Dish ViP622 first impressions

Dish ViP622 first impressions

The first HD satellite DVR that can record MPEG-4, Dish Network's ViP622, arrived at my in-home testing facility--er, living room--a week or so ago, so here's what I think so far:

The good: I've been living with its predecessor, the excellent Dish DVR 942 , for the last year or so, and I haven't had any complaints. (Full disclosure: Both Dish and DirecTV, along with many, many other companies, provide CNET with free hardware for review purposes.) The two boxes have essentially the same functionality and features, but the ViP622 has the ability to receive Dish's new MPEG-4 HDTV broadcasts, which include seven new HDTV channels announced at CES in addition to four local HDTV stations via satellite. Both Dish and DirecTV have announced they're moving to MPEG-4--which is incompatible with current satellite receivers--for all future HDTV channels, and as of today, both providers broadcast HD locals to 12 cities, with more coming this year (more info: DirecTV cities and Dish cities).

The bad: The first review sample of the ViP622 that I received had some issues, none of which endeared it to my girlfriend. While we were watching live TV, the box would freeze, not responding to remote commands, sometimes as often as twice or three times in an evening. Restarting the unit by holding down the power button for 10 seconds solved the problem, but it would be a good 5 to 10 minutes before the box activated and we were able to resume watching--and if we were recording something, there'd be a 10-minute gap in the program. I experienced freezes so often that I asked Dish for a new review unit, which I installed this weekend and will have activated tonight. In the interests of avoiding domestic strife and finishing my review, I hope this new one works better.

The pre-bottom line I expect the ViP622 to score well in the review, providing it functions properly, mainly because of its excellent features (see the DVR 942 review for a rundown). In short, it's the most fully featured HD receiver/DVR on the market, and it sets the bar pretty high for DirecTV's own MPEG-4 HD DVR, successor to the venerable DirecTV HD TiVo and dubbed the HR20, which is scheduled for release this summer. Not to mention that Dish has more HD channels than DirecTV if you count the 15 wacky Voom channels--they're even at 7 each if you ignore Voom. BTW, after living with those Voom channels for a while, I can tell you that the programming is generally less interesting than that of most channels and is quirky at best, but there are a few gems, especially among movies and sports. Among the 15, there's usually something interesting to watch on any given day. And they're all HD, all the time, although image quality varies widely.

More random observations:

  • Like DirecTV, Dish says it will limit local HD broadcasts to the "big four" for now: ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. Those channels on Dish in New York are 6300 to 6303, and they look pretty good so far.
  • There's an annoying new interstitial page on the ViP622 that appears whenever you access the DVR menu of recorded programs, called Dish on Demand, that I suppose is designed to drum up more PPV biz. Hey Dish: can you make this disable-able?
  • According to its diagnostic tests, the ViP622 recognized my Vonage phone connection without a problem, although I haven't tried ordering a PPV flick yet.
  • The ViP622 has a higher capacity than the DVR 942: 30 hours of HD content vs. 25.
  • Other differences on the ViP622 include an S-Video output for TV1 (finally!); slightly different key coloration on the remote (still one of the best DVR-centric clickers ever, IMO); the slightly different appearance of the box (I like the old DVR 942 better but not by much); and a much-needed firmware tweak that automatically reschedules timer conflicts to the next available rerun.
  • Sorry SlingBox geeks and custom-IR-control heads: the 622's remote codes for the TV2 output are still RF-only. TV2 does work great with my RF Link AVS-5811, though.

We'll have a full review of the ViP622, including a comparison of the image quality of MPEG-4 locals vs. OTA locals in New York, in the next week or two. In the meantime, feel free to enjoy this coverage, and if you have any review requests drop 'em into the TalkBack.

 

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