Review (April 2007) - Dish Network
By Kevin Nakano
The evolution of consumer electronics has leveraged heavily on the relatively inexpensive mass storage devices know as hard-drives. While many predicted that mechanical hard-drives would become obsolete with the advances made with solid-state memory, few factored into account the huge increase in density needed for today's electronic components. Looking back, my first hard drive was a bulky 5.25-inch, 30-megabyte drive that cost a whopping $700 back in the early eighties. Today, you can get more than 20,000 times the storage capacity per dollar with far better reliability and speed. With this technological advancement came a new breed of products designed to take full advantage of the quick access to mass storage. Feature rich Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) began offering amazing capabilities with intuitive and easy to use graphical user interfaces (GUIs) with integrated program guides. Ever since TIVO hit the market, consumers have come to expect the simplicity in programming, completely raising the bar for time shifting programs. Now, only cave dwellers will opt for good old fashioned VCRs.
Dish Network, have introduced their latest DVR, the ViP622. This DVR is a cutting-edge design that is capable of recording up to 200 hours of standard definition programming, 30 hours of high definition programming, or any combination of the two. The ViP622 has two satellite tuners and allows the viewer to select from one of two viewing options, Single or Dual. The Single mode supports a single television for viewing content. In this mode the viewer can take advantage of Picture-In-Picture (PIP) and watch two live satellite programs or one terrestrial channel and one satellite channel. Alternatively, users can record two live satellite programs and one terrestrial channel while watching a prerecorded program. The Dual mode allows two TVs to be used with a single ViP622 unit. One television can be a high definition unit while the other is limited to a standard definition (480i) picture. The users can independently view and record programming on the two televisions. The second remote included with the ViP622 operates using RF (Radio Frequency) communications with the ViP622, so it may be used in another room where the second television is located and still completely control the DVR features. It is even possible to have both television viewers watch the same prerecorded program and have complete independent control of the content.
As mentioned, the ViP622 is capable of receiving and recording up to three channels simultaneously (two satellite channels and one terrestrial channel) while streaming up to two prerecorded shows to two separate televisions (using the Dual mode). This technology has changed my viewing habits completely, as I no longer have to plan my schedule around program times nor worry about setting up a difficult to use video recorder. This technology pretty much obsoletes my old VCR while offering superior audio and video quality. Furthermore, navigating through prerecorded programs using the DVR is very easy, especially when jumping forward through commercials or jumping back to a missed scene or dialog.
The TV1 output supports 480i, 480p, 720p and 1080i video formats. The unit cross-converts all sources to the selected output rate. For example, SD content can be displayed using the HD outputs, but it will certainly not look like an HD picture unless the source is truly HD. The HD signals are output in the form of analog component video as well as digital HDMI. S-video and composite video are also available, but will not give you an HD picture. The TV2 output converts all sources to 480i (standard definition) and can output content as a modulated RF signal or a composite video signal. Too bad the ViP622 doesn't provide component video outputs for the second TV. Maybe they figured having two great pictures was just too much of a good thing. I did initially have a problem getting the second remote to respond to the ViP622, but it was quickly resolved by the folks at Dish Network. Apparently, some of the #2 remotes need to be married to the set-top box. It is simple to do using the setup menus, but it is a matter of knowing where to go.
Dish Network requires that the phone line be connected to the receiver and if you happen to have caller ID from your phone company, the phone number and caller identification is displayed on the top of the screen when the phone rings. This is a great feature for those who cannot hear the phone when it rings. A calling history is stored for reference and can be cleared by the user. Dish requires the phone line to be connected to monitor pay-per-view activity, so this is a feature that they added and surprisingly comes in quite handy. Failure to connect the phone line results in an on-screen message that reminds the user to connect the line to avoid possible additional charges. A wired ethernet connection also exists on the rear panel, but it is currently not being used.
The ViP622 gets very warm and does require adequate ventilation to prevent overheating. We placed an ATM (Active Thermal Management) cooling fan with thermal sensors right next to the unit to prevent overheating. Although few customers seem to care about cooling, it is an important issue if you want to keep the electronics reliable over the years. High failure rates among DVRs is common and can probably be attributed to overheating for extended periods of time. The ViP622 has an internal fan to help keep the hard drive and electronics cool under normal use. While this certainly helps, we would still recommend additional cooling if it is placed in a closed cabinet.
The unit has front panel lights indicating the TV Mode (Single or Dual). A green light indicates TV1 is active and the blue light indicates TV2 is active. There is also a red light for each TV zone that indicates when a program is recording. A set of ten buttons are behind a closed door on the right that include Power, Menu, Navigation (Up, Down, Left, Right and Select), System Info, and Mode (Single or Dual). There is also a USB interface that we use with the PocketDish portable media player. We have been told that Dish is beta testing the use of an external hard drive for additional storage using the USB port on this unit. We are excited to see this as it would allow users to greatly increase their storage capacity for the ViP622.
While resolution was very impressive on the ViP622, there were some subtle compression artifacts we noticed on fast action scenes. Overall we didn't find them to be distracting while watching programs, even on the large screen. Standard definition was just that, standard definition, with nothing to write home about. The softness in the standard definition picture will leave you wanting all of your content in high-definition.
The rich selection of high definition channels offered by Dish Network made watching programs a wonderful experience. In addition to the Dish HD channels (also featuring VOOM channels), all of the local over-the-air digital channels (SD and HD) could be viewed using the ViP622. We recorded the Oscars in high-definition using this box and playback video was excellent, not the mention the DVR features. The only downside to using the over-the-air tuner was a lack of channel information in the programming guide. Customers can pay an additional $5.99/month for local channels through the satellite which would include the channel information.
We particularly liked the search feature that allowed us to find programs on various channels and select them for future recording. Events can then be prioritized to resolve program time conflicts. Programs can be recorded once or selected to be recorded each and every time it airs. The latter quickly fills up the internal hard drive.
Dish also offers DishHOME Interactive TV, which displays six channels at once and gives users access to on demand entertainment, games, shopping, news, sports, weather and customer service. It actually utilizes the phone connected to exchange data with the main office for full two-way interaction.
- Kevin Nakano
Mitsubishi HC5000 Full-HD 1080p LCD Projector
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