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Comparing the DVRs? 335

Posted by Cliff
from the digital-line-up dept.
zonker asks: "We are getting hooked up with Dish Network Satellite TV this weekend and opted to go with one of their PVR (personal video recorder) plans. I started wondering if anyone has done any technical reviews or comparisons of the video quality (not just features) of the various digital video recorders out there (TiVo, DishPVR, ReplayTV, etc.). I am curious mostly about recorded video quality compared to the source video. All of them make claims to have various recording 'speeds' like VCR's. VCR's analog output is predictable (fuzzy recording with bits of static here and there, worse when signal quality is bad). However digital recorders have varying levels of pixelization. I was curious which ones fared the best and if anyone has comments on either systems?"
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Comparing the DVRs?

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  • Well, some do... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sc00ter (99550) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @08:52PM (#2712668) Homepage
    I don't know about DishNetwork's PVR, but DirecTiVo just has one recording quality. So a 30hr DirecTiVo is 30hrs... Always.



    All it does is record the stream sent down by the sat, so what you're watching is what you would get if it was live TV. I belive UltimateTV works the same way, so I would assume most dish PVRs work this way.

    • Re:Well, some do... (Score:2, Informative)

      by drightler (233032)
      I don't know about that... my DirecTiVo manual states that it varies its recording depending on whats going on in the show. My 30 hour unit states it can record UP TO 30 hours depending on recording quality. I have noticed pixelation in the recordings of certain shows, mainly any shows that are kind of 'dark' like sci fi space shows. I have to say that on a couple of occations the pixelation has caught my eye and annoyed me, but its rare when that happens.
      • Re:Well, some do... (Score:3, Informative)

        by frankrachel (224667)
        Standalone TiVo has different recording qualities - the TiVo does the compression.

        The DirecTiVo record the bitstream as it is received from the satellite, so it in effect has only 1 recording quality, however the satellite signal itself will already be compressed at varying levels.

        EchoStar Dishplayer and PVR501 record the bitstream.

        I have a DishPlayer, 501 and a SA TiVo. The EchoStar equipment is rather bug-ridden (check dbsforums.com for more info), but it record at a better quality than the TiVo (because the TiVo is standalone, thus compresing the already compressed satellite signal). Plus, the TiVo has to use the IR blaster to control the satellite receiver (at least echostar ones), so channel changing is slow and sometimes (rarely) misses the change.

        However, if I were just gettig one and had dishnetwork, I would get the TiVo, followed by a used (or if you can find one since its discontinued) DishPlayer (which is very similar to Microsoft's UltimateTV Directv receiver), and lastly the PVR501..

        The PVR501 is not much more than a digital VCR. It has no "P"ersonal functionality like the tivo (suggestions, wishlists, searching, etc.)

        Now what I really need is one of these can can record HDTV..
      • by Chasing Amy (450778) <asdfijoaisdf@askdfjpasodf.com> on Sunday December 16, 2001 @11:03PM (#2713134) Homepage
        Basically, when you purchase a PVR/DVR, you're leaving the quality choices up to the makers, as well as most other aspects of the hardware and how it operates.

        That's why I'm just going to build my own, as many others have. When I next upgrade my PC, I'll be cramming the old one into a small set-top case with a 10x DVD-ROM, a 100GB HD (or more, depending on pricing at the time), and an ATI All-in-Wonder Radeon (or Radeon 8500, depending on price at the time), a RealMagic Hollywood+ DVD decoder, an SB Audigy Value, and a NIC.

        Most of those components I already have, and some of them aren't really necessary--like the H+ card, since the ATI card also has iDCT-assisted DVD decoding, or the DVD drive at all if you just want a PVR and not an integrated DVD playback. I included the H+ card on the list just because I already have one, and I prefer its image quality on a standard TV although the ATI decoder looks better on a high-res TV, and because some rare titles have gklitches on one or the other just as some rare titles have glitches on regular set-top DVD players. Back-ups are always good. ;-)

        I can't speak for what Linux software is available, but I plan my device to be based on a stripped-down WinXP kernel once http://www.98lite.net finishes their Windows XP version of their famous installer, which lets you strip away almost any unneeded part of the typical install. As such, there's some great and polished software available that's perfect for this--the ATI card's MultiMedia Center, for instance, which includes an integrated Guide+ feature and DVR capabilities. The A-i-W 8500 card will even come with a remote that looks perfect, with an integrated mouse device and everything, and runs on RF instead of IR so you can even control the thing from another room through thick walls. Tom's Hardware recently gave a great review of a pre-release sample.

        Best of all, when you roll your own there's total control over encoding and NO COPY PROTECTION. Why worry about losing saved shows in case of disaster or hard drive malfunction or hardware burnout requiring a return to a stupid company which reformats the drive? That's what the NIC is for. Transfer them to a back-up HD or when DVD-R drives and media get cheap enough, burn 'em to DVD. Lots of flexibility and expandability. And I know from personal experience that the All-in-Wonder cards encode a beautiful MPEG-2 stream in real-time with a decent Athlon processor.

        The only feature my box won't have that a commercial PVR will is the record-shows-it-thinks-you-may-like feature, which I personally wouldn't find useful anyway. The only feature a DVR integrated with a satellite receiver has that my box won't is digital-to-digital transfer, which isn't such a huge boon when you remember that it doesn't save the digital feed from the satellite, it *re-encodes* it so that there'll be some quality issue anyway. sing high-quality analogue cables shouldn't introduce any more noticeable quality issues.

        It's something to consider, and maybe someone else here can point to Linux software with similar functions?
        • Actually, the integrated units do NOT re-encode the signal. They don't even have an MPEG encoder in the hardware. They record the bitstream exactly as it comes from the satellite company, where their much more expensive encoders have already encoded it.
          • This is not what I've read before at all. I recall that during the last discussion of satellite DVRs on /., several people adamently insisted that the satellite systems with integrated DVR just re-encode the signal just like a standalone DVR would.

            If you can point to a real page about a particular satellite DVR product which disproves what I said about this, please do so and I'll gladly withdraw that comment. Until then, I have to insist that most of what I've read contradicts you.
        • I just did this last week. I used a msi book pc [msi.com.tw] and then added an ATI All-in-wonder Radeon. The motherboard that came with the book pc has a built in NIC, audio (although not great) and video (which I disabled). Some versions have an s-video out on the motherboard, but I wanted the features of the ATI card. It can record up to DVD quality MPEG2, it has an on screen programming guide that lets you schedule what programs you want to record, and the MPEG2 decoder on board is pretty decent. I am running Win2K, which I am happy with for this application. I would take a look at doing something similar.
    • Re:Well, some do... (Score:3, Informative)

      by jeaton (44965)
      So a 30hr DirecTiVo is 30hrs... Always.

      No, it isn't. The incoming bitstream from the satellite is variable rate. Sports and premium channels are generally encoded at a higher rate than the talking heads on CNN.

      The DirecTiVo will get about 30 hours on average, but not always.

      It does directly record the digital stream from the satellite as the previous poster said, so there is no loss of quality over watching it live.
    • That's odd since TiVo has options for quality. I wish they would change this. It is one of the only drawbacks to the DirecTiVo systems.
      • TiVo, Inc. has zero control over what the broadcast network (DISH, Directv, PrimeStar, etc.) sends. It simply records the bit stream directly. In fact, it has no MPEG encoding capabilities at all - period.

        The standalone units have an MPEG encoder so it asks how badly you want it to compress things. As those are fixed rates, it knows exactly how much space is available. (Only recently has VBR been added.)
        • I guess that was my point. why don't the satellite units have MPEG encoders?

          I don't need 'Best' image quality when recording the Simpsons everyday. I do, however, want it when recording Buffy or Cowboy Bebop.

          I will probably get a DirecTiVo system in a few months (once the Christmas credit card bills are paid) and I was hoping for that feature.
          • When The Simpsons is coming down the stream from DTV it's already highly compressed VBR MPEG2, it's a cartoon - think huge expanses of solid color. DirecTV adjusts the vbr compression ratios on a per channel basis, and (rarely) on a per program basis, to acheive a set maximum bandwidth for each channel to use all of their available satellite bandwidth. The compression ratios on the DirecTV stream are already much higher than you would hope for since they're squeezing in 100's of channels (ppv's, music, movie channels, local rebroadcasts, basic cable channels, etc...). Don't get me wrong, I love my Tivo and DirecTV. They're way better than cable. But what you gain in it being digital, you sometimes lose in hugely lossy compression. I can't wait until DirecTV starts broadcasting HDTV for everything.

            Besides, to get back to your original point, the hardware to do realtime VBR MPEG2 encoding is still expensive. The standalone TiVo's out there today use CBR which is relatively cheap. It would just be silly to reencode VBR into CBR as you'll always get larger file sizes unless you go much higher in compression ratios.

  • by cowboy junkie (35926) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @08:54PM (#2712675) Homepage
    Personally, what sold me on Tivo when I got it a year and a half ago was the great community at the AVS Tivo Forum [avsforum.com]. More info than you could ever want and a very supportive bunch for all kinds of questions. The Tivo FAQ [tivofaq.com] is a good place to get answers to the basic questions first, though.
    • Agreed, the TiVo folks on the AVS Forums are great. What also sold me was the ability to easily add drive space and the other software hacks that are available. Check the Underground section on the aforementioned AVS TiVo Forum for excellent info on hacking the TiVo.
    • I will agree wholeheartedly. I asked a question about TiVo on usenet, and got an email reply directly from the chief engineer at Tivo corp. I was impressed even more when he took quite a bit of time to exchange emails with detailed info on the units, hacking them, etc.Tivo unofficially supports hacking their unit, it is common to add a 2nd cheap IDE hard disk of up to 120Mb to expand your storage space over the current 30mb. But if you bust it while hacking, you're screwed, they won't help you fix it. So you have to do a linux-based backup before you hack on a Tivo (the Tivo runs on Linux).

      I will note that if you have both cable and DirecTV like I do, you need the standalone Tivo. For the first time I can have my local channels and DirecTV all on one continuous rotation on a single remote!
  • DishPVR (Score:4, Informative)

    by sigma (53086) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @08:54PM (#2712676)
    Although I'm a big fan of TiVo, in your case I'd reccommend a DishPVR if all you're concerned about is picture quality, unless you can get DirectTV in which case I'd reccommend a DirecTiVo.

    DishPVR, DirectTiVo and UTV all store the satellite bitstream directly, so there is no quality setting, since there is no further compression.
    • Re:DishPVR (Score:2, Informative)

      by msobkow (48369)
      When I first subscribed to DirecTV a few months ago, I got the RCA UltimateTV unit. It was great -- for 3 weeks. As it's essentially a computer, I had it on a small UPS to allow for the sags and brownouts that occur in my area. Despite the protection, it crashed in the third week, losing all my settings, shows, and schedules.

      Fortunately http://www.americansatellite.com/ [americansatellite.com] has a return/trade-in policy that runs for a month or so. I was able to trade it in for a DirecTiVO unit. I went with the Sony SAT-T60. It cost me an extra $100 due to unit price differences (other TiVO units were the same price as the UTV, Sony is just pricier), but ASE covered the shipping charges for the replacement and the return. (Yes, this is a shameless plug because I've been very happy with their service and support.)

      Aside from the M$ based unit losing everything when it crashed, both units had about the same picture quality.

      I typically got about 16-20 hours recording time with both TiVO and UTV, despite the claims of "up to 30 hours."

      The TiVO units let you start recordings 5 minutes early; the UTV only lets you extend recording time. A lot of channels up there don't start at exactly the time they say in the listings, so you can lose the opening moments with the UTV.

      TiVO lets you record by time/channel as well as through the guide. If you know the guide is wrong (often the case for local channels), you can "force" the TiVO to record the channel/time you want. The UTV doesn't support that feature.

      There were other little nicities I noticed with the TiVO, but I don't remember them offhand (it's been a few months.)

      Personally I'd never recommend a UTV unit to anyone. Aside from the crash, there are just too many little functionality tweaks to the TiVO that leave the UTV a so-so imitation instead of a true competitor.

  • by swordboy (472941) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @08:55PM (#2712682) Journal
    Dishnetwork is the only DVB broadcaster in the states. I noticed that Happauge makes an DVB Receiver Card [hauppauge.com] and was curious if anyone has picked up a real, honest-to-God DVB broadcast on a PC? The cards have the capabilities for conditional access modules (smart cards) so everything could be set up legitimately.

    Why isn't there more open support for this? You'd think that Dishnetwork would promote this type of thing.
    • by Drakino (10965) <d_slashdot@NospAM.miniinfo.net> on Monday December 17, 2001 @02:38AM (#2713724) Journal
      Why isn't there more open support for this? You'd think that Dishnetwork would promote this type of thing

      They almost did. A while back, any Gateway system came with some DishNetworks coupons. Why? Well at the time, they were working togther to bring Dish service to the Destination systems. The deal fell through, a few cards were made by Adaptec, and not much came of it.

      That card on Happauge looks interesting. My biggest hurdle was the Nagravision Dish uses, but aparently that card supports it now. If only the links wern't broken on that page...

    • Why isn't there more open support for this? You'd think that Dishnetwork would promote this type of thing.

      Yes, they are very much interested in putting their receivers on a totally open box which is easily hackable.

      Don't expect this anytime soon. There's too much for the broadcasters to lose, and both they and the community know it. They have enough problems with people buying hacked equipment from Canada (where it's legal - neither Dish nor DirecTV have the right to broadcast in Canada, so it's not illegal to make hacked boxes/cards/etc that receive it), much less someone just running a program to open up every single pay channel or ppv movies/events.
  • One word (Score:2, Informative)

    by Moonwick (6444)
    DirecTiVo.

    Of course, since you opted to go with DishNetwork that doesn't apply in your case. But to anyone else who hasn't made that decision, DirecTV + TiVo is extreme dual-tuner goodness. It also has the added bonus of storing the raw MPEG stream from the satellite instead of decoding and recompressing programs.
    • Microsoft's UltimateTV also offers dual-tuner capabilities, although I highly recommend the DirecTiVo. Not sure if any of the Dishnet/ReplayTV options offer dual tuners yet or not.
  • It depends (Score:5, Interesting)

    by djrogers (153854) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @09:01PM (#2712709)
    All of the Dish or DirectTV only DVRs record the actual data stream beamed down from the bird and do not have quality settings. PQ will be the same amongst them all, which is why features are the most often compared variables. Nothing comes close to the simplicity, maturity, and number of features available in a TiVo but since you're a Dish customer you'll still need their PVR in order to get the best PQ.
  • Dish501 (Score:2, Informative)

    by bubbazanetti (544237)
    I have had Dishnetwork for a few years. A friend of mine just got the 501 receiver with the PVR built in. First I didn't realize it was a PVR until I noticed the remote had some extra buttons. The machine is as quiet as a regular receiver, the video output is exactly the same as on a regular receiver, it has quite a few hours of recording time, and it is always recording, so if you happen to be watching something and you want to rewind, you can. Of course you can set the timers etc. Also if you get to an end of a show and think you now want to record it, just hit save. When I upgrade, ALL my Dish receivers will be PVR...BTW a twin tuner/PIP receiver should be coming soon.
  • by fleener (140714)
    I won't be buying a DVR until they offer a non-subscription version. I just want to record stuff without VHS tapes and pause live broadcasts. I could care less about the other recording options. Can you use today's DVRs as a replacement for your VCR without any annoying hassles or subscription fees?
    • Buy a TiVo (Score:3, Informative)

      by NetJunkie (56134)
      Buy a Tivo and don't do the subscription. It'll act like a VCR. You just manually tell it when to record...and you still get to control live TV.
    • by bgraziano (79486)
      ReplayTV doesn't have any subscription fees.

      In most cases if you compared the price of a TiVo to the price of a ReplayTV you'd find that the TiVo plus it's lifetime subscriptions fee equals the ReplayTV. Basically they are both getting the same amount of money out of you. TiVo just chose to split part of their purchase price out as a subscription fee so you could pay it monthly if you chose.

      The new ReplayTV 4000's are now available. These suckers aren't cheap. They add commercial skip and the ability to share shows over a broadband connection.

      Personally I have a ReplayTV and LOVE it. I don't know how people can watch TV without one. It truly changes how you watch televison.

      I have unhooked my VCR and with any luck I'll never hook it up again.
    • by btempleton (149110) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @09:40PM (#2712836) Homepage
      Obviously you can be wary when somebody says "trust me."

      But trust me, try out a Tivo or similar box with the listing data. It really is a whole different beast from a simple hard disk recorder that can record shows at set times. Even though you can fully comprehend what all the features do, you won't really understand how it changes your watching of TV until you try it for a while.

      I mean, I'm very up on the technology, and in many ways I feel that even before I got a box I knew better what features they were missing, but even so, there are elements you won't indentify until you sit down and use it.

      With the Tivo, if you get an older box (not a new one, you need to get one of old inventory or used) you can cancel the monthly service and use it for timed recording.

      And even though the data is overpriced at $9.95 (it's not really overpriced, it's just that you are paying for software upgrades and part of the box in there, but it seems like you are paying for listings) the change is remarkable.

      It's not just a better UI where you browse both upcoming, live and recorded programs by name and category. It's not just the way it adjusts when programs change channel or timeslot. Not just how it records only the new shows and not the reruns, or lets you see all the different times the same show is on. And it's not just the fact that when the machine has nothing to do, it records shows that match your other tastes and puts them in spare disk space.

      The key is you think about TV differently. There is an asynch pile of stuff coming in and you watch it in any order you like, at any time you like. You never watch the live TV again. Almost never, at least. The pausing live TV is a red herring feature to bring in new users, it turns out to be not useful because you don't watch live tv.
    • Well you gotta pay for the equipment, but ReplayTV's [replaytv.com] units carry no ongoing subscription fees.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Why is a subscription needed for these PVRs anyway? I have a Magnavox tv that has TV Guide+ functionality built in. It receives it's programming info right over the standard tv signals only requiring access to a PBS channel to do so. It even controls the VCR for you. Couldn't they have just used this information that is already being transmitted to gather the schedule information?

    • ReplayTV has no subscription fees. Look for a Panasonic Showstopper or a ReplayTV branded 3000 series unit. Sometimes you can even luck into one for about $100 new, or as a open box special at a retailer.

      You'll get the guide information anyway, since there is no sub fee.
    • OK, I should clarify my quesiton. In addition to wanting NO monthly fees, I do not want any of my viewing habits tracked. I do not want the DVR dialing out or connecting back to any company. I want it to be a fully self-contained unit that functions as a basic digital VCR. Does ReplyTV allow this?
  • Hardware Codec... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tcc (140386) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @09:14PM (#2712752) Homepage Journal
    They are probably using either C-Cube or Zoran (or any similar MPEG2/MJPEG chips). While quality can vary from a chip to another, I'd look more at the maximum datarate that each unit is recording at. The bigger the better in terms of quality.

    I hate the fact that they sell the systems with "30 hours of playback" 30 hours, you can stick 30 hours of video on a cdrom with low bitrates, it means NOTHING. What you want to check for if they don't give the true numbers, is the size of the hard drive and the minimal recording time (i.e. if they say you can record minimal of 20 hours on a 40GB drive, you do the maths for the datarate: (sorry if I don't multiply by 1024 or if I miss anything, this is intended as "raw".

    So, 40GB for 20 hours.

    40,000MB/(20 hours x 60 minutes x 60 secons) = 0.55MB/sec.

    Mjpeg looks "okay" on a standard el-cheapo TV at about 1MB/sec. (its blocky on a vga monitor but depending on the quality of your tv, it's smooths a bit on the output so you notice it a bit less). Personnaly when I deal with video that I want to store with a good MJPEG codec, I don't go under 3-4MB/sec. For replaying with the video (i.e. decompress, add some effect, recompress) I don't go under 5MB/sec (if not uncompressed).

    That's for MJPEG with 4:2:2 colorspace, if they use a DV codec, it's 4:1:1 colorspace so there's more pixel quality for the same given bandwith compared to 4:2:2 MJPEG.

    Anyways I'm going off here, what you want to do is apply the above formula when you can't get the datarate and pick the highest number... you won't care if it means less storage, because you can ramp up the compression afterwars anyways. And besides, drives are going down in price everyday, and since your concern is about quality and not storage, this is one of the option you might want to look for.

    I'm sure electronic-wise, aside from some extra stuff like component out or nice extras like that, the Codec level and overall theorical compressed quality is about the same from a machine to another, so probably the biggest difference (aside from the added features like component out if some don't have it) will be that number which will be hardcoded in the firmware. Some might want to go with lower values to be sure that the drive will follow (but then again most drives do over 10MB/sec sustained easily nowadays) or for any other reasons like marketting for more storage than the competition.
    • by RedX (71326)
      Great technical info, but none of it pertains to the combination satellite receiver/PVR boxes since they don't encode the video but simply save the already-encoded datastream that is received from the satellite.

    • but for joe average consumer, it's not a 'hackable computer in a neat case' where they even want to know how it works. IT's just something that can record 30 hours of video for them.

      It's like saying we shouldn't call casette tapes '60 minute' tapes.. because, in truth, we can stick a lot more at lower quality, or a lot less at higher quality on the same tape.
  • orang55 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by moosesocks (264553) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @09:28PM (#2712801) Homepage
    I would suppose the boxes with the built in satelitte recievers would have the best quality. There is a ton of conversion involved here. The built-in box has no conversion involved.

    Non-intergrated/2 boxes MPEG2 Satelitte Stream -> VBR Decoded to FBR -> downconverted to analog output -> cable to pvr, signal loss, interference, etc -> MPEG2 Vbr Conversion -> MPEG2 Decoding -> Out to TV

    Intergrated box MPEG2 Satelitte Stream -> VBR already encoded, data alreay MPEG2 compressed, saved directly to disk, video remains unedited and uncompressed. -> Downconversion to analog -> Out to TV

    Rumor has it that next month, EchoStar (parent company of DishNetwork) will release a HD PVR. Of course, that would require a huge drive, but there is also news that Dish ordered a slew of 120gb drives from a large storage sompany. So, more room for plain-ol broadcasts, which dont take up nearly as much room. The box has been dubbed the DishPVR 721. Oh yeah, it runs linux.

    More news and stuff on the Echostar Knowledge Base [swiki.net]. There's lots of stuff on the AVSFORUM [avsforum.com] dish network board with other info.
    • 721 != HDTV (Score:2, Interesting)

      by doormat (63648)
      The 721 model is NOT for HDTV. The 921 which is HDTV for all we know might never come out (it probably wouldnt be introduced until after the merger gets approved/denied). The 721 has dual tuners, 75 hours of recording time (but a 100GB HD, they are most likely setting aside some HD space for video on demand, music on demand, etc), USB/ethernet connections (imagine downloading guide info over broadband instead of a phone line or satellite). Anyways..
    • So that's where all the fucking Maxtor 100 and 120 GB drives went.

      At work we were trying to order large quantities of 100GB or 120GB maxtor IDE drives for the last several weeks, and everyone has been out of stock. (We called like 20 places, including Maxtor themselves, and their direct wholesalers.)

      Only recently have the 120GBs come back into stock.
  • From a purely ease of use standpoint (ie. not trying to hack it or upgrade it or anything just use it) Tivo has so far won me over (and is the one I ended up getting).

    Instead of a remote control with lots of little hard to see buttons, Tivo's remote is actually clean and neat. Just what you need, with buttons in the size and color that make them east to find and use. It even fits nicely in the hand.

    Its on screen access is clean and neat as well. I have never had a technical problem with it or any problem trying to use it.

    Finally, while I have never tried hacking my Tivo, I had seen several sites that seemed to give good, clean directions for adding another hard disk and so on.
  • Not too long ago sky [sky.com] came out with a new PVR system called Sky+ [sky.com] which they are now starting to hype (though this [sky.com] questions if it is released). What's interesting is that sky have left Tivo [tivo.com] to persue this option [pace.co.uk] from Pace [pace.co.uk]. One of the touted advantages was that the Sky+ will record the actual broadcast stream direct to disk, but I can't help but think the real reason for the change in tack from sky is that they wish to have more control over the capabilities of their customers (i.e. no Network card streaming hacks please).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    it doesn't matter how many hours you get initially because you can easily upgrade the internal harddisk...a 120 Gig drive will store over 100 hours of recorded material.

    follow the (idiot-proof) instructions outlined here [newreleasesvideo.com]
  • Quality made simple (Score:5, Informative)

    by Otto (17870) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @09:57PM (#2712882) Homepage Journal
    The three big ones for Dish based setups (DirecTivo's, UltimateTV's, and DishPVR's) all record the actual digital stream coming from the satellite. No encoding is done in the unit, so what you see on the feed is what you get on the recording. This doesn't mean there's no artifacts, it means that the artifacts will be the same as if you were watching it "live".

    The other two major ones (Tivo standalone units, ReplayTV) are mostly comparable in picture quality.

    Tivo has 4 picture quality settings, that range the spectrum pretty well, with "Best" being very close to live, and "Basic" being about VCR quality, but slightly sharper. Replay has 3 quality settings, I believe, and they are mostly the same as Tivo, picture wise.

    Audio wise, it seems as if the Replay lowers the bitrate on the audio as well as the video in the lower quality settings, but this may be untrue or a rumor. Tivo definitely uses the same audio quality regardless of the quality setting. It sounds pretty good and I've not noticed any weirdness on Tivo audio except for some loss on the rear channel on Dolby Pro-Logic signals from time to time. Neither unit can record Dolby Digital, while the Dish/DTV-based units can and have digital outputs as well.
  • by bani (467531) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @09:57PM (#2712883)
    I was suprised to discover that Tivo captures video at 352x480, with 32khz audio. That is disturbingly low.

    This may not seem like much of a problem considering that NTSC broadcast maxxes out around 440 pixels. However at 352x480 the mpeg macroblocks are quite large, and any macroblock artifacts will be quite noticeable.

    The "higher quality" capture options on Tivo only adjust the bitrate given to the mpeg, but the video resolution and audio rate remain the same.

    It's a shame Tivo doesn't use higher resolutions for higher quality modes.
    • by Otto (17870)
      32 Khz audio is all you need to accurately reproduce NTSC sound because the NTSC spec says that the maximum frequency is 16 Khz. Thus says Shannon's Law/Nyquist's theorem.
      • by bani (467531)
        32khz is the *absolute minimum* for capturing 16khz according to Shannon/Nyquist. In reality you want a bit extra for breathing room, because analogue audio isn't algorithm-on-paper perfect.

        Well, try capture at 32khz and 44.1khz. You *will* notice a difference.
        • by adolf (21054)
          I used to archive radio shows, with cron and a decent sound card (think Tivo, applied to FM broadcasts).

          Things worked quite well at 32 and 44.1KHz, though 44.1 had a tendancy toward more artifacts from the mp3 encoder at a given bitrate.

          Which is to say that 32khz sounded better, all said. Nyquist be damned.

          OTOH, I ended up running at 44.1KHz long-term, as it was more agreeable with portable mp3 players.
          • Which is to say that 32khz sounded better, all said. Nyquist be damned.

            Hey, leave me outta this! :)

            Seriously, if you are getting artifacts at 44.1khz that you aren't getting at 32khz, there's something wrong with your codec setup (ie, its Xing/Audiograbber/etc.)

            Previous poster's comment at 32khz being the absolute lowest for 16khz is correct, in fact 32khz won't even do 16khz properly b/c you need a lowpass filter to prevent anti-aliasing. So, all of this is to say that 32khz on a PVR is IMHO sub-par.
          • "Things worked quite well at 32 and 44.1KHz, though 44.1 had a tendancy toward more artifacts from the mp3 encoder at a given bitrate."

            To coin a phrase, "Well DUH!".

            You won't hear as many artifacts for eg 32khz at 128kbps as 44.1khz at 128kbps, because at 32khz you're stuffing LESS BITS into the available bitrate thank 44.1khz.

            I can make a 256kbps 44.1khz mpeg sound better than a 384kbps 32khz mpeg. There is a point where artifacts essentially disappear and then you'll hit the aliasing wall due to the inferior sampling rate. Then all the kbps in the world won't save you.
            • For signals with meaningful information above ~16KHz, yes - a sampling rate higher than 32KHz is in order. For frequencies less than 16KHz, 32KHz is perfect. (Note that 16 is half of 32.) For this argument, lossy compression and even bit-depth are irrelevant.

              Have you forgotten (or perhaps, were never informed, or never measured, or...) that FM radio means, at least to us 'Merkins, that nothing exists at or above 15KHz except for a carrier signal (only with cheap tuners - it should otherwise be filtered) and unwanted noise from op-amps and (in my example) ADCs?

              Certainly, a 32KHz sampling rate is sufficient to capture such attrocious sounds - and, I dare say, the audio portion of broadcast NTSC signals.

              Nyquist states, IIRC, quite simply that a sine wave must be sampled at least twice as quickly as it occurs in order to be accurately reconstructed later. Which is to say that any sampling rate over 32,000Hz would be sufficient for a 16,000Hz sine wave [1]. This, from a more practical standpoint, is also to say that a sampling rate of 32,001Hz would work justfine, as long as the DAC utilizes sufficient oversampling to move the reconstruction filter (which is just a low-pass to get rid of inherent aliasing noise) out of the desired pass-band.

              Of course, this all means that 32KHz sampling, while fine for FM radio, is not quite sufficient for reproduction of 16KHz signals. I submit that the the absent few (if that) Hz worth of television audio bandwidth won't be missed.

              I further submit that there are few (if any) broadcast engineers with reliable hearing at such frequencies, and that if any signals exist up there which are meaningful to anyone, including any engineers who have yet to destroy their ears, it is by mistake.

              This might also be a good time to point out that DBS systems such as DirecTV also use a 32KHz sampling rate, and that things tend to sound markedly better to my ears with DirecTV than with stereo NTSC and flakey dbx noise reduction.

              Oh. I bet you didn't know that stereo NTSC had noise reduction as part of the standard, either.

              Hit the books, kid. It's good for you, and demonstrably saves bandwidth. Why bother recording information which isn't there to begin with?

              [1] Sine waves are all that we care about, anyway. Any other signal at 15 or 16KHz would consist of harmonics which would be filtered at the head end, and never make it down the wire/over the air for us to get a chance to recieve them.
    • by bani (467531)
      Oops. Just noticed we were talking about DBS, not NTSC broadcast. ;P

      Anyone know what resolutions the various DBS broadcasters use?
    • I can see artifacts in my standard digital cable signal anyway. For me, TiVo doesn't seem to make things any worse than they already are.
  • MPEG2 (Score:2, Informative)

    by vman3197 (544320)
    The DISH PVR simply records the originally satellite MPEG2 source - so it should be the same quality as the originally received signal you get from your satellite. I have the 501 and note no difference between viewing live or recorded programs, even in S-video. However, if you have not already purchased the unit, you may want to check on the ReplayTV unit - it claims to work with satelllites and would have the benefit of being usable with cable or any other service you may have or change to in the future, while the Dish PVR will ONLY record from DISH satellite. Don't get me wrong - I love my unit, but I also have local cable and really wish I could record off it as well.
    • by stevew (4845)
      I've got the replay 4000 as seen here on /. ;-) and haven't tried to hook it up to my Dish system yet (mainly because the dish needs to be moved for better view of the sky..)

      Anyway - the replay looks like it only records the NTSC signal or the channel 3 video version of the vidio. Further, the video play back quality of the replay from over-the-air programming is usually a bit lower than one I see off of the Dish decoder. I have a clue about what to look like (worked at a encoder builder some years ago..) and I see digital artifacts more often watching the replay.

      At the same time- just the ability to pause live TV is AWESOME! The other neat trick is to pause a live show for a few minutes before it actually plays - then no commercials. Also VERY enjoyable.
  • DVRs are nice, but they're just not ready for the mass market. Criswell predicts that neither Tivo nor SonicBlue will get rich selling them.

    Don't get me wrong. I love my Tivo. Works so much better for me than a VCR. I can't count the number of shows I've missed because I forgot to program the VCR, or I made some minor mistake in the programming process (when is it on? which tape has enough room? did i set up the weekly recording list properly? did I remember to put in the right tape and push the right button before I left for work? should I leave the clock on manual and risk a blackout, or did KTEH [mercurycenter.com] finally fix their sync box?). Not to mention shows I never knew about because scanning TV listings is boring.

    So I go through some menus and just tell the Tivo to record this show or that. And it does. Unless the Tivo has already decided to record it on its own. Perfection, no?

    No. There's still too much that can go wrong. Browse through the Tivo forum [tivocommunity.com] and you'll find dozens of posts from people hassling with weird problems. Disk errors. Software bugs. Signal acquisition failures. System crashes.

    The awful truth is that DVRs are not consumer appliances. They're mutated PCs that are sold bundled with a TV listing database service. I can cope with that -- but then, I've been second-guessing neurotic computer systems for longer than I care to think about. (If I got one of those T shirts [thinkgeek.com], a lot of people would have to dust off their typewriters.) And I still get screwed sometimes when a software upgrade screws up my box and I miss a bunch of shows before I impose a fix through a combination of persistence, intuition, and blind luck. It would be a lot easier of they didn't try to hide the basic platform from the user. But then, they'd never get backing if they didn't pretend this was a consumer item, not a hacker toy.

    Perhaps Replay TV is better. (The basic technology [replay.com] does seem to be a little better thought out.) Perhaps TiVo would be better if they didn't keep doing new software releases. I doubt it though. Everybody has to use the same basic off-the-shelf technology to sell this toy at a reasonable price. So we're stuck with immature, kludged together technology. If you can cope with that, OK. Otherwise, stick with your VCR.

    All that being said, they're isn't a lot of difference between Tivo and ReplayTV. Once you factor in the lifetime subscription for a Tivo (which you have no choice about, unless you plan to smash the Tivo exactly 19 months after you buy it) the prices are the same. Features are pretty similar. (There are claims that Tivo is deliberately trying to make it hard to not watch commercials, but I have little trouble skipping them.) Tivo has an active hacker community (even aftermarket upgraders [digitalrecorder.tv]), but Replay technology strikes me as more extensible, with its built-in IP support.

    A major difference is that Tivo is part of the entertainment industry, while SonicBlue is an outsider. That's not a clear plus for either one -- Tivo boxes are less likely to be orphaned, but Replay boxes have functionality that isn't dictated by Hollywood lawyers.

    Bottom line -- if you must buy a DVR, buy the one that has the features you like and you find easiest to use.

  • The current Hughes DirectTV/TIVO combo is on sale for $99, but requires $10/month fee.. In less than a year I'd be paying more in subscribtion fees than for the device. I'd be willing to pay $200-250 for the box without a subscription.

    Tivo service provides schedule, Time, and Program content. I am already getting the first two, with my subscribtion to DirectTV. Instead of making the TIVO Box call some TIVO server nightly, just send the data down in the Satellite signal.

    The DirecTV/TIVO box is much cheaper than the TIVO, since it does not require an MPEG2 encoder. All the TIVO information can be sent down in the Satellite data, don't make us pay a subscribtion fee, just charge us a fair price on the equipment.

  • I purchased a standalone TiVo box for regular cable TV in August of '99. I can say I'm very happy with it. It will change the way you watch TV.

    I didn't use/investigate the ReplayTV version because I am a Sony Bigot and I bought the Sony PVR which is TiVo based. I can say that the hacking side of TiVo is very thourough and if you want to tear apart your TiVo and upgrade the capacity, or add an ethernet card or something fun it's out there. Though I have not investigated the ReplayTV side of the house to see what they offer to the hacking community.

    The guide information, and it's ability to 'learn' what you want to watch is very nice. It picks shows, sometimes stuff I've never heard of but ends up being something I like. I was able to catch every Babylon 5 episode and catch the few I missed during the real airing.

    Also, it's great for new parents. Tape your shows while yer new two month old baby screams, and then when you are fighting them to sleep late at night you can watch stuff you TiVo'd instead of the 65 of 67 channels of Paid Programming that is on between 1:00AM and 6:00AM when your child is wide awake (at least mine is)
  • by jbridges (70118) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @11:09PM (#2713158)
    Yes you could buy an external TiVo or ReplayTV for your DishNetwork box.

    But once you decide digital audio is important to you, then you MUST go with the integrated PVR since no external PVRs have digital audio input.

    And as others have said, same with zero loss video. Any external PVR is going to have to redigitize the video instead of recording the original data stream.

    You should have considered your PVR options before choosing DishNetwork since the DishPlayer software is not so great.
  • Umm, guys? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Fat Casper (260409) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @11:28PM (#2713212) Homepage
    First, I don't like subscriptions at all, but Tivo's lifetime sub costs as much as 2 years' worth of regular subs.

    Second, the Tivo's a neat little toy. A couple of guys brought theirs in to our last LUG meeting- one already modded, one to mod in front of us. The ethernet card was a nice touch, as was having a bash prompt. Backing up the new box and dropping the big Maxtor in was a breeze, but he didn't want the network connection- it overrides the modem and he only has a phone jack in his living room.

    I was impressed with how his viewing habits have changed, and I was impressed with the picture quality. It looked like crap- recorded on the lowest setting, getting bumped over to a laptop and shot through a projector to the wall about 10 feet away, making a nice, big image. If it looked like that on a TV I'd have laughed, but this was fine.

    Anyway, www.9thtee.com is a great place for the hardware. They come highly recommended. I'll be damned if I buy a subscription box that's fscking crippleware, though.

    • No, you can't transfer the lifetime subscription to another unit, but you can transfer it to a new owner. It will be worth just as much to the next owner of the unit as buying it himself would be worth, which might even be more than it is now, if the price goes up again. So, even if you expect to sell the box within 2 years, it's still a no-brainer to get the lifetime service...

      The only real danger is if the box breaks before the 2 years are up, and you don't have warranty coverage. If you insist on voiding your warranty, you might want to pay monthly until you've done the upgrade and give it a month or three to run, then buy the lifetime service when you're pretty sure it will last a couple more years.

      If you're going to void the warranty, be prepared for the risk that entails. (Some have claimed that upgrading the TiVo unit doesn't void Circuit City's extended warranty, but I'm not sure I believe that...)
  • Rolled My Own (Score:5, Interesting)

    by edo-01 (241933) on Monday December 17, 2001 @12:06AM (#2713322)
    Sadly there aren't any PVR units available for sale here in Australia yet so I decided to build my own.


    I bought a Hauppauge WIN-TV PVR (PCI) card for video capture. It has a hardware MPEG-2 encoder with many settings for quality from 2mb/sec to the ridiculously high 12mb/sec with the option of constant or variable bitrate. After testing I settled on 4mbit/sec VBR which looks great - sometimes it's easy to forget I'm not watching a live broadcast. Importantly it also has a "pause" feature just like a commercial PVR which is great for dealing with the amount of calls I get from clients at all hours. Output to the TV is via S-VHS from an old GeForce 1 card that has TV-out built in. initially I wanted to use the MPEG decoder card from my DVD kit for output but after testing, the output from the geforce is so close in quality I just use it, plus then I get to use the PC even while it's recording (the hardware encoder means no dropped frames ever). The box is just a celeron 900 with a half gig of ram running win2k - there is a linux driver available for the Hauppauge on sourceforge but the PC is part of my render farm (I'm a 3D animator by trade) and 3dsmax only runs on windows (for now).


    The software that ships with the Hauppauge is, well, shitty. It works fine but the interface sucks, especially when you've used showshifter (www.showshifter.com) though from reading showshifter's forums apparently it will soon support the WintTV PVR board. In the meantime I have simply "frontended" the Hauppage software using scripting in Automate from Unisyn. I've bound all the major features to the cute rubber buttons on the internet keyboard on my coffee table and I've even been able to do things like have the scroll-lock light flash when recording (for when we're not watching TV via the PC). For scheduling I go to the Aussie TV guide at sofcom.com.au to pick out my weeks viewing - the lounge box has winvnc on it so I can program it from my office or even start recording if I see something good and don't have time to run out to the lounge. I use PowerDVD for mpeg playback, mainly cause you can fast forward and rewind using the scroll wheel on the mouse - trez chic


    For the future I just ordered a Redrat2 IR controller from www.redrat.co.uk to give the box control over my satellite decoder, and I plan to add functionality like being able to email the box to program it etc. I also use the box as our stereo to play MP3's and I've recently begun ripping (my own!!) most watched DVDs to my server's 160 gb logical drive using smartripper to prevent my favourite DVDs getting scratched from constant use. I don't re-encode, just copy the VOB files and re-name them as .mpgs. It takes up a bit of space but that's cheap these days.

  • Semi-offtopic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ryanvm (247662) on Monday December 17, 2001 @12:11AM (#2713334)
    FWIW, my vote has to go for the TiVo. Of course that's because I own one.

    Anyway, what I've always thought would be a cool feature is an option for slightly faster video playback - maybe around 10 percent. That would trim 6 minutes off of every hour of programming. It surely wouldn't be very hard for TiVo (et al) to implement. And it probably wouldn't even be that noticable.

    Are you listening TiVo?
    • I was thinking of that as well, some varibale control just like you get with voice-mail now, that would let you alter the playback speed but pitch-shift the sound so it still sounded normal. Watching most things 10% faster would be fine, and watching news shows at about 150% (or 170%) faster than normal speed might make them bearable. I don't understand why no-one has implemented this feature in media plaers as well (at least none I've ever seen do this).

    • God, yes, please. I have been wishing for this since the day I plugged in my Replay.

      Replays and Tivos are so damn cool, but they take away time just as they give it back... because you will end up watching more TV with one in the house.
  • by sakusha (441986) on Monday December 17, 2001 @12:33AM (#2713397)
    I suppose I should mention there are rebates on Sony TiVo units. I prefer Sony equipment and the $100 rebate on the SVR-2000 standalone Tivo made the deal for me.

    You can download the rebate form here in .pdf format

    http://www.jandr.com/images/pdf/rebates/SON9_200 20 131.pdf
  • Dish PVR Comments (Score:2, Informative)

    by Necron69 (35644)
    I've had the Dish 501 PVR for about six months and have generally been happy with it.

    I am not any sort of videophile, but the picture quality appears to be exactly what you get when you watch something live off the satellite, and the controls and on-screen menu system are excellent. It would be nice though, if it would hide the title of rating locked recordings from the playback menu. This could save you from embarrasing questions asked by your 8 year old. ;)

    My only major complaint with the system is that when I first got it, I always left it on. After a few weeks, it began to flake out badly. Channels would often suddenly pixellate, the audio would develop static, and every morning the system would force you to download 'program information' and lock up afterwords. The only way to fix it was to 'reset' the unit by removing and replacing the smart card.

    After several rounds of this, we called their tech support and they told us to turn it off at night, so it could 'rest' (I'm NOT kidding). Deciding to play dumb consumer, I do this faithfully now, and the unit has since worked fine. My observation is that the unit is not always off even when it appears to be. You can still hear the drive spinning. I assume it runs some sort of maintenance disk check or something late at night. It also seems to periodically download software updates, noticeable only when the menus change.

    Contrary to some reports I read about the Tivo, the Dish PVR record time seems to be quite steady. I get exactly 30 hours of recording, no matter what type of material I'm watching.

    One final observation I have is the price of the remote control. You can only use the special remote that comes with the unit. After my two year old tossed this in the toilet, we had to order a replacement at the outrageous price of $60.

    Despite a few flaws, the Dish PVR works out quite well. I use it extensively to record shows I would otherwise miss, and I rarely use my VCR any more.

    - Necron69
  • pvrcompare.com (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    pvrcompare.com [pvrcompare.com] has the most current comparisons I've seen of TiVo, Ultimate TV and the now-defunct ReplayTV 3000/Showstoppers. It doesn't cover Dish equipment or the Replay 4000 though, and doesn't get into much detail on picture quality specifically.
  • I just set up my new ReplayTV 4080 this evening, and the video quality seems to be quite good. Definitely better than the older ReplayTV models and the Tivos that don't use an integrated satellite decoder. (Those models record the satellite bitstream directly, so the playback quality is identical to watching the program live.)

    I finished the setup at about 7:10 PM local time, too late to record Futurama, but a friend recorded it on his ReplayTV 4080, so he's going to send it to me over the internet. It was a repeat anyhow, so it's no big deal, but it will be a good test of the show sharing features.

    Since the ReplayTV 4000 series can send the show to another unit, and it can play from the disk of another unit, I hope to come up with a way to send my shows to a Linux server with a very high-capacity RAID (a bunch of Maxtor 160G drives) for archiving, then play back from that. Rumor has it that standard protocols are used; if true, it shouldn't be too hard to set it up.

    Anyhow, I put a spare PC on a hub with the ReplayTV so that they were on the same port of my Ethernet switch, and have tcpdump logging all the ReplayTV's network traffic to a file for analysis.

    I hope ReplayTV will develop a model with integrated satellite decoder. That would improve both the picture quality and the channel change latency. Actually, since they already have an Ethernet port, they could just build a satellite reciever with an Ethernet port, sell it as an accessory, and update the ReplayTV 4000 software to record from that.

  • Quality by Show (Score:2, Informative)

    by WilsonSD (159419)
    I find that most shows I watch do just fine on the "medium" Tivo quality setting. However, there are some shows that just beg for more. For example, "The Simpsons" looks like complete crap at "medium" with all sorts of JPEG artifacts when things move too quickly. The nice thing is that you can select different quality modes for different shows when you set up a "season pass." Thus I can set up Simpsons on a higher quality mode, but leave my wife's "Trading Spaces" show (which she records about three episodes a day!!!) on a lower quality mode so it takes up less space.

    -Steve
  • by barfy (256323) on Monday December 17, 2001 @05:12AM (#2713931)
    Ok, there are two basic classes of PVR's out now...

    Ones for Digital Satellite Systems (They record the bit stream directly from the satellite without an analog to digital encoding process), and those for other systems (They convert analog TV into a digital MPEG stream and store it on disk).

    To understand satellite systems. Incoming signals are buffered off the hard drive. (Long discussion about MPEG multicasting not gone into here, but the hard drive allows a longer error buffer to catch out of sequence key frames). You can then watch that stream or another stream off the hard drive. This allows you to watch a recorded show and record at the same time. But you cannot watch live and record something else.

    DISH SYSTEM
    Two Basic Systems
    Dishplayer/WebTV (7100 and 7200)
    The software for these were created by a division of microsoft. (Based on a unix core!).
    They basically record the bitstream to disk. They have a very nice UI compared to other dish recievers. They have a 7 day guide, and support searching. (The searching is not as deep or complete as TIVO's searching).

    They also have games (DOOM, You don't know jack, and solitare).

    They also can be used as webtv terminals (though the software for webtv is a generation behind standalone webtv boxes).

    The devices are somewhat hackable. You can put much larger drives in than came stock.

    The software is buggy. Much more buggy than UltimateTV which uses alot of the same code as Dishplayer.

    Dish Network and Microsoft have never been able to get the software update process smooth between them.

    DISH PVR 501.
    This is a Dish Product that is based on OpenTV and the software is written in house.

    It has no search function, and has been recently upgraded to support a 9 day guide.

    There are NO additional monthly subscription fees with the box.

    DISH PVR 721 Next generation box due out early next year. Number one feature is to record more than one channel at a time. And to watch something live, and record at the same time.

    NO monthly subscription fees.

    DIRECT TV
    Two basic choices.
    Ultimate TV By Microsoft. Similar to Dishplayer, but able to record two streams simultaneously. A LOT less buggy than Dishplayer.
    10 a month fee to use PVR.

    DirectTivo
    Same UI as regular Tivo, but records bitstream directly, and recently upgraded to record two streams simultaneously.

    10 a month fee to use PVR

    NON Satellite
    TIVO
    Replay
  • Anyone here looked at theses things?

    http://www.linuxtv.org

    http://www.cadsoft.de/people/kls/vdr/

    It works perfectly here in germany. DVB is Digital Video Broadcasting (MPEG2) transmitted by satellite, kabel and terrestrial VDR is a PVR running under Linux usinf a DVB card from Technotrend (Hauppauge, Siemens, ...) VDR can also play: DVD, SVCD, MP3, MPEG, DIVX Bye. (Hihi... my first /. post)

  • The hardware setup of a PVR is pretty easy to figure out - many posts here show the gubbins you'll need to put a nicely specced box together.
    The software is a different matter.

    For me, OS wise, I'd stick onWin98Lite [98lite.net] Win2k version or the XP version when it comes out.

    But channel wise, it's not as straightforward. To UK users I'd suggest using the amazingly excellent Digiguide [digiguide.com] which is an online TV Guide with a staggering amount of personal tweaks and doohickeys and has plug ins that allow it to connect directly to the also excellent Snapstream [snapstream.com].
    Digiguide is £4.99 a year - worth it even if you don't build a PVR and Snapstream is $49.99 (about £34) from their website.
  • I realize that the real 'convenience' of these devicies is the programming & scheduling. If all we wanted was a digital video recorder.. it would be easy.

    My question is..

    I'm thinking of this as a gift for someone...
    but.. is scheduling provided for Canadian cable networks?
  • by shutton (4725) on Monday December 17, 2001 @12:59PM (#2715283) Homepage
    We (the wife and I) bought a TiVo last year when we were trapped in an apartment with AT&T Broadband's digital cable (ick). We both fell in love with the thing, even more so after we received the software update last spring.

    When we moved out of the apartment and into a house, we had a DishNetwork dish installed (I'd been a satisfied customer of theirs in the past, which is why I went with them over DirecTV), and went for the deal with one of their PVR boxes. So, we have one of each now, and I think I can provide an objective analysis from the perspective of an existing TiVo owner.

    On the whole, we're disappointed with DishNetwork PVR. Yes, it records at full quality, and the PVR unit (unlike the cheaper decoder we hooked the TiVo up to) has an optical digital audio output (note, though, that DishNetwork currently only sends AC3 on pay-per-view programs, AFAIK). So, those are some obvious perks to the cheap box/TiVo combination. However, that's pretty much where the line is drawn.

    My biggest gripe about the PVR is that mine is unstable (DishNetwork offered to swap it for another, but I've been waiting until after the holidays to ship it back). The software is also amateurish compared to TiVo. It has no concept of anything like TiVo's "season pass" or "suggestions," no program data beyond roughly two days, the playing interface is horrid (it's impossible to tell where you are in a recorded program). The unit is also considerably noisier, though it does spin the hard drive down when inactive (which my TiVo doesn't do, since it's *never* inactive).

    Just so I can say that I haven't knocked the PVR completely, it does have a couple of goodies over TiVo. Namely, it has a 30-second skip button, and it has slightly more storage than my 30-hour Sony-branded TiVo (about 35 hours, to be exact). Also, the PVR is cheaper, overall. I pay $10/month for it, and I didn't have to buy the box. After I got finished paying for my TiVo and the lifetime programming subscription, I'd forked over $400 (it's more now).

    In other words, the PVR is really just a glorified digital VCR, and probably should be considered a first generation unit (which I guess promotes TiVo to second generation?!?).

    On a somewhat-related note, the new DishNetwork boxes have no serial remote control port. I was rather disappointed when I discovered I'd still have to use the IR blaster on my TiVo. However, with my custom-made "fort," I rarely encounter problems with TiVo changing the channel properly.

    -Scott

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