Retro-fitting DVRs with a usb port

DVRs began as a way of digitizing analog video signals from aerial broadcasts, they evolved to digitize VHS signals from tapes and personal camcorders to optical disc media. Because commerical movies were released on the same optical and aerial mediums, right owners weighed in and impressed upon the designs, varying methods of protecting copyright.

Consumer video products have long since moved on from Standard Definition (SD) video products, but the older analog signals captured on personal tape based recorder products remains. Regardless of the rights management issues which have withered away and made digitiziation more difficult.. the lack of a method to even extract the MPEG2 stream from a video to optical DVD burn has consigned many DVRs to landfills or abandonment.

Many brands of video recorder have at one time or another used commodity optical disc "DVD-R" burners, which almost universally rely upon the ATA Programming Interface (ATAPI) to conduct a recording session over an IDE (PATA) or SATA bus. These are not new designs, and are well documented. The signaling cables are standardized.. and although there was flirtation with removing the microcontroller unit managing the IDE bus from the drive motherboard and placing it closer to the DVR main motherboard.. integrating it or placing it on a daughter card.. in later years.. often the signal paths remained accessible down closer to the mainboard.

That means with exceptions.. many designs had a common internal IDE signal bus, with a max speed of 25 MHz for UltraDMA100 and often ran much slower.

In fact the CD and DVD xSpeed standards would often run only at the speed of that negotiated for a particular DVD-R burner drive and for the most part remains x8 or lower for stability and due to the speeds available to cost constrained microprocessor equipment up to about 2006.. although the equipment might run into the $100s or $1000s of dollars.. the tech was simply much slower than today.

Enter the 8051 and CY8C5 generation of dedicated real-time microprocessors driven by the phone industry and other evolutionary pressures. They are much cheaper and faster than earlier 2006 cost constrained microprocessors in the DVRs. Its possible a modern mcu could be used to emulate a device on the existing IDE bus by "learning" the signal conversation and then extract the MPEG2 stream destined for the optical media as a stream of ATA packet commands transfering data, then directing that over a USB 2.0 bus to an external computer, iSCSI device, USB drive or a USB DVD-R burner of a modern design from a third party.

The small size and near complete SoC implementation on prototype boards from Cypress Semiconductor for $10 in single quantities makes it almost an excercise in software only.. with a few custom cabling requirements.. and choices over wireless or sometype of re-housed external port exposure through a faceplate.

Re-implmenting a near 30 year old IDE bus in a real time mcu using C code is no small task, but it doesn't seem insurmountable given that the bus has been thoroughly documented.. and the ATA PI interface is on the whole based on SCSI and a relatively small command set of about 40 words.

The benefits would be the continued usefulness of these aging devices for their original purpose and some possible retention of our media history.