Dish Networks DISH Player-PVR 501 review: Dish Networks DISH Player-PVR 501

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good No extra fee for DVR functions; picture-in-guide.

The Bad Only one tuner.

The Bottom Line While it lacks some features found on competing satellite DVRs, this is a reasonable option for current Dish Network subscribers.

7.0 Overall
Editors' note:
The rating for this product has been altered since the review's original publication. The reason for this is a change in our overall rating system for DVRs, and the fact that Dish Network has added a search function--a feature that we really missed during the original review.

The DishPVR 501, a combination satellite receiver/digital video recorder (DVR), is a step backward in many ways. Dish Network's previous DVR, the now discontinued DishPlayer, sported a much slicker user interface and a space-age remote. But the DishPVR 501 has the bare essentials: 35-hours of recording time and the ability to skip over commercials at the touch of a button. And it brings TiVo-like features to Dish Network subscribers without the extra $10-per-month premium that other combination satellite receiver/DVRs charge. The DishPVR 501, a combination satellite receiver/digital video recorder (DVR), is a step backward in many ways. Dish Network's previous DVR, the now discontinued DishPlayer, sported a much slicker user interface and a space-age remote. But the DishPVR 501 has the bare essentials: 35-hours of recording time and the ability to skip over commercials at the touch of a button. And it brings TiVo-like features to Dish Network subscribers without the extra $10-per-month premium that other combination satellite receiver/DVRs charge.

Back to the future
The user interface of the DishPVR 501 looks as if it was designed by an engineer who enjoys spending time staring at spreadsheets. The old DishPlayer and competing products that use the TiVo interface sport color schemes and fonts that look much more modern. But this is still a useful interface: a picture-in-guide lets you continue watching the current channel in a quarter-screen box while browsing a four-line channel guide. Turning off the picture-in-guide fills out the screen to six lines of channel guide.

The universal remote is similar to others from Dish Network, except that all the keys have been shrunken slightly. We found the location and small size of the Page Up/Down buttons to be a problem, especially after using the spacious remote that comes with the DishPlayer. But the silver color of the DishPVR's remote makes it stand out among the black remotes on the coffee table.

Now with search
When this review was originally published, we knocked the DishPVR 501 for its lack of a search function. That has changed now, thanks to a software download that adds the ability to search the upcoming program listings. The number sign on the keypad doubles as a search button, which brings up a virtual keyboard that lets you enter terms. The function can find program titles, actor names, and other information, displaying the results in chronological order. From the results page, you can set the DVR to record that upcoming program. Unlike TiVo the DishPVR doesn't let you create specialized searches for actors or directors, nor does it allow you to record every broadcast of a particular show.

Pause to reflect
All of the most common DVR functions, such as Pause, Fast-Forward, Reverse, and the 30-Second-Forward and 10-Second-Backward jumps, work as expected. During Pause, the system overlays a graphic on the screen, displaying the amount of paused time. Setting timers and scheduling recordings--either manually, as you would with a VCR, or by selecting a show from the program guide--are also a breeze. Another slick feature is the ability to watch a previously recorded show while recording a new one. However, this box has only one tuner, so you can't watch one live show while recording another, and it doesn't have a built-in picture-in-picture feature as does UltimateTV.

If you're just now choosing a satellite service and want a combination satellite receiver/DVR, the DishPVR 501 won't sway you over to Dish Network. DVRs with the TiVo or UltimateTV service that are compatible with the DirecTV service have more bells and whistles and more attractive user interfaces. Current Dish Network subscribers who want to move beyond their basic setup might want to consider the DishPVR 501. And although it has fewer frills, at least there's no monthly service fee for the DVR function like the one you'd pay with the UltimateTV subscription service.

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