Review (January 2009)
By Kevin Nakano
As we approach the cutoff date (February 17, 2009) for our dated analog broadcast standard called NTSC, several new digital set-top boxes have become available for consumers to watch the new digital broadcasts on their older TVs. Dish Network already offers the DTVPal which we reviewed several months ago. Since then, Dish Network has released their much anticipated DTVPal DVR capable of receiving and recording both high definition (HD) as well as standard definition (SD) digital content using the built-in 250GB hard drive. The DTVPal DVR can record up to 30 hours of high-definition (HD) programming, 150 hours of standard-definition (SD) content, or a combination of the two. The best part about this DVR is the ability to time shift HD and SD programs with ease with no subscription fees. The user interface is built largely around Dish Network's already popular line of DVRs (Vip622 and Vip722). Dish Network has become a favorite among consumers with features such as controls for pausing a live or recorded program for up to 60 minutes, 30-second skip forward, 10-second skip back, four speeds of fast forward and fast reverse, slow motion and frame-by-frame forward and reverse.
The DTVPal DVR displays up to seven days of TV Guide (depending on your area) and broadcaster-provided PSIP (Program and System Information Protocol) program listings and information for free. This allows the user to see whats showing on every channel. Selecting the program to be recorded at a future time is as simple as clicking the DVR button on the remote. The user can then choose to make a one-time recording or record every time the show appears on the selected channel. Users can also search by title, keyword or theme to find programs to watch. It is a wonderful and friendly user interface.
The DTVPal DVR measures 14.6" wide, 8.8" deep, and 3.1" high and weighes a modest 5 pounds. There is currently no support for attaching an external hard drive for additional storage, but it may be possible in future firmware upgrades similar to what Dish has done in the satellite-based DVRs. However, no announcements have been made by Dish regarding this. A smart-card comes installed in the front of the unit for future VOD (Video On Demand) through the ethernet connection. Obviously, the company is thinking ahead of how to futher improve the capabilities of this set-top box and generate additional revenue.
The DTVPal DVR package includes the DVR box, a full featured IR remote with batteries, an RF patch cable, an set of A/V cables, a Quick Start Guide, and the User Manual. The 52-page manual covers all the operating aspects of the DVR along with special TV Guide zip codes and a table for remote control device codes. There is no HDMI cable included with the package, yet one will be needed for those looking to take full advantage of the high definition content. The documentation is thorough and should be sufficient for the do-it-yourselfer to get up and running in little time. There is nothing special about connecting this unit to an existing home theater system. The connectivity is similar to any higher-end DVR currently on the market.
RF output can be set for channel 3 or 4 for sets lacking non-modulated
input connectors (component or composite video). The unit also has an
analog pass-through mode when using the RF connection that allows the
user to switch between digital and analog channels with the push of a
button. This allows the TV to decode the analog broadcasts (soon to be
discontinued) while the DVR decodes the digital channels. Composite video
and a pair of analog audio outputs are provided. There is also a set of
component video outputs for older televisions lacking an HDMI interface.
Whenever possible the HDMI interface should be used to obtain the best
picture quality. There is an optical (toslink) output jack for streaming
digital audio (PCM or Dolby Digital) to a receiver or processor. Dish
also included a USB 2.0 and ethernet interface on the back of this unit.
Both interfaces offer future capabilities to the box and currently allow
for software updates directly to the DVR.
The Picture Format control selects between Normal, Full, and Zoom picture modes. The Normal mode essentially displays 16:9 content in the letterbox format to fit the 4:3 display by adding black bars on the top and bottom of the display. The Full mode fills the entire screen which makes people look thin and tall on 4:3 displays, but correct on 16:9 displays. The Zoom mode maintains the correct aspect ratio on 4:3 displays when viewing widescreen content. However, the sides of the original picture are cropped off to fit the display. Pressing the Info button displays channel information. The MENU button is used to configure the converter box. Several layers of controls are available for the user to set up the box.
While the DTVPal DVR can be used for standard definition displays, the design unleashes an amazing picture when used with a high definition panel. The good news is consumers can benefit from the DVR functions while they upgrade their display in time. Other benefits of this DVR is the ability to pause on live TV as the hard drive queues the content. This allows viewers to take a quick break without missing anything. The viewer can then skip over commercials and eventually catch up to the live broadcast again. This is nothing new to experienced DVR users, but is one of the amazing features of this technology. The full-size IR remote is just as much responsible for the great performance of the DTVPal DVR with the ergonomically placed buttons.
Digital broadcasts have already taken much of the UHF spectrum with the major networks carrying both analog and digital versions of the same content. In just a few weeks of this writing the FCC will terminate analog broadcast in all the major areas and unless you have a digital ATSC tuner you will miss out on the new technology. Compared to their analog sister channels, digital broadcasts look clearer and have lower noise levels.
The DTVPal DVR can be ordered directly from the Dish Network DTVPal website where the government coupon code can be entered and credited towards the purchase. In addition, Dish is offering a special on the DTVPal DVR with an instant rebate of $50, bringing the price of the unit to $249.99. Unfortunately, the government coupon cannot be applied to the DTVPal DVR. For just over $250 you can have a killer DVR with free over-the-air content for your viewing pleasure with a picture that will blow you away.
- Kevin Nakano
Mitsubishi HC5500 1080p LCD Projector
|Review - At a Glance|
URL: DTVPal DVR Website
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