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Hughes DirecTV TiVo PVR Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 January 2004
Article Index
Hughes DirecTV TiVo PVR
Page 2

The Picture
Video enthusiasts love the content of TiVo like the rest of us, but hate the compression that you get from a PVR. Right now, it is the cost of doing business but is worth the slight degradation of the picture in return for quality content. If you are an HDTV enthusiast with a modern HDTV receiver like the latest Samsung or the Sony HD300, you can use that receiver for your DirecTV NTSC viewing instead of your TiVo. It will look better with less compression. If you are watching a basketball game in real time, you will want to choose this option if you have it.

I recently wrote about the compression game that cable and satellite providers are now playing with their vast lineup of channels. From time to time, channels get increasing amount of compression from your provider. DirecTV is no different and the PVR can, at best, record what it sees from the bird. In fact the compression needed to make so much programming fit on a PVR only adds to the signal loss. With audio technologies like MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing) for DVD-Audio, I am hoping to see a better way of encrypting the video data on your PVR’s hard drive for future recorders. Another factor that is curious is the fact that this DirecTV Hughes unit has a mere 35 hours of recording capability. I don’t think you could buy a new hard drive that small, even if you made a pilgrimage to the Pomona Computer Fair on a Sunday afternoon. 200 GB hard drives are really more common and the prices in volume are way below $100, according to writers who work in the computer hardware business. A larger drive would increase the cost of the unit incrementally, but it would also allow consumers to record more content that looks better. It would likewise permit them to keep their DirecTV longer – something the service doesn’t really want.

The Downside
The TiVo service is stunning, but this Hughes unit has some physical limitations as a component. The most dramatic is a horrible remote, which is hourglass-shaped but not intuitive about which side is the top and which is the bottom. This means that you can grab the remote to hit fast-forward and, because it is upside-down, you actually instead go into reverse. The TiVo button is too small and is located in an odd place, towards the top right of the remote. On the Sony SAT T-60, the TiVo button is located on the middle of the remote with a big button that is unmistakable. On the Hughes DirecTV unit, the TiVo button is also right next to the “thumbs down” button, which allows you to give a bad rating to programs you are watching by accident. Since the remote is not backlit, it is even harder to tell what you are doing. The number buttons are located at the bottom of the remote and force you to shift your hands down to program a channel as you surf the DirecTV dial. The number buttons are also far too small for older users.

I could keep going about the remote, but that wouldn’t get me to the fan noise. I thought my first-generation Sony HD100 HDTV receiver was noisy until I had the Hughes unit installed. It seems twice as loud and, unfortunately for me, I have both units in my bedroom installed no more than 10 feet from where I sleep. There is no question that, if you are up at night counting sheep, you could instead focus on the whirr of the fan noise from this PVR.

At $199, you might not be able to expect an HDTV receiver. However, for the money DirecTV spends to send a crew of installers to your home to snoop on your system, they could have contracted to make this component HDTV-capable. Their reward would be the ability to sell their $11 per month HDTV package to a rapidly growing number of DVT owners. According to the Consumer Electronic Association, over 550,000 DTVs were sold in September 2003 – up 99 percent from September 2002’s sales. DirecTV wants to you to keep changing their hardware out to avoid piracy. Somehow making this unit an HDTV receiver – maybe not an HD TiVo – would have been a big move forward, but I might be wishing for too much from a $199 component.

About six months ago, ran a sweepstakes where one of the questions was whether readers owned TiVo or any other PVR. We found that only about three percent of the respondents said “yes,” although over 50 percent said they planned to make an upgrade in the next 12 months. This Hughes DirecTV recorder is an easy way to get TiVo into your life at a cost that is very fair, with payment terms that make it even easier to say “yes.” The component is far from perfect and is not for someone looking for the ultimate solution in a very resolute video system. The latest TiVo 2 system, which costs far more and has no satellite receiver built in, is likely a better choice for the more voracious TV viewer or the videophile. But for someone who wants to get started with TiVo on the cheap, this $199 recorder-receiver for DirecTV is something to consider. While I have built my bedroom system to accommodate TiVo 2 with an Ethernet connection to my high-speed Internet system, I plan to ultimately upgrade my hardware there. My Hughes unit will still have value as a satellite receiver for my workout room. For now, it is loaded with all kinds of programs to record and watch each night. As my girlfriend and I get into bed, we have dozens of hours of shows to watch. Now, if I could just find a way to subtly cancel my girlfriend’s “Sex and the City” season pass, I could save some money on Jimmy Choo and Prada.

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