Dish Network ViP722
Editors' note: We did not review the ViP722, but we did review the ViP622, which is identical but for hard-drive capacity and color. The black 722 can store 55 hours of high-definition content, while the silver 622 can store 30 hours. The review below, the rating and the Editors' Choice award are based on the original ViP622 review, and we assume the 722 will deliver an identical experience except for the differences noted above. Note that we're reviewing the hardware only; our choice is not affected by programming differences between Dish, DirecTV, or cable, although prospective buyers should certainly consider programming as well. For more information, check out our guide to satellite HD programming.
As the most advanced piece of electronics in many home-theater systems, a high-definition digital video recorder (DVR) has the potential to be the most satisfying--or frustrating--entertainment device you'll ever use. The Dish Network ViP622 has even more going on under the hood than most DVRs. When it launched in early 2006, it was the first DVR that could receive and record both standard MPEG-2 and newfangled MPEG-4 HD satellite broadcasts, which include the local high-def affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC available in most metropolitan areas. Both Dish Network and rival DirecTV have moved to MPEG-4 and cable companies are following suit at a slower pace.
On the outside, the Dish Network ViP622 is a fairly staid silver box, measuring 16x3.5x13 inches and weighing 11 pounds. Its most prominent feature is a row of six LEDs on the middle of the face, which light up to indicate recordings in progress, dual- or single-mode operation (see the Features section below), and power on or off. The front of the ViP622 comprises three similarly sized sections of subtle clear-on-silver plastic; pressing against the rightmost section elicits a soft click and lets it swing open to reveal a USB port and a set of front-panel controls. These include the major menu commands found on the remote, as well as the only button that can switch between dual and single modes.
Dish's remotes have always been exemplary, and the two nearly identical-looking clickers included with the ViP622 offer the best DVR control experience of any remote we've used. The second remote is for dual mode and is differentiated by a blue plastic swatch versus the main remote's green. Although they aren't backlit, the keys are so well laid out that we found ourselves working by feel after only a few minutes. Three distinct button groups are instantly recognizable: the top one with blue keys for menu operation and browsing the EPG, the central one with multicolored DVR transport controls such as skip and fast-forward, and the bottom one with a gray numeric keypad. The central group naturally attracts the thumb with its circular pause key, which serves as the perfect base for hitting forward-skip, fast-forward, and play, the three favorite buttons of commercial skippers everywhere.
And yes, unlike many cable company DVRs and TiVos that aren't hacked, that skip key actually jumps ahead in 30-second increments, letting you quickly and easily avoid watching the typical 4-minute commercial break in exactly 8 presses (which takes all of 2.5 seconds). If you've grown up fast-forwarding through commercials, you don't know what you're missing in a true 30-second skip. We also loved the four scan-speed multipliers, from the 4x, which seems just right for brief bursts forward; to 16x for scanning commercial breaks; to 60x and even 300x for blowing through longer programs, such as movies, sporting events, award shows, and what have you. Responses to skip, fast-forward, and rewind commands were exceedingly quick.
Menu system, EPG and recording features
The internal menu system is the single most important design element in a DVR you use every day, and the Dish Network ViP622's interface is superb. It starts with an EPG containing program listings and information on individual shows. We appreciated the choice between three text sizes with or without an inset window that shows what's currently playing. Our favorite was "Extended with Video," which showed seven channels at a time along with the window.
You can create up to four custom favorite-channel listings to complement the three default lists: all channels, all subscribed-to channels, and all HDTV channels. That's a hearty selection when compared to most cable DVRs, which shackle you to one list that often includes innumerable channels you don't even subscribe to. The EPG goes out 10 days and is completely searchable. The search function includes any combination of genres (for example, sports), subgenres (baseball), and keywords (up to 17 characters: "Roger Clemens juice") entered on a virtual keypad or by using the number keys like a cell phone sending a text message. You can even refer to a search history--unique in our DVR experience--to quickly repeat previous searches.
The Dish Network ViP622 also does a great job of organizing recorded programs and timers for upcoming recordings, although it has one major inconvenience. The main list of recorded programs is accessed by pressing the DVR key twice. The first press calls up an annoying interstitial screen that provides access to other content too, such as pay-per-view listings and attached USB devices. The list itself can be organized by date, genre, title, and other criteria. It can group similar shows together to save space, and it constantly displays how many hours of standard- and high-def recording time is available. Unlike with most DVRs, you can select more than one program to delete at once, so a massive DVR spring-cleaning is completely painless.
We appreciated the Timers page, which lets you immediately see all upcoming scheduled recordings for the length of the EPG and makes managing conflicts a cinch. The timers list can be set to display skipped events--those that won't record for whatever reason, whether because they conflict with higher-priority timers, because they're reruns, or because you skipped the recording intentionally. In one of our favorite features, if a show gets skipped because of a conflict, the DVR will automatically search out and set up a recording of the next available airing of that same show.
Like other DVRs, the ViP622 can record all episodes of a program; only new episodes; just once on a particular night and time; Monday through Friday; or nightly. You also get options for manual channel/time recording, for extending start and end times and for setting a maximum number of shows to keep. Dish Pass records programs that match a keyword--actors or directors, for example--and like search, it's limited to 17 characters. One more nitpick: we wish the default for timer recordings initiated from the EPG wasn't "all episodes" because that often leads to inadvertently recording numerous shows when all you wanted was one. We like the automatic extension of sporting events timers for an extra hour, though, which is designed to catch overtimes and compensate for rain delays.
Unlike any other non-Dish DVR we know of, the ViP622 has what Dish calls a dual mode to feed two televisions. There's a second, entirely separate set of AV outputs on its back panel, which send video and audio to a secondary standard-def television (TV2) in addition to the main HDTV set (TV1). Aside from saving multi-TV households from having to buy or rent another box, the TV2 option allows a viewer on the secondary television to watch any of the recorded shows on the ViP622's hard disk (HD programs are downconverted to SD for display on TV2). In dual mode, the ViP622's three tuners are split among the two TVs: TV1 gets the over-the-air (OTA) broadcast and one satellite tuner, while TV2 gets the second satellite tuner. In other words, you can't watch live OTA programs on TV2. The secondary television even has separate favorite-channel lists, search histories, and aspect-ratio controls from TV1, and a user on TV2 can access most of the menu settings, with the exception of closed captions, without disturbing TV1. Dish installers can hook up both TVs when the box is installed, although TV2 also works with wireless solutions; we had it running with an RF Link AVS-511 transmitter/receiver, for example, and it worked great. As we mentioned, the ViP622 comes with a second, RF remote that can control the box at a range of up to 200 feet. The main disadvantage of dual mode, besides the fact that each TV monopolizes a tuner, is that a user on one TV doesn't get full control of in-progress recordings on the other.
At the heart of the Dish Network ViP622 beats a 320GB hard disk that can store any combination of 30 hours of HD programming or 200 hours of standard-def. That's identical to the capacity of the DirecTV HR20, and bests the 20 high-def-hours total of both the TiVo HD and than the Scientific Atlanta 8300HD, a typical cable company DVR. The addition of external USB archive drives (see below) can increase the 622's capacity even further, and if the main drive doesn't seem like enough, the step-up ViP-722 can store as many as 55 hours of MPEG-2 high-def.
The ViP622 is the only current DVR with the capability to record three live TV programs--standard- and/or high-def--simultaneously. Only two can originate from satellite; the third is reserved for OTA antenna sources. Call us TV addicts, but we found ourselves using all three tuners on numerous occasions, especially during busy prime-time evenings.
Like all DVRs, the ViP622 records everything you watch all the time, so you can always rewind to catch something you missed. When you press pause, it stays frozen for as long as one hour, buffering the show in progress for later viewing or fast-forwarding. You can also watch any recorded program while the DVR records live shows. In the Sunday night example above, we could've started watching any of the three programs being recorded from the beginning or a fourth HD or SD program that was already on the hard drive, without disturbing the three in-progress recordings.
Other highlights include complete aspect-ratio control for both standard and HD shows; a versatile PIP that can display either live TV or recordings in the secondary window (a smaller inset window and two same-sized side-by-side windows are available, but PIP won't work in dual mode); a screensaver and automatic turn-off option; on-screen caller ID with a history function; numerous parental locks; and pay-per-view and video-on-demand services. The DVR can offload non-high-def programs to PocketDish-branded portable video players via USB. There's also a Dish Home interactive TV component that lets you pay your bill, view past statements, shop, read news bulletins, and check out special packages such as the multi-window viewer that Dish and NBC created for the Winter Olympics.