Love your TiVo? Lou Jacob can make you love it more.
In fact, he can modify, upgrade and, well, pimp your TiVo till it hums like one of those custom cherry-red Harleys they assemble on the cable networks.
Jacob's Chicago-based DVRupgrade Inc. (www.ptvupgrade.com) has been enhancing the popular TiVo digital video recorders for six years.
"TiVos are very amenable to modifications," Jacob said. Why? Because a TiVo is basically a computer with a hard drive running the Unix operating system.
The hard drive stores your recorded programs, and the Unix OS brings you user-friendly menus.
One of the most requested upgrades, Jacob said, is increased storage space.
By expanding your TiVo's hard-drive space, you proportionately expand the amount of programming you can record.
There are two options for any of DVRupgrade's services: Send in your TiVo and have the company do the work (you pay to get it there), or order one of the company's upgrade kits and, following detailed instructions, do the job yourself.
"Our do-it-yourself kit has the hard drive, bracket, wrench and cables you need so you can open up the box and drop in a new drive," Jacob said.
"Mileage will vary depending on the type of TiVo you have."
Here's what that means:
Prices for the kits range from $129, which buys a single 80-gigabyte drive (which holds about 70 hours of video) to $1,000 for dual 500-gigabyte hard drives. The latter is for high-definition TiVos and can hold about 150 hours of HD programming.
If you want DVRupgrade to do the work for you, add $50 to $100, depending on whether you want the contents of your old hard drive copied to the new drive.
The other major upgrade the three-person firm offers: making the TiVo networkable.
"We offer software that allows you to remotely access your TiVo (menus) through a Web browser," Jacob said.
This will let you remotely set programs to record, but you won't be able to watch them from your PC without modifications to get around TiVo's built-in encryption.
There's a large, active community that discusses TiVo modifications. TiVo Community Forum (tivocommunity.com) and DVRplayground (www.dvrplayground.com) are two examples.
It's a fine line, and Jacob knows it.
"Once your TiVo is networked and accessible remotely, there are underground techniques that strip away (copy protection) controls from the programming," he said. "Once that's available, you can move the programs to your PC or your video iPod and do what you want."
But he's not suggesting you do this.
"Giving people access is the hard part," he said. "We give them the hard part because that's the legal part. The illegal part is teaching them how to do those additional cool things."
He has met with high-level TiVo executives, and they told him they approve of his company's work, Jacob said.
"We've discussed this with them," he said. "They think it's cool. They don't have a problem with it, and they realize it's something their platform is amenable to."
Sixty percent of Jacob's customers order do-it-yourself kits, 10 percent send their box in for professional installation, and the remaining 30 percent purchase downloadable software that makes the TiVo networkable.