Who Killed My PVR?

All those shows I'd saved digitally, mysteriously wiped clean. I must learn to live again.

By Steve Burgess 27 Aug 2010 |

Steve Burgess writes about film and culture every other Friday on The Tyee.

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I came home and my friend was dead.

You often see people on the news whose homes have burned down. "We're lucky," they say. "We only lost our possessions." Some even say there's a kind of freedom to it.

Last week I returned home from a trip and found that my PVR hard drive had been mysteriously wiped clean. All my stored, unwatched movies and shows, gone. I was upset, certainly. There were a couple of irreplaceable items on there, personal appearances I had failed to transfer to disc, gone forever. Nonetheless, I felt it -- that element of freedom. A burden had been lifted. My PVR library had become a tyrant.

PVRs are wonderful things, generally. For TV watchers a PVR can be part of the arsenal of freedom. The VCR first allowed time-shifting, allowing us to become the masters of our own scheduling. The PVR took it further with greater storage, dual tuners for simultaneous recording and viewing of separate channels, and most magical of all, the live TV freeze-and-rewind feature that means you never have to wonder whether Larry King actually just said the dumb-ass thing you thought you heard him say. Just rewind, even if you weren't recording the show, and there it is, the dumb-ass remark. It's magic.

For me though, the main attraction of the PVR was the opportunity to build a personal DVD library. Classic films on TCM and Movie Channel, commercial free, transferred from my PVR's hard drive to DVDs for viewing anytime. Now I have a huge collection of self-made DVDs, from The Third Man to The Big Sleep to Goodfellas to No Country for Old Men and on and on. And I almost never watch any of them. The problem: I am under the thumb of my PVR library.

Upside down priorities

The PVR library is a tyrant. It must be cleared. At first you think you have boundless space on the PVR hard drive, hours of capacity to gather up programs and watch them whenever. So you browse through the programming guide, randomly hitting "record" on anything semi-interesting, piling your tray like a 12-year-old at a dessert buffet. But the percentage of available space starts to shrink—your PVR is filling up. You must watch programs so you can delete them and clear some space.

Meanwhile, when really good movies come along -- stuff like Shane, or Yojimbo, or Groundhog Day, or Waltz With Bashir -- they are instantly transferred to DVDs for the permanent collection, after which they can safely be erased from the PVR. No problem. The result is that the best movies don't stay on the PVR hard drive for long. They're quickly dispensed with and stored. That leaves the other stuff -- the movies and programs that have been deemed less than DVD-worthy, but interesting enough to warrant investigation. It's those second-rate programs that sit on your PVR hard drive, clogging your digital arteries like so much cholesterol. You feel a constant need to digest that content and get rid of it, making room in case TCM has another Kurosawa Week or you need to catch up on a marathon rebroadcast of Breaking Bad.

So you watch the low-priority stuff first. And thus your amazing new PVR, when combined with your mildly OCD hoarding tendencies, condemns you to a steady diet of mildly interesting documentaries about the Inner Hebrides and late-60s Audrey Hepburn movies.

It’s a mystery!

Then last week I returned from Manitoba to find that, on or about August 10, my PVR hard drive had been wiped out by some electronic meteor strike. There had been no power outage in my neighbourhood -- the Shaw guy admitted he had no idea what had happened.

I would like to think I know. Somehow, from somewhere, Humphrey Bogart and Orson Welles and Ray Liotta were sending me a message. Stop watching those History Channel re-runs. Pull out The Third Man and The Big Sleep and Goodfellas. Get back to the good stuff.

The thing is, Ray Liotta isn't even dead. He could have just phoned.  [Tyee]

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