The thing my family missed the most when we cut the cable was our DVR. We did not record a lot of shows, but we did pause, rewind, fast forward, and slow down programming. After toying with a Home Theater Personal Computer (HTPC), we decided to go with a dedicated DVR. Once we decided on a DVR, there were only really two choices — TiVo or DTVPal. While the TiVo has some compelling features, the monthly fee was not consistent with my cord cutting goals, so we took a chance on the EchoStar DTVPal. Flash forward four years and very little has changed. HTPCs are still more hassle than they are worth, TiVo is still too expensive, and EchoStar still makes the best standalone DVR that isn’t a TiVo. This time the EchoStar DVR is called DVR+ and it’s being sold by Channel Master for $250 — $300 with 80 hours of HD storage.
The DVR+ is small. It’s about 8″ deep x 10.5″ wide x 1/2″ tall. Except for the blue LED on the front, you might confuse it with a mouse pad. The back is a neatly organized array of connectors — antenna, digital (optical) audio, HDMI out, ethernet, two usb ports, power, and a jack for an IR extender. With the IR extender, you can store the DVR out of sight. The remote is comfortable with most common controls organized around a D-pad type controller. I wish the remote used more common batteries, but CR2032 batteries are readily available on ebay for $0.30.
Setup was intuitive: select language and country, plug in coax and TV plus optional network and disk, scan for channels, and set zip code/time zone/time mode (automatic vs manual). If an external disk is detected, you are prompted to use it and, if necessary, the disk is initialized.
The DVR+ stores programs on an internal 16g flash or an external USB disk. You can use the DVR+ with no usb disk, but storage is limited to two hours. With no usb disk, the DVR+ includes a channel guide, allows you to pause and rewind programming, and provides access to internet services like Vudu. You must add a usb disk to store recorded programs. At this time, maximum supported disk size is 3t. Storage is about 160 hours of HD video per one terabyte of disk. The first drive I plugged in was an ancient Maxtor 500g OneTouch 4 usb disk. It was immediately recognized and I was guided through the initialization process.
The DVR+ includes a network adapter. Wired ethernet is built in and wireless is available via an optional usb network adapter. Network access is not required. The DVR+ is completely autonomous. It includes a PSIP guide and can accept updates via a usb device. Connecting to the internet facilitates updates, provides access to an enhanced Rovi powered guide, and allows use of internet apps.
The thing you do most with a DVR is watch television so a good DVR has to have a good tuner and a good program guide. The DVR+ has two excellent tuners and a terrific guide. My DVR+ picked up 47 channels — more than either my television or simple.tv DVR. The guide is a grid of two hours of five channels that covers the bottom half of the television screen. The Rovi guide is good for about two weeks of programming and the PSIP guide is good for as much as 24 hours of programming. I find the PSIP guide more reliable and complete than the PSIP guide on my DTVPal DVRs. Navigation is quick. Pressing the OK button in the grid pops up a record dialog. You can choose to Watch this program, Record program, or Create manual recording. If you select to Record program, you then choose between Record just this program and Record all programs with this name. If you select Create manual recording, you choose channel, start time, end time, and whether you want to record that time block one time (none), Weekly, Mon-Fri, or Daily. I love this as I record a block of sitcoms on WSBK Mon-Fri from 3:00pm to 8:00pm. You can record programs via the guide, by name, or by time and channel. The only recording option I don’t see if start/stop Manual (press record to start recording and press stop to stop recording) which I like this for sporting events. Fortunately, you can accomplish this by setting a manual recording for a very long time then manually stopping it.
Watching the DVR+ is very intuitive. The DVR button takes you to a list of recordings, the Record button starts recording a program, and the Guide button calls up the guide. Pressing the Info button in the Guide calls up a program description on the tuned channel. Programming is automatically cached, so if there is a great play, or you missed the weather report, or you want a closer look at a costume failure, the DVR+ is ready. The remote has jog buttons so you can skip forward or back ten seconds at a time. Hit the rewind button to rewind at 2x. Hit it again and again for 8x, 32x, and 64x. Hit pause then forward for 1/8x slow motion. Hit forward again and again for 1/4x, 1/2x, then full speed. When you rewind and fast forward, the video is visible so you can see when you get to what you are looking for.
Saved programs are sorted by date recorded with the newest recordings at the top of the list. If multiple programs have the same name, they are stored in a folder. When you click on a folder, you are prompted to browse to the folder contents or delete the folder. Within the folder, all the programs have the same name, but can be renamed. Once you rename a recorded program, it pops out of the folder since it no longer shares a name with another program. You can protect recordings and can toggle the New Status which indicates whether the show has been recorded.
I like the fact that the DVR+ has a 0/4/5/6 hour sleep timer. My plasma tv notices when the DVR shuts down and shuts itself down. Parental controls provide pin protection to channels and content with user selectable ratings. You can also block unrated events.
The DVR+ is an excellent DVR and I highly recommend it.