"One of the best electronic products I've ever owned!"4.5 starson by ttanis
Pros: Almost everything on this unit is superb
Cons: Very few negatives, only minor instabilities
Summary: I almost never submit online product reviews, but this product was so exceptional that I can honestly say it is one of the best pieces of electronic equipment I've ever owned...considering that I've got about a $10k investment in A/V equipment, I think that's really saying something! Here's some comments I have:
1) This was my first foray into HDTV (first time I've had an HD feed, even though I've had a Sony XBR 40", 4:3 aspect ratio tube TV that supports HD for about 4 years now), and the HD picture quality is great...not perfect, but definitely worth the upgrade. Although the detail varies a bit with the feed, the average HD picture quality is very nice. Sports, movies, everything I've watched in HD has been very pleasing. The SD on this set also looks very good, but you'll find that if you watch HD programming regularly, you won't like going back to SD...you get so used to the detail HD provides that it kinda sucks going back to SD. The only real knock on the combination of this receiver with my TV is that there's a bit of flicker on text, and occasional artifacts on some solid colors, particularly reds...I'm a bit picky about stuff like this, whereas my wife doesn't really notice it. I'm running the box in 1080i mode, and maybe this would be improved with 720p, but my TV doesn't seem to like it when I switch to that mode...I guess the TV only supports 1080i for HD via its component input. Rating on this section: 8.5
2) The DVR functionality is absolutely magnificient, from the simplicity in setting up recordings, to the HD playback capabilities (which look spot-on like the originals), to the pause/rewind live TV. The recording space is reasonable, except that if you do a lot of HD recording (where my main interests seem to lie), it can fill up surprisingly quickly...for example, being a big soccer fan, I got this stuff all setup just as the World Cup was starting, and was regularly recording HD feeds of two games per day. With the added-on time to make sure the entire games were recorded, I got close to running out of space before I had viewed the games. This is the only issue that keeps me from giving this a perfect 10 rating. Another neat feature is the ability to select which tuner is used for the DVR, so that you can watch/record a program on your main TV, while recording another program using second tuner (although the second TV is restricted to use that channel then)...may seem overkill to some folks, but it's come in handy a few times. Rating on this section: 9.5
3) The menuing system is the most perfectly designed system I've experienced on an electronic product. It's extremely user-friendly, and has lots of neat features that just make sense, such as being able to scroll through the channel menus while watching the last channel is a 1/4 sized screen on the top right, and allowing you to scroll through the menu of channels one at a time while the currently selected channel takes up the entire screen. Very, very neat. Also, the speed on scrolling through the menus is EXCEPTIONALLY fast...none of this delay nonsense that used to happen with older cable and dish receivers. There's also almost no lag when you do select a channel. The speed of operation of this box suggests that the processing hardware they used to build it was well above average. For folks that do a lot of channel surfing like me, this is a huge benefit. Rating on this section: 10
4) The extra tuner provided for a second TV (and I suppose a third, if you need the over-the-air tuner to get some HDTV channels that you can't get through Dish) is an awesome feature for a home that has one very high-quality HDTV, and a second SDTV (maybe in a small bedroom, like ours is). Our home previously had just a cheapo antenna on our bedroom TV, and going to this was a huge upgrade, without having to pay a second box fee per month! The RF remote is occasionally a bit flakey, but it mostly works OK. Rating on this section: 9.0
5) My setup is probably a bit unusual for this box, but as I'm a techie-tweaker, I found the following setup to give me the most flexibility. One drawback to using this box with a 4:3 aspect ratio HDTV (the older models available 5 years ago or so) is it's inability to show all programs in native format automatically...in other words, for the 16:9 HDTV feeds, I want the aspect ratio to appear 16:9 with blank bands on the top and bottom of the screen, and similarly, for the 4:3 SDTV feeds, I want the picture to take up the entire 4:3 screen, instead of putting black bands on all four sides of the picture. If you don't mind manipulating the stretch feature everytime you switch between SD and HD channels, this works fine. My preferred approach instead, was to use multiple TV inputs, and toggle between the two using the tv/video button on my TV's remote. I used two sets of the receiver's main tuner outputs, the component output for the HD feed, and the S-video output for the SD feed...the S-video output is really pretty adequate for SD anyways. The HD feed via component cabling is always set to normal 16:9 mode, while the SD feed via S-video cabling is always set to stretch the 4:3 output to fill up the screen. The installer (while very good otherwise) was not able to figure this out, and it took me a while playing around with this stuff to get it to work as desired. It would've been nice if the box automatically interpreted the feed's aspect ratios correctly, but it doesn't on my TV, regardless of how I setup the aspect ratios in the HDTV setup menu. This approach allowed me to watch all programs in their native aspect ratios, while taking advantage of the full 4:3 screen size for SD programming...too often I've seen pictures that look warped/stretched incorrectly because the installers or users haven't taken the time to get the aspect ratio settings correct, and this just wouldn't have passed for my setup. Admittedly, most of you considering this box will have 16:9 HDTVs, and so none of this will pertain to you, as you'll watch 16:9 feeds at their native aspect ratio, and 4:3 feeds will have black bars on the left and right sides (unless you choose to stretch them to take up the entire 16:9 box, which just looks bad to me).
The second TV is connected via RG-6 coax, which for this low-end TV is adequate. I also have an SD output from the second tuner (using the RCA connector) going to my main HDTV, so that I can monitor what's being watched on the second TV in the bedroom. This is a neat feature for keeping an eye on what your kids are watching. This would also allow you to use PIP using the TV's capabilities, rather than the receiver's single/dual tuner mode/PIP. The drawback to this is that you need to have both remotes in front of you to actually use PIP this way, while the Dish receiver can do everything with the main remote only.
6) Minor bugs I've experienced so far in about 6 weeks of operation: one lockup on the main tuner (which didn't affect the second tuner for some reason), which required a manual reset to recover from; occasional 'stuttering' of the picture (maybe once or twice a week) which happens for about 30 seconds, and then goes away; mismatched audio feed on the local HDTV channels in the Chicago area...I'm only seeing this issue on those channels which apparently use the MPEG-4 compression, so I can't be sure whether this is an issue with the MPEG decoder or the feeds themselves; box runs warm, but not hot to the touch...I would not install this is a cabinet, but in an open air rack with plenty of airflow available to it.
7) Lastly, the manual is very well written, as least as far as I've gotten through it (about 1/2 way). I tend to try things out in the menus myself first, and then go back to reading manuals to see if there's anything I missed later on. This one seems very well put together, by someone who's actually spent some time with the box.
Overall, a superb product that I highly recommend!Updated
After several months usage of this product, I still think it is a very good performer. However, one aspect of its performance would cause me to revise my review to probably a score of 8.0. The box causes what I call 'stuttering' for brief periods of time while watching shows, either live, or recorded via DVR...the frequency of the stuttering has increased over the last month or so, so I'm not sure if this will continue, will get worse, or get better.