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DirecTV HR21 HD DVR  Print E-mail
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Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Tuesday, 01 April 2008
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DirecTV HR21 HD DVR 
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Installation of the DirecTV HR21
DirecTV will send a subcontracted installer to your house to get you up and rolling with DirecTV. The installer will bring the dish you need, the wiring and any new hardware. In many cases, they will also replace old receivers, as the company wants to see you with the newest and most reliable hardware (the HD TiVo was the single least reliable component I have ever owned in my home theater or audiophile rig) to date. Your custom installer can also buy an HR21 and all of the needed parts to do the installation, if that is the route you are taking. Beware of the subcontractors running wires haplessly on your roof without securing them, matching the color to the color of your roof and beyond. At my house, you can see that my installation crew from Simply Home Entertainment in Beverly Hills did a great job making things look neatly installed. You should expect no less from whoever installs your system.

Without getting into the blow by blow of how to position your dish and how to run wires in your walls, there are two features that you will likely want to take advantage of if you have a more advanced home theater. The first is HDMI. Even if you are scared of HDMI because of the nightmarish HDCP copy protection found on HD DVD and Blu-ray, don’t fret. The DirecTV HR21 doesn’t suffer from that problem. I can think of no one single component that connects better via HDMI and never has the dreaded “handshake” issue, because that issue comes from copy protection that isn’t on this machine. Second, for those using higher-end remotes and automation systems, an RS232 connection is offered (finally), so you can have a much more reliable way to talk to your DVR from your system than just gluing some IR emitter on to the front of your DVR in a $200,000 installation. Someone at DirecTV got a clue here.

Watching the DirecTV HR21
I had to deactivate my HD TiVos to make my HR21 work so the chance to do a side-by-side comparison was gone. I tried to explain to the punishingly stupid person on the 1-800-DIRECTV service line that I was writing a review, but I don’t think “review” is in her vocabulary. In fact, the only words she knew how to say were “restart your machine.” If you call into DirecTV, expect no better from their first-level support. In fact, put aside 30 minutes of time and ask for a higher-level support person if you hope to get any real answers to any questions you may have. If I were to grade their first-level tech support over the years, especially now, I would give them an emphatic F.

The picture looks better on the HR21 than the TiVo. Without a side-by-side comparison, it’s hard to get into specifics, but the overall look is less compressed. I can say the compression on satellite is better than most cable systems, but is terrible compared to a video source like Blu-ray. Do not expect the 1080i picture to look anything like the image that comes from a 1080p uncompressed Blu-ray disc, because it is not even close.  If you want to try to make your DirecTV HR21 look more like 1080p video from Blu-ray, look to a DVDO VP50pro ($3,999) for your video processing and HDMI switching in your rig. I use this incredible video processor in my reference system, with great results. The Super Bowl (why couldn’t both teams have lost?) was vivid and dynamic, with lush color saturation and few noticeable motion artifacts despite the nonstop, frenetic action.

As an avid hockey fan and part-time hockey writer, I see less motion artifacts even at the height of action during NHL games through the HR21. The logos on the ads plastered on the boards when the game is in high definition look crisp, sharp and vivid. The blue eyes of Heidi Collins (the morning anchor on CNN in HD) pop with a three-dimensionality that simply isn’t there on standard-definition CNN. And yes, she does wear a little too much mascara, but she is a hell of a lot easier to take than the overly bubbly Robin Meade of Headline News’ “Morning Express.” And no, I didn’t check Fox News for all the right reasons – thank you very much. Ann Coulter’s hateful lies could blow a tweeter on my new Revel Salon2’s and her overcooked, bleach-blonde hair could burn out a pixel or two on my plasma just because my HDTV was upset at me. This was a risk I couldn’t take.

There is a default setting that shows both the new HD channels, as well as the corresponding SD channel on the HR21. While this is a neat feature if you still need to prove to yourself that the high-definition channel looks better, that test is likely to last no more than 30 minutes. The fact that the SD channel is located on the programming dial right next to the HD channel only serves to make the concept of channel surfing just that much more annoying. The flick of a “channel up” command isn’t instant in many of my systems, and I often want to go from HD channel to HD channel, but I end up parked on the SD. At night, I often watch the channels from A&E (265) to the new Discovery Investigation Channel (285). The clunkiness of navigating the SD and HD channels, which in many cases are showing the same content, is nothing short of annoying. I have been told on AVRevForum.com that there is a fix for this malady. I have yet to make it work, but I have no reason to believe that you can’t get around it with some fancy work on the remote.

I found no change in watching movies or TV shows from the significantly larger hard drive on the HR21. I do like the 30-second skip button, which has to make those Madison Avenue ad execs want to pull their hair out. There are a ton of added value features on the HR21, like parental controls, 14-day listings on the channel guide (with improved navigation over the TiVo), the ability to store music and photos on the DVR and beyond. Those weren’t as important to me as seeing HBO’s In Treatment looking as good as it can look on an ISF-calibrated HDTV. I must admit – begrudgingly, because of the weakness of the operating system – the picture looks better, I can record more and can get most of what I want out of the HR21, specifically HD channels that are better-looking and come in greater volume.


 

 
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