The $99 list price of the DRD420RE buys you only a single set of video outputs, an RF connector, the standard RCA audio/video outputs, and an S-Video output. Plug the S-Video output into your TV and you'll have to use the RF connector to hook up the VCR, but one set is typical in this price range. One thing missing on this and on other low-end DirecTV receivers is an optical digital-audio output. If you've already splurged on a surround-sound system, you should definitely consider a more expensive receiver that can help deliver Dolby Digital soundtracks.
The basic nature of this receiver is reflected in the remote, a somewhat bulky number with pointier buttons than most and no backlit controls to aid in surfing in the dark. Though RCA claims that the included remote is universal, this isn't quite the case. We found that it wouldn't switch the inputs on our late-model Toshiba TV set.
RCA DirecTV receivers, including the DRD420RE, were the first to add DirecTV Interactive. On the Weather Channel, for instance, a small window appears on the screen from which you can bring up the local forecast right away. A handful of other channels, such as CNN, offer similar interactive features.
The onscreen-guide debate
Debating the relative merits of various onscreen guides can quickly turn into a near-religious discussion. We found that RCA's onscreen guide required a little getting used to, but we grew comfortable with it after a few hours of channel surfing. The DRD420RE's main channel guide displays 1.5 hours' worth of programming for either 6 or 8 channels at a time. When you're viewing the guide, the channel you are currently tuned to is displayed in the corner of the screen, so you can keep watching while paging through the listings. We really appreciated the small arrow located above the timeline that shows the current time.
Beyond the basic program guide, this receiver offers all the features we've come to expect from satellite receivers, such as favorites lists, viewer profiles, and channel lock. Setting up these extras was easy. Not as well thought out is the Scout function, which allows you to set up as many as eight separate Scouts that will search out keywords or phrases in the program guide. Unfortunately, the Scout feature does its hunting only when the receiver is powered off, not while you are watching TV. So if you want to search for The X-Files, you need to enter the search, turn off the receiver, and wait up to 30 minutes before the results appear.
If you're shopping around for a basic satellite-receiver package or you need a second receiver for the den, the DRD420RE is certainly a good value that will serve you well. You might also look at the very similar HNS HIRD-E25 Gold Edition. But the obvious rule applies: If you need more connectivity, you'll have to spend more.