DirecTV HR10-250 HD DVR 
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Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Monday, 01 November 2004

In a recent poll conducted as a part of an Audio Video Revolution sweepstakes, a question was asked to the nearly 20,000 respondents as to what AV product they are planning on buying next within the next six months. We asked a very similar question in 2003: for a resounding majority, the answer was an HDTV set. In 2004, the most likely purchase was an HD-DVR (or TiVo). This new AV component category led all others, including HD sets themselves, with 28 percent of our readers saying this would be their next purchase.

To say HD-DVR is a scorching hot new category of gear is to understate its importance. To not mention how bad and overpriced the category of HDTV tuners have been since the early adopters started dialing into HDTV would be to forget an important piece of recent AV history. Up until now, nearly every HDTV receiver has been practically pathetic in terms of ease of operation and ability to tune terrestrial stations, and this doesn’t even start to discuss the lack of ability to record HD programming.

The DirecTV HR10-250 is a $1,000 DVR (digital video recorder) that receives and records both terrestrial and satellite signals – specifically HDTV – and records it using the fantastic TiVo interface. It is not a standard size in terms of width, but it fits nicely into a double-sized opening in most racks. It can take multiple satellite inputs via coax connections, allowing the user to record more than one program at a time or to watch a program while recording another one. It is essential to have your satellite installer give you two satellite feeds and the 3 LMB DirecTV dish needed to perform such a feat. I had lived without the feature until I got a DirecTV HR10-250 and I discovered I had really been missing out. The DirecTV HR10-250 has room to connect your terrestrial antenna, which most people use for off-air HDTV broadcasts. DirecTV has some local HDTV programming, but not as much as what comes over the air. Less than one month ago, the satellite provider announced plans to launch a number of new satellites, which will allow it the bandwidth to start broadcasting local HDTV signals into major markets across the country in the next few years. For now, you still really need an antenna to go along with your satellite. Delivery of local HDTV channels is one of the advantages of many local cable systems. However, with a strong terrestrial antenna and a properly working dish, you should be able to get all of your channels in HD barring any radical topographical problems in your area, like mountains or tall trees in the way of your antennae.

The DirecTV HR10-250 has all of the video outputs you will want, including HDMI. HDMI is the latest approved encrypted digital video format that can also theoretically hold audio. If you have one of the latest HDTV sets, you may have an HDMI connection, which is the best way for you to connect your DirecTV HR10-250. I recommend Ultralink’s HDMI cable for a somewhat affordable connection via HDMI. The DirecTV HR10-250 also has component video output, which is also no slouch, especially when using Transparent cables for your connection. Since my digital projector is one of the first, it doesn’t have an HDMI or DVI input (you can supposedly convert HDMI to DVI with an adapter if you only have DVI for an input). I ran my DirecTV HR10-250 component out to my Meridian 861 preamp, then to my Faroudja video processor and then to my D-ILA projector. You can see how much simpler connecting one HDMI cable to your rear projection HDTV set would be.

Set-up and Configuration
The DirecTV HR10-250 is sold mostly through retailers and satellite installers, as opposed to being sold from DirecTV like they do with their cheapy DVR for $99. While it is possible to set up the unit yourself, it is going to take you a good 30 to 60 minutes, mainly because you are going to need to make a call into DirecTV. I wish I could report that DirecTV is good at customer service, but not only does it take forever to get a person on the phone – when you do, they know very little. They can activate your unit after you read them all sorts of numbers from you access card and the serial number of your unit. In the calls I have made to DirecTV, including the ones needed to make my DirecTV HR10-250 work properly, I have deduced that you are pretty much on your own for making your receiver and DVR work to its fullest potential.

The onscreen interface to set the unit up is very, very good. I would rate it a nine out of 10. However, you will need to make a call to DirecTV. In the event you feel compelled to install your antenna and dish yourself, you open yourself up to all sorts of other possible installation problems. The moral of the story is that it is likely that if you can afford $1,000 for an HDTV TiVo, your time is better spent doing something other than installing your dish, antenna and setting it up with DirecTV. I highly recommend that you use a professional. DirecTV will recommend one to you, but a simple flip through the Yellow Pages or a trip to Google will get you names of the installers you need.

The TiVo Service
It is the TiVo interface where the DirecTV HR10-250 really steps above the crowd. Any DVR can have enough hard drives to record HD (yet nearly all current ones don’t), but the TiVo interface in the DirecTV HR10-250 becomes the class leader. TiVo is the single best interface for an AV component that I have ever used. It makes recording TV truly simple. In fact, it takes what some critics call a “mindless media” in television and allows you to manage it so that you can extract just what you want from it. TiVo’s interface is so easy to use, it actually saves you time or at least respects the fact that your time is valuable. You can fast-forward through commercials with ease, making a 30-minute episode of (for example) “Essence of Emeril” on Food Network last just a shade over 20 minutes. You can record a Season Pass that captures all of the games of your favorite team or each episode of your favorite show each and every time it is on. In the unfortunate event that you are ever home sick one day, you will wonder how you ever lived without TiVo, considering that everything you could ever want to watch on TV is sitting there waiting for your attention.

Now, at long last, HDTV enthusiasts like myself can record the shows, movies and sporting events we want to watch in HDTV and have them waiting for us when we get home. Thank the TV gods.

Putting the DirecTV HR10-250 to the Test
I purchased my DirecTV HR10-250 to replace my trusty Sony Sat-T60 (non-HD) TiVo and my Sony HD200 HDTV receiver. I couldn’t have been happier to get rid of my Sony HD200. While more physically quiet than my Sony HD100, it was a poor performer. More often than not, it would flash error messages along the lines of “searching for signal,” meaning I was out of business if I wanted to watch HDTV. In both my former high-rise condo (with a clear shot to the HD antenna on Mt. Wilson), as well as at my current home (complete with a HUGE terrestrial antenna on the top of a 280-foot hill), I have never been able to receive Fox in HD. The minute I hooked up my DirecTV HR10-250, the Fox HD feed came in clearly. This means more NFL football in HDTV, which immediately justified the cost of the DirecTV HR10-250.

Having dumped my old TiVo, I needed to spend some time programming my unit for the season passes I wanted. Amazingly, it only took 20 minutes or so to book all of the shows I wanted to watch. I set up a pass for “The Simpsons,” but only wanted to record “first run” broadcasts, a simple option. I set up a Season Pass using keywords to record the Philadelphia Eagles and my USC Trojan football teams. One important point to note when recording sporting events – I highly recommend that you program the stop time to be significantly longer than actual end of the game, at least 30 minutes to one hour. This allows for overtime or, as I have seen (and been REALLY frustrated by), a network cutting the climatic ending of your game off.

One of the really cool things the DirecTV HR10-250 does is integrate HD programming with traditional NTSC programming. With the help of some cool presets on my AMX touch screen remote, gone was the need to type those clunky “7.1” or “4.1” codes in for the HD versions of ABC or NBC in the Los Angeles market. With my old system, there were so many times when I didn’t get what I want that I often felt that channel surfing simply wasn’t worth it in HDTV. With the DirecTV HR10-250, it is so much easier to channel surf in HDTV that you will definitely find yourself wanting to watch and record more shows.

The Picture
I watch an entire Eagles-Lions game in HDTV on the DirecTV HR10-250, which allowed me to flip from live to recorded HDTV. I found the broadcast to be less than desirable by HD standards, because on all receivers, there were squiggly lines visible in the end zone, especially near where the Lions team logos were painted. The good news was that I was hard-pressed to tell the difference between live and Memorex when backing up the DirecTV HR10-250 and to watch plays I’d just seen live.

One of the things I love about the D-ILA projector technology vs. DLP is D-ILA’s superior color saturation. With the DirecTV HR10-250 in my system, I definitely noticed even better color saturation than with my old Sony HD-200. The picture looked more alive and vivid in terms of color. On close-ups, details looked less pixilated. Upon comparing the details to the recorded version of the programming, you might be able to see some compression or loss, but it is so slight compared to the other advantages of the DirecTV HR10-250 vs. my old rig that it is hard to pick fault with it. I loved my old Sony Sat-T60, but the effects of the compression of the video were really obvious in both picture and in sound. I lived with it because the TiVo interface was fantastic, allowing me to easily control what I was able to record. The DirecTV HR10-250 takes recording shows, especially HDTV, to an entirely different level. Gone is the bullhorn-like compression on the audio. Gone is the often snowy picture. While my Sat-T60 owes me nothing for years of trusty service, I’ve got to say that I am glad to have ESPN’s Sportcenter recorded every night in HD, waiting for me when I come home. Also, it is quite nice to have enough hard drive space for 250 hours of NTSC programming or 35 hours of HD programming. This is much more than the 35 hours I have on the other TiVos in my house. I have yet to even come close to filling my DirecTV HR10-250 with shows.

Some HDTV channels simply look better in HD than others. Mark Cuban’s HDNet channels look fantastic, especially when he has live sports on. “American Chopper” on Discovery HD Theater (another one of the best channels in HD) was a striking demo. These gear-heads build custom choppers that have lots of vivid colors and polished chrome. The sheen and reflection of the chrome on the chopper they were working on was something to behold. The three-dimensionality of the picture was captivating in a way than made HDTV seem new all over again.

The Downside
The DirecTV HR10-250 has a number of shortcomings despite its performance and convenience advantages. No RS232 port makes controlling the DirecTV HR10-250 with a Crestron or AMX harder. You will need to stick an IR sensor on the front of the unit, but the industrial design of the unit is concave in that area. This means the sticky section of the IR emitter won’t stick. My solution is an ugly one and requires a bit of blue painter’s tape. I will need to glue my on but will do that with reservations.

At $1,000, the DirecTV HR10-250 cost a healthy fraction of what an entry-level rear-projection HDTV set costs. For many, this will not be a deterrent – it wasn’t for me. However, when I opened the box and unpacked my DirecTV HR10-250, I found that it was built really poorly. The machining of the metal work was shoddy at best. On a brand new component, there were discolorations and the unit felt cheap overall. I don’t expect a DirecTV HR10-250 to be built to the insane standards of the new, more expensive Classe’ products, but I also don’t expect the unit to look stained and feel flimsy.

The remote is basically the same kind that you get with the $99 DirecTV DVR that you can order directly from the satellite provider. While it is shaped to fit your hand, it is not clear which way is up (or down) by touch alone. Additionally, the remote is not backlit. Yes, you can memorize the remote, but not everyone is up for that challenge. I would rate the remote at best a three out of 10. My remote is relegated to my remote drawer, thankfully because I control my system with my AMX touch screen remote. However, not everyone is going to have a big remote system to control their DirecTV HR10-250.

While there is a USB port on the unit, there is no Ethernet connection. On my calls to DirecTV, I tried to get them to explain to me how I can access my DirecTV HR10-250 on the Internet for remote TiVo programming from my office. I actually have extra spaces on the router in my AV rack for just this kind of geeking around, but DirecTV couldn’t help me. Nor could their website. It has been suggested to me that programming your DirecTV HR10-250 is possible from the Internet. However, it requires an adaptor and finding the specific IP address. Without tech support, I gave up, but at $1,000, I think this is a reasonable feature to expect on the DirecTV HR10-250.

I may be in the minority, but I still have a 4:3 screen. My Sony Sat-T60 was able to fill the screen fully, considering it is an NTSC product. The DirecTV HR10-250 can only present a 16:9 picture, even when the programming is native 4:3. You might ask, what kind of idiot would be buying an HD TiVo when he has a 4:3 screen? I would answer – me. The DirecTV HR10-250 allows you to stretch the picture out with a limited number of zoom options. It is acceptable, but for programming like CNN or ESPN news that use tickers at the top or bottom of the screen, you might find yourself watching roughly a 40-inch picture on your 100-inch 4:3 screen. Another solution might be to get a new screen, but for me, that requires drywall work and modifications to custom cabinetry. I am likely to do it anyway.

The fact that the DirecTV HR10-250 doesn’t fill an entire rack width makes it important for those who are touchy about the look of their rack to get a custom rack shelf, complete with a face plate that makes the DirecTV HR10-250 look like it belongs with the big boy toys installed in your AV rack.

At long last, you can record your HDTV programming on DirecTV. The terrestrial tuner is the best I have seen to date. The integration of terrestrial HD and satellite is fantastic as well. The TiVo service is worth fighting (and paying) for on the DirecTV HR10-250. The unit allows you ample room to record both NTSC and HDTV shows, as well as a topnotch interface that anyone can successfully use.

The statistics from our reader poll says it all – only five percent of Audio Video Revolution readers have any form of DVR, yet 28 percent say they are on the verge of buying one that can record HDTV soon. The DirecTV HR10-250, because of its ease of use, picture quality and spectacular interface, should be at the top of anyone’s list heading to the store looking for the best in HDTV. You might argue that no HDTV is complete without one.
Manufacturer DirecTV
Model HR10-250 HD DVR

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