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).