One of the most attractive features of getting a digital video recorder (DVR) from a cable company or a satellite TV provider is that they often offer their equipment "free" if you're willing to sign up for a service contract. Dish Network is currently offering one of those deals for the Dish Player-DVR 522, although potential subscribers should make sure they are aware of the fine print. The DVR 522 is free, but you'll have to sign up for a mininum of one year of service. For the duration of your commitment, you also need to subscribe to the America's Top 60, Dish Latino, or Great Wall TV programming package, each of which cost at least $27 per month. In addition, there is a $5 monthly fee for DVR use, unless you sign up for the most expensive programming packages.
Upside: As long as you are aware of all the charges and commitments, getting a fully functional DVR for "free" is a pretty good deal. In addition to its ability to store up to 100 hours of TV programming, the DVR 522 has two tuners, which means you'll be able to record a program on one channel while simultaneously watching a different live TV channel. Furthermore, the DVR 522 has multiroom capabilities that take advantage of the dual tuners; it's possible for separate viewing and recording on two TVs. This capability is enhanced by the inclusion of a second RF remote control, which can travel through walls and other obstructions. Someone watching a TV connected in another room can change the channels and access recordings from the DVR 522 using the RF remote, while a viewer in the primary room can watch a different channel or recording unencumbered, using the primary remote. (Dish claims the secondary remote can be used as far as 200 feet away from the 522 unobstructed, but consider that a best-case scenario.) The DVR 522 also features an EPG with up to nine days of TV listings. While Dish's onscreen interface isn't up to TiVo standards, it's much better than the TV Guide On-Screen version that ships with many DVD recorders. The DVR 522's connectivity is standard for this kind of product, highlighted by two A/V outputs, one S-Video output, one optical digital audio output, and a USB port.
Downside: Unlike its step-up brother, the , the DVR 522 doesn't have the sort of video-on-demand capabilities that are common with digital cable set-top boxes; it also lacks the 625's name-based recording feature. Furthermore, there is currently no TiVoToGo-like portability option or home networking functionality like that found on Series2 TiVos. Finally, the DVR 522 can't record or receive HD programming; you'll need the for that.
Outlook: Any new Dish Network subscriber who's not interested in HD service should take advantage of the DVR 522 or, for video-on-demand fans, the otherwise identical DVR 625, which can be had for only $20 more up front. No, it's not a real TiVo, but the single-box design, the dual-tuner feature, and the ability to connect to a secondary TV more than make up for it.