Pioneer DVR Harddrive Recovery Tools

If you've found this post then you're likely already aware of the failure-prone nature of Pioneer DVR systems. There are many forums discussing how to improve stability but, again, if you've found this post then it is likely already too late for those discussions. Common errors indicating drive corruption include “HDD ERR”, “HDD Error”, “HD ERR”, etc. when booting up the device. I personally had this happen to me with a Pioneer DVR-633H and the this post may or may not be helpful if you do not have that system.

So, down to the nitty-gritty. You have a failed/corrupted Pioneer Harddrive and you want to recover the contents of the drive (ie, the videos). First off, do not re-initialize the drive. If you've done this, it is probably too late. My understanding is that this will format the drive and the existing media will be destroyed. I have created a few Python scripts to extract the video contents of the drive and helper tools to re-assemble the contents but I will warn you, it is time intensive and not a “1-click” solution. Recovery of a 160GB drive took approximately 10 hours to extract the raw medial files and 10 hours of manual labor to combine. There are varying stages of corruption and I insist you try the following solutions before resorting to my tools:

1. Play button may still work

You should be able to copy all the files to DVD-RWs. The “Disc Navigator” is inaccessible but the “Play” button should be working, i.e. you still can watch & copy all titles! To navigate between titles, press “Play” to start playing a title, then use the “Prev”/“Next” buttons or the numbers to enter the title number you want to jump to (as instructed in the manual). Insert a blank DVD-RW (VR mode) and simply press “One Touch Copy” when playing a title. Once “Hi-Speed Copy” appears on screen, you can press “Stop” (then press “Display” to watch the copying process).

2. Hard resest

Try the hardware reset: hold down the stop button (under the disc tray) and press the power button. The recorder will reboot, and you'll need to reset the clock, the MN speeds, and other initial options. Once this is done, try doing a low-level TVGOS reset to clear possible corruption:

For more reading, see here and here.

3. Manual Recovery

So, none of the above worked? I will introduce a procedure to recover the contents of the drive. This is a last-resort tutorial! You may never be able to get your DVR to recognize this harddrive again. Don't expect your DVR to work flawlessly once you recover the contents and replace the drive (though mine did).

1. Remove harddrive from DVR The first step is to remove the physical harddrive from the device. It is a fairly simple procedure, refer to this guide if you'd like some guidance.

2. Connect the drive to your desktop/laptop You'll need to purchase either an IDE enclosure or IDE-to-USB adapter. Hook your drive up to your machine and drivers should be automatically installed in most modern Operating Systems (they are standard USB harddrive drivers).

3. Create a drive image Next you need to backup the entire contents of the drive to an image file. You can use a tool such as UFS Explorer or similar to do this. Any tool which can create a harddrive backup image should work. This took about 10 hours for my 160GB drive. It works best to have a separate external drive to which you are writing recovery files, such as a 1TB external USB harddrive. This may be very slow and your harddrive may make loud clicking noises at the beginning. I believe this had to do with the drive corruption in my case.

4. Install Python If you haven't already, install a copy of Python so you can run my scripts. Python can be found here.

5. Download Pioneer DVR Harddrive Recovery Tools Now hop on over to Github and download my three recovery tools. They are Python scripts. Each serves a separate purpose:

  1. Extract.py - Extracts MPEG sequences from a Pioneer drive image
  2. Combine.py - A command line to combine multiple MPEG files together
  3. Split.py - A tool to manually split a file at a specific byte location

6. Extract the media files from your drive image using extract.py Open extract.py and modify to the user-variables at the top of the file. Explanations of each variable can also be found in this file. Once done, open up a command-line and begin running the file: python extract.py. This will begin extracting each media file from the drive image to the location variable you defined. They are numbered sequentially and are each MPEG files. My drive extraction created approximately 2000 files. This extraction process took about 10 hours as well. You can begin step 7 while this script is running.

7. Open, identify, and combine like-media files This is the manual-labor step. Roughly speaking, your media files will be laid out on the drive in an sequential fashion. However, beginnings and ends of logical recordings may be interwoven. You'll notice this as your inspect the output files. You can view the MPEG streams with Windows Media Player, VLC, and many others. Additionally, the DVR likes to record tiny short repeat-segments all over the drive. In general, any file less than 1000KB is a repeat and can immediately be deleted but you should verify this. Use combine.py to help you combine files into a single MPEG file. There are a few variables you should define within this file, too. Read the usage docs within the script for more details. I also created a split.py script to help you split an MPEG file at a specific byte location. Extract.py is not perfect and sometimes misses the split between two recordings. You may need to manually split files with the script to account for this. Again, read the docs within split.py for more details.

8. Post-processing Each of your resulting combined MPEG files are “broken” in the sense that the headers don't properly list the length and other details about the recording. While not necessary, you can search for one of the many available “MPEG Fixers” to clean up the rough ends.

Final Thoughts Recovering these drives is a pain. If your drive is bootable in the DVR, I recommend manually recording the videos to either another device or your desktop/laptop using an analog-to-USB adapter. If you do choose to attempt to recover your drive using my tools, I wish you luck and let me know how it turns out.