Here is some insight into why some USB Flash Drives work on the Dish DTVPal DVR, and some do not. First a few comments on Dish's lack of support or help with this problem.
Dish's coders probably do not have the full knowledge needed to provide an on-board OS that has the ability to talk to ALL the USB Flash Drives out there. There are many variables and it may be beyond their abilities. Their support people have no clue about the issues involved and their marketing probably does not allow for the expense of troubleshooting these kinds of problems. After repeated questions, their response, even though they are the ones requiring the use of a USB Flash Drive to update their firmware, is the following - believe it or not!
"We do not compile a list of compatible or incompatible non-Dish equipment"
'Unfortunately, as stated before in my previous emails, we do not have this information. Our engineering department does not publish logs of compatible or incompatible non-Dish equipment, so I do not have the information to provide to you."
I contacted the big three of USB Flash Drives and here are the results, with the last response the most useful.
SanDisk= They did not offer any meaningful support - only links to subjects not related to my questions. Another message 2 weeks later that did not speak to my questions and did not offer useful information.
Kingston= A reply which seems logical:
It is true that all USB devices require a driver to work in an OS. But the driver that is needed is the same for almost all USB storage devices. For example, When you plug a USB drive into a Windows computer, it uses the built in USB mass storage driver. It is very rare for a USB storage device to need an external driver. This usually only occurs if the device does not meet certain standards that should be common to all USB storage drives.
So the problem is unlikely a driver issue. I suspect the problem has more to do with a hardware conflict. It is possible that the DVR is not compatible with specific components the flash drives are made with. USB drive makers build their drives using a variety of components. For example, drives made by the same company with the same part number may be made with different brands of components. Although these components would have the same specifications, this could create a situation where one works and another may not. Although this type of thing is very unusual with USB flash drives being used in computers, we have seen it occur with devices such as SD cards being used with digital cameras or CF cards in embedded systems. Because this device is not a traditional computer, this type of hardware conflict may occur with this DVR and some USB flash drives. If this is indeed a hardware issue, it either cannot be resolved or must be resolved by some type of firmware update.
If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to reply to this e-mail with full email history. Thank you for using Kingston on-line technical support.
Crucial= They gave the most details
Thank you for contacting us. Your assumptions are partially correct. There is a generic set of USB drives in Windows, that enables nearly any USB drive to work with that operating system. This is usually also the case with Linux systems, however, one of the disadvantages of Linux is that there are a lot more variables in the OS than you would find in Windows.
It is possible that the USB drive needs to be formatted a certain way, for example FAT16 instead of FAT32, or FAT32 instead of NTFS. It is also possible that drives above a certain capacity may not work. I apologize for the vague answer, but without knowing more about the driver itself, the Linux kernel and versions, as well as the USB drives that worked and did not work, it is hard for me to be specific. Add to the above that the kernel used on the DVRs may well be a customized one, and you end up with far too many variables and not enough information to be able to say anything for certain.
The long and short of it is that although USB drives may not be entirely the same they are still similar enough for one generic Windows driver to cover them all. Unfortunately, Linux is far more picky, and a custom Linux would be even more so. As much as I hate to say it, your best option is to try and obtain a list of USB drives known to work with the DVR, and use drives from that list.
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You will get no help from Dish support.
You are on your own to find a USB Flash Drive that works.
A current model drive from any of the big three "may probably" work.
There is a remote chance that Dish may issue a firmware update in the future to help with this problem.
I leave it to others to compile a list of good drives and post the information in a useful spot.