Is there any way to make a digital copy of films on a DVR hard drive other than burning to DVDs? I have heard that files are not computer-readable and removing the hard drive will delete them. Can anyone tell me more about this? The drive I want to copy is from a Panasonic DMR EH-50.
Whenever I post a question and then later find the answer, I try to also post the answer as a courtesy to anyone else who may have the same question.
Copying video data off a DVR hard drive is surprisingly easy, in any case if the DVR is a Panasonic. Thanks to the link (http://forums.afterdawn.com/thread_view.cfm/637367) posted here by bfginger, I learned that the data is made up of straightforward mpeg video chunks, which begin with the hex string 00 01 BA. This seems to be (part of) a standard header for mpeg 2 video.
I removed the 80 gig hard drive from my Panasonic DMR-EH50 and plugged it into my XP test bench computer. It is a standard IDE drive and can be connected like any other. I did have to change the jumpers before the computer recognised it.
The drive is not compatible with Windows but any decent hex editor should be capable of accessing it directly. I used a very old version of Winhex, which I have had for years. It read in the entire drive contents without any problem.
I searched for the magical 00 01 BA hex marker to find the beginning of the video data, then selected everything from that point to the end as a single block and wrote it to a spare IDE drive connected to a USB port. Winhex handled all of this effortlessly. It took about two hours to write nearly 80 gigabytes of data via the USB.
Next I plugged the USB enclosure into my regular work computer for further processing. Most video editors seem to choke on 80 gigabyte files so I used an excellent free splitter called Mpeg2Cut2 to view and extract the segments I wanted. This program has a slightly odd user interface and requires a little (not much) technical insight to use properly, but is actually very easy to master and is well worth the effort. It works perfectly, without any glitches. Selecting and writing video segments from the master file is smooth, fast and effortless.
The data on my EH50 was hardly fragmented at all. As far as I can tell, every item on the drive was complete in perfect sequential order except where deletions had occurred. All I had to do was flip through them, mark the beginning and end of each, and write them out to separate files. It couldn’t be easier or more trouble-free. Useful note: even deleted items were largely intact, though sometimes somewhat fragmented. Anyone who has ever accidentally deleted something and panicked about it, will be glad to know (in spite of what Panasonic says), that the item can indeed be recovered as long as it is not written over.
There is a chunk of data at the beginning of the drive before the video data starts. I assume this is the operating system which has to boot up when the DVR is turned on, as well as an index to the data. It is probably wise to leave this untouched if you ever want to use the unit again. In fact, I wouldn’t modify anything on the drive. If you just copy the data and then put the drive back, the unit will never know it was gone.
I hope this is useful to someone. It certainly helped me.