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- - - - - - - - - - - -=[ Wednesday, September 22, 2004 ]=- - - - - - - - - - - -

REVIEW: DirecTV High Def TiVo (Quad Tuner, 250GB)

DIRECTV/HDTV Receiver with Integrated 250GB TiVo Digital Video Recorder - Silver - HR10-250
HR10-250 at
As dedicated PVR devotees (dual tuner integrated DirecTV TiVo...and let's please avoid the religious battle that is the worthiness of DirecTV vs. Dish vs. Voom vs. Comcast vs. etc.), we had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Hughes' DirecTV High Definition TiVo, as it held the promise of High Definition television w/o sacrificing all the benfits of the dual tuner TiVo.

In short, the HR10-250 delivers. We won't go into all the details of the device in action (Chris Blount, DBSTalk Administrator, does a great job of it here), but we'll touch on some key points related to the box, and HDTV content.

The Box: Squeezed, amazingly enough, in the same shell as Hughes' standard definition dual tuner DirecTV TiVo, the unit expands its storage capacity to 250GB and adds high definition tuning and recording off not just two satellite inputs, but two Off-The-Air (OTA) inputs as well, with the ability to record off any combination of two of the four, while simultaneously playing back a previously recorded show. The user experience is nearly untouched, providing a seamless transition for those familiar with TiVo. Our unit has performed flawlessly for the 2-3 months we've had it, and the only cautionary note is that its USB port is disabled, which currently keeps us from perusing TiVo's Home Media Option, and may keep us from using both TiVoToGo and the rumored Netflix service in the future.

Satellite and OTA: The unit easily integrates DirecTV's satellite HD feeds (ESPNHD, HDNet, HDNet Movies, Discovery HD, HBO HD, Showtime HD, PPV HD, etc.), but with only some of the broadcast networks' HD feeds available over the satellite (most notably CBS), it also offers the OTA input (which is split inside the box to allow it to be tuned by the two separate OTA tuners) to pick up the local signals. It handles this beautifully in the programming guide by showing both the network satellite feeds ("4") as well as the OTA HD signals ("4-1", "4-2") right next to each other. The reality of actually capturing the signals through the use of an antenna (talk about "back to the future"), however, is somewhat more complex, as even the most advanced indoor antennas (through the recommendation from TitanTV, a great HDTV resource in general, we selected the MegaWave MTV-1) still require substantial futzing for the discovery of a single physical location that picks up most signals, and putting up a roof antenna was a distinct non-option (for reasons related to motivation, not logistics).

HD Content Generally: Not directly related to the HR10-250 (other than the fact that recorded HDTV looks just as wonderful as live HDTV--which you would expect as the box merely dumps the 19Mbps MPEG2 streams straight to disk), a few things are nevertheless worth mentioning about High Definition Television content in general. Although TV shows (most prime time scripted shows are available in HD) and movies do look noticably better in HD, it's sports (Olympics, US Open Tennis, Football, Golf, Soccer, etc.) where High Definition truly takes the television viewing experience to another level. Players and venue appear to "pop" off the screen, and the native 16:9 aspect ratio of HD cameras shows you "more of the game" (surprisingly, this is just as valuable for Soccer and Football, as it is for tennis and track&field where you wouldn't expect it). Either way, however, it is only a short time before standard definition television becomes hard to watch (this is an oddly similar emotion to having to suffer through commercials when not watching recorded television).

Specific HD Content: A few thoughts on High Definition satellite channels and programming...
  • ESPNHD: With all due love and props to ESPN, ESPNHD may leave some viewers a little disappointed. Most shows on ESPNHD are still entirely in SD, and while the sets, talking heads and scoring summaries on their anchor show, Sportscenter HD, look fabulous in pure 720p HD, over 90% of the actual highlight clips are still only in SD. While this is perfectly rational (most source material just isn't shot in HD yet), it's nevertheless a letdown.

  • HDNET, HDNET Movies: A smattering of programming from sports (MLS soccer, auto racing, Ivy League football and basketball) to 2nd tier movies ("Razor's Edge", "10", etc.), HDNet specials like "Bikini Destinations" and stuff from 2929 Entertainment's library such as the always retro-enjoyable "Hogan's Heroes". Currently the most wall-to-wall variety of high definition programming, but content still feels 2nd tier. If HDNet could establish a "branded" block of 3-4 shows on one evening (a la NBC's "Must See TV", or Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim") and an anchor drama/comedy on the weekend (a la HBO's "Soprano's"), all of which Cuban's (and partner, Mark Wagner) 2929 Entertainment is capable of, HDNet will be a player to watch not just in HDTV, but pay-TV in general.

  • Discovery HD: Great image quality, but subject matter not yet consistently compelling.

  • HBO HD, Showtime HD, PPV HD: We have not subscribed to these yet, but would expect that they match in qualiy the movie offerings on HDNET Movies, and the HD dramas on the broadcast networks.
BOTTOM LINE: High definition television is an absolute delight, and the HR10-250 allows us to enjoy the fabulous picture quality without sacrificing any of the benefits we had come so accustomed to in our standard definition dual tuner DirectTV TiVo. Even at its advanced price tag, the HR10-250 is a must-have for the DirecTV HDTV consumer, and may be reason enough for non-DirecTV customers to think about switching.

ps: Although we're generally skeptical of them, if you're looking for hacked DirecTV HD TiVo's (larger hard-drive capacity w/ dual 250GB HDDs and even USB-enabled units with Wi-Fi networking), eBay's got 'em.

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