Dish 942 HDTV PVR – First Look
May 18, 2005
After last week’s comedy of errors, DishNetwork came out today and hooked up (among other less interesting receivers) my Dishplayer 942.
I’ve had an HDTV for about 2 1/2 years now, but have never bothered to get an HD tuner (if I couldn’t have a PVR, I wasn’t interested), so this was also my first look at real genuine HD in my living room.
Okay, first up, a warning — stay away from HD.
For the first ten minutes, it looks stunningly gorgeous. Then it looks normal. After that, all of the non-HD content you watch like looks like crap.
All kidding aside, it took about 10 minutes for me to get on the “everything needs to be in HD yesterday” bandwagon, and instantly memorize where all of my HD channels were.
‘Cause the 942 is all about the HD.
It includes two satellite tuners, either of which can record HD or standard definition (SD) channels. It also includes an over-the-air (OTA) tuner which can record your locals in HD (apparently to record your locals in SD, you need to record the satellite locals, which are in SD only).
This means you can record up to three programs simultaneously, or record two and watch a third channel live, although this depends a little on what all you’re trying to do. Since there are two satellite tuners, you can’t (for example) record three satellite shows simultaneously, or record two and watch a third different one.
The machine will store up to 25 hours of HD content, or 180 hours of SD content. In practice, this will probably be some combination of both, with HD taking around 7 times more space per hour recorded.
Dish’s interface work has improved dramaticly since the last time I used one of their receivers (about five years ago). The 942’s interface isn’t Tivo, but then again, Tivo isn’t the be-all and end-all of interfaces.
All of the normal PVR functions seem to work in an obvious and self explanatory fashion, with one exception — I still haven’t figured out how to swap the “live” picture back and forth between all three tuners. There is a swap button, and even a PIP feature (which is the first time I’ve seen this on a dual-tuner PVR, and I really like it), but all of them are oriented in a binary (program 1 – program 2) fashion, which doesn’t work well to get you between three tuners. I know it can be done, because at one point I did it, but so far I’m not sure how.
The main nice thing I can say about the interface is that it’s fast — my DirecTivo has seemed slower and slower to me over the years, and Dish always used to seem slow to me. Not this box. Everything works quite quickly (except loading “Dish Home” which doesn’t seem to have much interesting functionality), whether it’s viewing or recording HD or SD content, on one or more tuners.
The install went relatively smoothly (after last week’s fiasco). I’d unpacked and hooked up the 942 to the TV’s component input and the digital optical input for my surround system. I also rather pessimisticly hooked up my ancient rooftop antenna feed to the antenna input, not expecting much (it’s always gotten a lousy picture).
Once the dish was connected, the initial setup took around 45 minutes to download guide data and initialize the machine. After activation, I let it auto-tune my OTA locals, and suprisingly, it got all of the local HD channels with plenty of signal strength. It turns out that old antenna does one thing good enough, anyway.
The one hickup during install came in setting the HDTV resolution. The installer initially set it to 480p (yuck). When I told him the set should be capable of 1080i, he tried it, but changed it back because the color rendition was off. After he left, I tried it again and the problem turned out to be that since I’d never had a 1080i signal source, the colors for that resolution had never been tweaked. A few minutes adjustment, and I had a picture crisp enough to walk into.
The most pleasant surprise of all was after my last experience with Dish, and after hearing some of the problems with the 921 (Dish’s previous HD PVR attempt), I was expecting there to be at least a few bugs.
Knock on wood, I’ve not seen a single problem yet.
It remains to be seen how it works over the long haul, but I can say at this point, I’m quite pleased with the 942 — knock on wood.