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Dish Networks DVR 942 HD review: Dish Networks DVR 942 HD

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The Good Three tuners can record up to three HDTV shows simultaneously; TV #2 outputs allow independent operation of TV in another room; two well-designed remote controls; informative onscreen displays; 30-second skip; USB ports can feed content to Dish-branded portable video players; solid HDTV image quality.

The Bad Not compatible with forthcoming MPEG-4 satellite broadcasts; no S-Video output; interface still not as polished as TiVo's; defaults to All Episodes for guide-initiated recordings; no jumpback during scans; somewhat noisy hard drive.

The Bottom Line If you can't wait for MPEG-4 but simply must have an HD DVR now, you could do a lot worse than the feature-packed Dish Player-DVR 942.

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7.4 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 6

If you're thinking of upgrading to a high-definition satellite box, you may want to wait a little longer. A couple of months before introducing its most capable HD satellite receiver yet, the DVR 942 ($699 list), Dish Network announced that it would offer a slew of new HDTV channels, including local stations, some time in 2006. Unfortunately, DVR 942 owners will not be able to receive them. That's because the box can't handle MPEG-4, a compression scheme that cable and satellite companies--including rival DirecTV, which hasn't introduced a new HD DVR since the HD TiVo--are planning to use for future high-def broadcasts (more info). Lacking MPEG-4 capability doesn't make the Dish Player-DVR 942 a doorstop by any means--it still receives local HD over-the-air broadcasts as well as numerous satellite-originated HDTV channels and will continue to do so for a few years as Dish phases in MPEG-4--but it sours the deal for future-conscious high-def shoppers thinking about dropping $700 on a new satellite receiver. Dish is mulling over plans to sweeten things with a lease program, much like cable companies use for their boxes, or to offer some sort of trade-in when it introduces an MPEG-4-capable receiver, but the company hasn't announced anything specific to ease buyers' minds today. That's too bad because the DVR 942 is an excellent example of DVR design and technology, with more useful capabilities than any such device we've ever tested.

Compared to last year's DVR 921, the Dish Player-DVR 942 represents a marked improvement in size and overall look and feel. At 3.5 by 16 by 13 inches (HWD), it is 1.8 inches shorter and about an inch less deep, so it'll slide into a standard component-size slot on your shelf--as opposed to taking up a space intended for A/V receivers. The front-panel styling has been gussied up, and the box now hides all of the controls behind a flip-down door on the right side of its silver face. In case you don't want to look at the box at all, Dish has included RF capability on one of the two included remotes, enabling control beyond the line of sight (see Features for more on the dual clickers).

The remotes are among the best nonuniversal models we've used, with the many features of EPG navigation (page up/down, info, menu) and video transport (play, pause, rewind, fast-forward) easily accessible and understandable to nontechies. We especially liked the 30-second skip for blasting through commercials. The remote can control up to three additional components in your home-theater system: for example, a TV, a VCR, and a DVD player.

A user interface is what makes or breaks a DVR, and in general, the DVR 942 succeeds. The transparent onscreen overlays present a great deal of information yet don't obscure the show. We loved the ability to scan at speeds up to 300X--a great way to tear through a commercial-infested halftime break. We would have preferred the scans to have had a little bit of jumpback, a friendly feature found on most other DVRs, which compensates for human reaction time by resuming play a few seconds before the point at which you press the play button. Fortunately, Dish includes a manual jumpback button, so if you overshoot while fast-forwarding, you can return to an earlier point with a single keystroke.

The EPG itself is straightforward and easy to read, with options to view five or seven channels at once with a preview window and more without a window. We also liked the custom favorite channels lists. The chronological list of recordings is a bit too cut-and-dried, with no option to group episodes of the same show together, for example. We liked the ability to batch-delete recordings, however.

We also had a few peeves with the DVR 942's recording interface. Setting up a recording via the guide causes it to default to All Episodes mode, which records all episodes of a show on a particular channel (it should default to Once). When you start recording midshow, it begins the recording at the point where you press the red button, not at the point where you changed the channel, as most DVRs do. Once you've set up a recording, there's no easy way to extend the time; to pad the recording, you must dig through a series of menus, although you can prepad during scheduling. To delete a show from the list, you must actually stop playback. Most DVRs allow deletion without the extra step.

The DVR 942 has several ways to resolve conflicts that arise when you try to record programs while the tuners are already occupied. However, this aspect of the interface still needs tweaking. The method for assigning priority isn't very intuitive, and there's no notification of conflicts when you schedule recordings from the genre-browse screen. As a result, you may inadvertently cancel a recording. The list of future recordings, on the other hand, notes when shows conflict with higher-priority programs, allowing you to easily reschedule if you want.

The Dish Player-DVR 942 is the most full-featured satellite receiver on the market. Its capabilities start with a 250GB hard drive, which can hold up to 25 hours of high-def or 180 hours of standard-def programming. Its three built-in tuners--two for satellite and one for over-the-air (OTA) antenna--allow it to record up to three different programs at once. That outdoes the HD TiVo from DirecTV, which can record only two programs at once, although both can be OTA. Of course, the DVR 942 offers the full gamut of DVR features, including the ability to pause and rewind live TV; to schedule recordings using the EPG; to search for shows by keyword, genre, or time; and to set up Dish Passes that record shows based on keywords found in titles or show information, which is provided by TV Guide. As a two-tuner model, the 942 can also call up a smaller picture-in-picture window that lets you view two channels at once.

Like the HD TiVo, the DVR 942 requires an antenna to receive local high-definition programming such as ABC and Fox, although Dish carries one nationwide CBS feed. As we mentioned at the outset, the DVR 942 will not be able to handle upcoming MPEG-4 satellite broadcasts, which will include local HD stations and more high-def channels. Aside from that substantial Achilles' heel, the unit offers access to all of Dish's HD programming, which now includes 10 high-def channels that were originally available on defunct satellite service Voom (for an extra monthly charge).

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