Dish's DTVPal DVR Puts Digital TV On The Record
One of the missing pieces in the we-swear-it's-almost-finished digital-TV transition has been recordability. While you've got plenty of options for viewing DTV broadcasts off the air, your options for recording those shows fall short.
Yes, your cable, satellite or fiber-optic TV provider would be glad to rent you a DVR, designed to its specifications. But the rental and service fees on them can add up quickly, and if you don't like the design of its box that's too bad.
You can build your own DVR by adding a digital-TV tuner to a computer (watch this space for an assessment of two such options), but if you don't have a spare computer to devote to the task and plug into your TV, that's not going to be cheap either.
Or you can buy a DVD recorder -- notwithstanding their puzzling scarcity in stores lately -- if you don't mind losing the ability to record in high definition or pick the program you like from an onscreen program guide.
Today's column looks at another option: a high-def digital video recorder that offers the same simple program-grid interface as a cable or satellite DVR but doesn't demand any monthly fees after purchase.
As you can read, I found Dish Network's $249.99 DTVPal DVR fascinating but not in any danger of shutting down TiVo. Set aside its inability to record cable or satellite broadcasts (which many folks would consider a deal-breaker by itself, though others would be happy with something that works with free broadcast TV); this device has plenty of other issues.
Some, such as Dish's self-destructive marketing of it, could be fixed relatively easily. Others would require Dish's engineers to get back to work -- but this device's short history already shows that it can improve over time. The company pushed out a major software update earlier this month that fixed numerous glitches and added a few features requested by users. Some of the DTVPal DVR's features -- for instance, the USB and Ethernet ports on the back and the smart-card slot on the front -- have yet to be put to any meaningful use but could allow for interesting upgrades down the road.
For other perspectives on this device, have a look at these other sources:
* The AVS Forum has an astoundingly comprehensive discussion of the DTVPal DVR, starting with a lengthy frequently-asked-questions file that covers everything from the finer points of its onscreen interface to its electrical consumption (about 21 watts when off and 23 watts when on, the same figures I observed on the review unit).
* C|Net reviewed this model in March and gave it a three-of-five-stars rating, citing the same advantages and disadvantages I noted.
Now it's your turn to chime in: Is a device like this -- limited to free over-the-air DTV, but without monthly fees of any sort -- something that would interest you? What features would you want to see on it that this particular model doesn't offer?
April 24, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
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