed in the following command:


I was looking for a response which showed that the ping command has connected to Tivo's IP address and that a response was coming back.

This was successful, so I progressed to stage 2, testing Telnet.

If this command times out, it means that Tivo is not on your network, you should go back to the installation stage (part 4) and recheck the settings compared to your own network settings. Also check that airnet is firmly installed and the PCMCIA card is properly inserted.

To test Telnet, I typed the following into the dos screen (remember to use your own IP address) :


This responded with a Bash prompt, similar to when I was installing the drivers.

I typed Exit to close the bash prompt.

Finally, I checked to see whether FTP was working.

On my Internet browser, (IE 6 in this case) I typed the following into the address bar:

After a few seconds the display showed me the folder structure on the Tivo. This showed that FTP was working.

Part 10 : Finishing Off.

At this point, I decided to install TivoWeb to allow me to access the Tivo functionality from over the network. See this page for the instructions on installing Tivoweb.

Once that was complete, I unplugged Tivo again, reattached the lid and took Tivo back downstairs.

The big test was whether Tivo would work further away from the WAP.

I reconnected all the leads and plugged Tivo back into the mains. Once it had booted up, I turned on the TV to add to any possible interference that the TV might cause and also turned on my amplifier (there are speakers near to where Tivo sits).

I then returned upstairs to the PC and went through Part 9 (above) again to see whether Tivo was still responding.

I was fortunate in that the distance had not affected the signal and Tivo was still talking to the WAP.

Finally, I tested the daily call function on Tivo. I had deliberately not re-connected the phone line to Tivo.
In the set-up menu on Tivo I forced a call...After a few seconds, the 'call' was made and new information was downloaded - I watched the network traffic whilst this was going on and could see information being sent to the WAP node.


Written Nov 2002.

Written by SteveC