Western Digital sure loves its MyBook design. We've seen too many different flavours of the MyBook design with slightly different interfaces, capabilities and colours to adequately list all of them within the space constraints of a review. The My DVR Expander looks pretty much identical to any and all of them; it's a black, vaguely bookish (but only bookish in the way that those terrible false boxes that are meant to look like books in a bookshelf do) shaped external drive enclosure with a shiny orange power/status button on the front of the drive. The My DVR Expander connects via SATA only, and requires a power plug as well — which we'll get back to shortly.
The MyBook design isn't one that we'd say was innately lounge room friendly. Its black plastic style won't look out of place next to a lot of AV equipment, but at the same time it's not particularly small, and the 1m SATA cable provided could prove a challenge to integrate into some home theatre cabinet set-ups, depending on where your TiVo actually is.
One key thing to make clear in the features is that when Western Digital say "My DVR Expander", what the company really mean is "My TiVo Expander". It's so far the only device to get TiVo accreditation in the Australian marketplace, and all the documentation presumes you're going to plug it into the Australian model TiVo. From a storage viewpoint, the drive has 1TB of data capacity, which rather dwarfs the native 160GB of on-board storage on a TiVO PVR. That's good for around 200 hours of additional HD TV recording, or 400 hours of SD if that's to your taste.
One thing we can't fault with the My DVR Expander is the relative ease of installation, slightly short SATA cables notwithstanding. We plugged the drive into a TiVo, which detected it and popped a message up asking us if we wanted to install it. From there, the system rebooted itself, and after the typical five-minute wait that you get every time the TiVo reboots, we were good to go. The TiVo reported the drive and our expanded recording capacity, and we quickly found the extra space being filled with additional programming suggestions as the TiVo realised it had additional space to fill.
From a practical viewpoint, if you just wanted to expand the TiVo's base recording capacity, the My DVR Expander does what it says on the box. Given the recent launch of TiVo's Blockbuster-branded VOD service, a bit of extra space is no bad thing, right?
We're struck, however, by a couple of rather stark limitations of the device. To be fair to both Western Digital and TiVo, these are made very clear when you're first installing the device, to the extent that the TiVo requires a triple thumbs down followed by an enter key command before it'll initialise the My DVR Expander. The reason for this is that saved data from the point you install the drive is striped across both the My DVR Expander and the TiVo itself. If the My DVR Expander loses power, is accidentally unplugged or explodes in a shower of flame, you stand to lose not just the programs on the drive, but potentially all of the content on your TiVo as well. The same is true if the drive within the TiVo fails, but given that the additional cable and power supply introduce additional points of failure, and the My DVR Expander is likely to be a bit more exposed to knocks, bumps and the interesting attentions of wandering children, it's an additional risk point worth considering.
This could be fixed up if the external My DVR Expander drive was itself in any real way portable. Sadly for consumers, the data on the drive is encrypted, and as noted, striped across both drives, so you can't just plug it into another SATA port on a PC and back up your recordings. For that, you'll need the Home Networking Kit, which has its own interesting limitations.
We simulated a drive failure for the purposes of research in the crudest way possible, by allowing the drive to collect recordings for a couple of days and then whipping out the SATA cable at the My DVR Expander end. The TiVo instantly rebooted itself, and then eventually came back with a warning screen that the drive had been removed. From there, we could either re-attach the drive and then annoyingly unplug the TiVo itself to initiate a reboot, or choose to go forth without the drive at all, another three thumbs down approval process. Having opted to remove the drive, we found our recordings from the pre-drive period still intact, but nothing since then available.
All up, we'd say the My DVR Expander 1TB is a tough drive to recommend. At AU$299, it's around AU$100 more than a similar MyBook 1TB at street prices, and that same amount more than the TiVo Home Networking Kit. While we can't honestly call the Home Networking Kit "Good Value", that AU$100 difference could buy you an internal storage drive for a desktop PC and the ability to endlessly backup everything on your TiVo, rather than risk it at a single point of failure.