Rolling Your Own TiVo WiFi Adapter

The only thing more surprising than finding out TiVo actually put out a new 4K set-top box recently is learning that somehow they didn’t bother to build WiFi into the thing. You’re forced to buy a special wireless adapter to the tune of $60 USD to add the feature. We’d make a joke about the company living in the past, but frankly, it would be too easy.

Having to buy just one of these expensive dongles in 2020 would be insulting enough, but TiVo superfan [xxbiohazrdxx] needed four of them. Rather than hand nearly $250 to the antennae-headed overlords, they decided to reverse engineer the adapter and produce their own low-cost version. While the final result might not be as slim and svelte as the original, it does come in at less than 1/4 the price.

Operating under the assumption that the TiVo would only talk to a WiFi adapter based on the same Broadcom BCM43569 chipset used in the official one, [xxbiohazrdxx] started by trying to find a standard USB dongle that might be a drop-in replacement. Unfortunately, it looks like this particular chip was almost exclusively used in proprietary applications, most commonly as a WiFi board inside of smart TVs. But as it turns out, that wasn’t necessarily a deal breaker.

After some searching, [xxbiohazrdxx] eventually found the promising CyberTAN NU361-HS board. Not only was it based on the right chipset and ran from 5 volts, but its FCC ID entry had a complete pinout for the connector. This particular WiFi module is used in a number of budget TVs and is widely available as a spare part for less than $10. By combing the board and a USB breakout PCB inside of a 3D printed case, you’ve got a plug-and-play WiFi adapter that the TiVo thinks is the real deal.

There was a time when Hackaday was flooded with TiVo hacks, but it’s now been more than a decade since cheap carrier-provided DVRs ate the company’s lunch. Realistically, there’s an excellent chance that this post will be the only time a mention of the once-mighty DVR graces the front page in 2020. While the reign of the TiVo might be at its end, the impact it had as one of the first Linux-powered consumer devices will be etched in hacker history forever.

16 thoughts on “Rolling Your Own TiVo WiFi Adapter

  1. Thank you for the article, Tom!! We are loyal Tivo users. As we don’t have cable, we don’t have a cheap carrier provided DVR so will likely be Tivo user for a while longer. The lack of WiFi in the Tivo minis that I use in several rooms has always bugged me. Will check out the links in more detail for sure!

    1. Cheap carrier provided DVR ignores the fact that you pay thru the nose for something that used to be free so now you have to pay an ever increasing bill every month. i also have two TiVos. This way I have something to watch if the antenna is a little flaky.

      1. Exactly!! We’ve used our roof antenna for years. Now with the explosion of independent broadcast channels and a good choice of relatively inexpensive streaming options, we have more than enough to watch. Agree that the Tivo having a nice collection of our favorites saved all the time provides additional flexibility.

        Just read through the writeup from the links, and this project is definitely doable. I’m headed to eBay now to go shopping. 😄

    2. I’ve had no trouble plugging mini’s into external ethernet to wifi adapters. I’ve used both plain old ones and the ports on the back of several mesh routers. Works like a charm.

      However, despite being a tivo customer since 2000, I’m done with them. I doubt they have long to live TBH. That they still think they can charge $50 for a wifi adapter is ludicrous.

  2. Although leaving WiFi out of a device in 2020 is hard to comprehend, I am dismayed by the recent trend toward streaming devices that lack Ethernet capability. Some of us prefer to keep our finite WiFi bandwidth available for devices that actually move around, rather than wasting it on stationary things like TVs, and a 4K streaming device can use quite a bit of bandwidth. If you live in a dense urban neighborhood your total WiFi bandwidth and range are far less than their theoretical limits because you are sharing the band with neighbors.

  3. Why anybody would still want to use linear TV in this day and age is beyond me, but this is certainly a cool hack, as it’s literally “hacking into” something in a good way.

    1. I prefer Tablo as a DVR option. It’s super easy to pull media off and place it on my Plex server. I barely have any idea when or where most shows air anymore. My parents are the linear people of which you speak. I don’t get it either but my Mom is coming around a bit. She streams now!

    1. Over a short distance it is usually fine. Of course, at Super speeds, it may be more of an issue.
      Add to the fact that the person has it already working, then it can indeed run on those cables.

  4. Yeah.. TiVo did that on purpose because they understood that Wi-Fi quality would affect how well their product would work and most people’s Wi-Fi is a bit lacking on average and design team at TiVo like things to work every time so I hope your part is just as stable and solid as what you buy for 60 bucks. Now I’m guessing you’re trying to connect a TiVo mini in another room? Other options, use the Moca coaxial option and run on the coaxial wires between rooms and doesn’t cost anything if wire is available it’s just a change in the settings or try ethernet overpower about 30 bucks each or maybe internet adapter bridge about 20 to 30 bucks each if you can’t run an ethernet cord. I enjoy TiVo and all of its capabilities I do pay for a cable package that runs over a hundred bucks a month. That being said you’re fretting over a $60 part, even times four it is a one-time investment as you don’t pay any monthly fees for those extra TVs. Many do not know the wonderful storied history of TiVo and the cable card and how it came to be thanks TiVo. By the way anybody prefers watching TV any other way hasn’t properly been introduced to all of the amazing features like how I watch news and documentary recordings much faster with quick mode without squeaky voices thanks again for innovating TiVo saving hours every week. Skipping commercials on a streamer definitely is not smooth like just pushing one button or just having it do it for me. Once you enjoy TV this way you will never want to go back. With streaming skipping commercials isn’t even allowed sometimes, so on the bigger story of many saying streaming is the way to go, long live the DVR and TiVo the inventor and innovator.

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