My TiVo Airnet
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.
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Changing the WAP settings before you start should save you any
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
Only when I changed the WAP configuration to a lower case SSID
"wlan" did both the Network Card and the WAP start talking to
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:
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
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:
Once everything was connected, I put the CDROM of MSFTools2 into the CD drive and turned on the machine.
- 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
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
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
This took a few moments, after which I saw the following screen:
At this point I could now change the settings of the Airnet
Part 5 : Setting up
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:
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.
- Change the IP information - so that the connection would
match the settings of the network. I wanted to avoid any
clashes with IP numbers.
- The SSID of the connection to match that of my WAP
- Turn ON encryption - 128Bit is supported by the latest
Airnet drivers and is recommended
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 255.255.255.0).
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
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
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
As you can see, I then typed Reboot to restart the
machine. As it rebooted - I turned off the machine.
Part 7 : Reattaching
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
Part 8 : Adding the
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
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
I, however, did not realise this at the time so proceeded as
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
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
You can see the straightened motherboard locks in the picture
Lastly, I slid the PCMCIA wireless network card into place
inside Airnet as shown below:
Part 9 : Testing The
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 192.168.0.99 - you should obviously use the address
which you entered
I started up a Dos Command window on my PC and typed in the
I was looking for a response which showed that the ping command
has connected to Tivo's IP address and that a response was
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
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
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
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.