Welcome to HDTV in a box. Dish Network, the satellite TV provider, has come up with a quick-and-dirty bundle for people who want HDTV now but don't own any equipment. The bundle Dish Network HDTV System includes the Dish 811 HD satellite receiver and your choice of a 42-inch projection TV or a 34-inch direct-view tube TV (this reviews covers the latter). This combination won't win any performance awards, but it certainly raised our eyebrows when we saw the $999 price. Naturally, that price comes with caveats: you must be a first-time Dish customer and subscribe to a couple of packages that amount to at least $40 per month. As with other satellite HD providers, you'll need an external antenna to watch local channels such as ABC and CBS, and not all stations even broadcast HDTV. Despite those issues, the fact remains that a 34-inch HDTV monitor alone costs at least $1,300--making Dish's system a great value. The Dish 811 HD receiver matches the 34-inch direct-view HDTV (model HD34-300, if you're keeping track) with its simple looks. It appears identical to the older Dish 6000, but with a silver finish. The HD34-300 is your basic wide-screen tube TV, also finished in silver, with a large Dish Network logo located in the center below the bottom of the screen. The set weighs about 170 pounds and measures 27 by 39 by 24 inches (H, W, D)--hey, don't expect a plasma-thin set for less than a grand.
Dish includes a single remote that controls both the TV and the satellite receiver--the same remote, in fact, that comes with the . It's on the flashy side, with large purple, red, and yellow buttons for the most commonly used functions. Conveniently, pressing the Sat button powers on the TV and the receiver and switches the TV to the DVI input (the default connection used by Dish's installers). While having a single remote is expedient, you have to remember to switch between the receiver and the TV to access their respective menus. The internal menu of the TV is fairly straightforward, and the 811 receiver has the simple, tried-and-true menu from rather than the newer version found on the 921. Especially considering the price, Dish's system has quite a respectable feature set. The HD34-300 TV shares the basic characteristics of other 34-inch HDTVs, including the ability to display both 1080i and 480p resolutions natively, without conversion. Since the TV cannot display 720p high def at all, you have to be sure to leave the receiver set to output 1080i only.
The TV includes some notable picture-enhancing features, such as the ability to turn off SVM for the best performance. Under the Advanced menu, there is a Contrast Expand feature with Low, Medium, and High settings, which we recommend you set at Low. Three selectable color temperatures are on tap here: Warm, Normal, and Cool. Warm proved to be the most accurate.
We counted a whopping seven picture presets, including one that we were able to customize and use for our evaluation. The TV has the welcome ability to remember custom picture settings for each input. The dual-tuner PIP includes a split-screen option, but it won't work with the component-video or DVI inputs. Although the HD34-300 is equipped with a healthy five aspect-ratio modes, none of them work with 480p or 1080i sources. This is less of an issue with HDTV (since the 811 receiver itself can resize aspect ratios) than it is with progressive-scan DVD, which you'll need to switch to interlaced mode to resize.
The 811 satellite receiver itself has an onboard ATSC antenna input for receiving off-air local HDTV channels. We really liked the RF remote, which allows you to stash the receiver out of sight and still control all of its functions.
Dish's system offers fairly comprehensive connection options between the two components. The 34HD300 TV includes two component-video inputs, one DVI input with HDCP copy protection, two A/V inputs with S-Video and composite-video jacks, an A/V output with composite video only, one set of variable audio outputs, and one RF input for antenna or--ironically--cable TV hookup. Side-panel A/V inputs with S-Video allow convenient camcorder or video game hookup.
The 811 receiver provides a DVI output, which we used for hookup to the TV. In addition, it furnishes one set of component-video outputs, one S-Video output, two A/V outputs with composite video, an antenna input for off-air HDTV, and two sets of A/V inputs with composite video. These last two allow you to hook external devices to the receiver instead of to the TV--you select these inputs just like you would any other channel on Dish's program guide. The Dish package's picture quality depends primarily on the HD34-300 TV, which performed better than we expected. Its color decoding pushes red a bit but not as severely as many sets we've seen. This results in a slight reddish cast to skin tones, for example. Greens appeared quite a bit weaker than the ideal, so grassy fields don't look as healthy as they should. The video processing is poor, with no 2:3 pull-down detection; during the opening scene of Star Trek: Insurrection, the buildings and boats shimmered with artifacts. We strongly recommend you use a progressive-scan DVD player with the HD34-300.
We were unable to get into the service menu to calibrate the TV, so we had to live with the grayscale as determined by the Warm preset--which turned out to be pretty accurate. To be fair, we really don't expect many people to fork out the money to calibrate this set; the calibration would cost roughly a third as much as the system.
We adjusted the standard user-menu controls--brightness, sharpness, and so on--for the DVI input using a Sencore VP403 signal generator and one of the component-video inputs using Digital Video Essentials. Then, with the HDTV connected via the DVI and a DVD player hooked up to the component inputs, we sat back and watched some demo material. The big final race from Chapter 25 of Seabiscuit looked pretty good, as did the Shuttle Launch sequence on Digital Video Essentials. Turning to the HDNet Movie channel, we checked out 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Colors looked appropriately saturated and skin tones reasonably natural, even after we desaturated the color slightly to compensate for the red push. The set rendered details relatively sharply, though a bit more softly than we've seen on other 34-inch HDTVs, such as Sony's .
|Before color temp (20/100)||6,875/7,200K||Good|
|After color temp *||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE||+/- 539 degrees K||Good|
|After grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE*||N/A|
|Color decoder error: red||+5%||Average|
|Color decoder error: green||-15%||Poor|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||N||Poor|