Initially the quality of recordings was poor...pixellated, stuttered etc. I was using a usb stick. I then switched to a portable hard drive. Same issues. Now I use an external hard drive that plugs into the wall for power, and no more issues. I think it is a western digital drive.
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We always recommend users if they want to record onto USB, that they purchase a Hard drive that can also be plugged into the wall for external power. It usually solves the recording problems plus the life of the device.
A USB stick (and some older USB hard drives) simply aren't fast enough to keep up with the HD recording. The 5V power output from the set top box USB port is often not powerful enough to drive a harddrive either (moving parts etc), so while it might seem like it's working, it's not actually functioning properly. Plugging it into the wall rather than relying on the power from the USB port is a lot more reliable.
You might get away with a USB stick on a satellite STB as it's not in HD.
Thanks for all the replies...I wanted to post this as further evidence of what works best especially for the lay people out there