Dish Network Dish Player 942 HD Satellite Receiver/PVR 
Home Theater Media Servers Satellite & Cable Receivers/PVRs/DVRs/TiVo
Written by Bryan Dailey   
Thursday, 01 December 2005

Introduction
For almost a year, I have enjoyed having the ability to record and play back high-definition programming from Dish Network on my Dish Player 921 satellite receiver/PVR combination machine. It has been a true workhorse, recording my favorite shows without fail, having virtually no downtime and other than the occasional lock-up that usually just requires a simple re-boot (these PVRs are essentially computers in an AV-like metal box), it has been a nearly flawless performer. It has powered my main home theater and has given me hundreds if not thousands of hours of HDTV viewing bliss, but something was seemingly missing. I recently cooked up the idea of adding a second television to my living room/kitchen area downstairs, but I didn’t want to have to install a second dedicated satellite receiver and PVR to control this TV. Enter the Dish Player 942 dual mode HDTV satellite receiver/PVR.

Dish Network last year released an ingenious product for standard-def TVs, the 522-satellite receiver, which allowed two different TVs to utilize the same PVR. With the $699 Dish Player 942, the engineers at Dish Network have now taken the concept of the 522 and made a high-definition version that allows one television to receive an HDTV signal and another one to receiver a standard-definition signal. No more fighting about what to watch, as one person can be in the living room watching a movie or sporting event in HD and another person can be watching the same show or something else in standard definition via the secondary output on the back of the 942. Two separate color-coded remotes labeled 1 and 2 at the bottom are included that offer separate control of the 942. The remote that controls the HD half of the 942 is infrared and the remote for the SD-only portion of the receiver uses a RF connection to a small antenna, making it possible for the other TV to be located on the other side of the house.

My Dish 942 was professionally installed by a Dish Network representative and I recommend that you have any Dish Network product installed this way, especially these new-generation dual mode boxes, as they require extra runs of coax cable between them the satellite switches and the TV sets. Long gone are the days of simply running a single cable from one LNB connecter on your satellite into the receiver. Why are all of these cables needed, you ask? With more and more satellites floating in outer space, the newer dishes, such as the killer new Dish Network Dish 1000, are able to receive multiple satellite signals that are then fed to a multi-switch. Instead of reading a lengthy treatise about satellite wiring, just know that with the Dish 942 and the special switch that it requires, along with an over the air antenna, will give users the ability to either watch or record five completely separate programs simultaneously. No longer will you have any excuses for missing your favorite shows, even if they are all on at the same time. Even if your home does not have an open crawlspace for running these extra cable runs, the installer will be able to discreetly run cables along floorboards or under the edges of your carpet.

The 942 is only three-and-a-half inches tall, 16 inches wide, 13 inches deep and weighs 11 pounds, making it a much smaller piece of gear than the Dish Player 921 it replaced in my system. On the front of the unit, a series of colored lights indicate what mode the receiver is in and tells you if programs are being recorded on the two different sections. Individual power lights for each zone are shown on the front panel and undoubtedly people who are using zone two in a separate room will frequently forget to turn of their half of the receiver, since they likely don’t have the box in the room with them while they are watching TV with it. However, the indicator lights will remind you when it’s left on.

The styling of the 942 is very understated and, other than the rows of different color lights, this muted gray/silver box does not call attention to itself in a rack. The front panels are smooth and have very squared-off lines. The right third of the 942 has a panel that flips down when pressed that allows access to the main controls, as well as a USB port for connecting items like Dish Network’s portable Pocket Dish. As long as you don’t misplace your remote controls, you’ll rarely need to ever even flip this panel down. The left side panel covers a slot for a smart card that is currently unused. However, Dish Network will have the ability to assign cards for users, likely for the purpose of someday controlling the streaming of exclusive HDTV content that is not recordable (if I had to take a guess).

An internal 250-gig hard drive allows you to record up to 180 hours of standard-definition programming or 25 hours of high-def. Keep in mind that you don’t get 25 hours of HD and 180 hours of SD. If you had 12-and-a-half hours of HD programs saved, you would have approximately 90 hours left for SD programming or another 12-and-a-half hours left for HD. You can save your standard def programs and dump them off to a DVD burner or VHS tape. However, you will not be able to output a recordable signal with HD content via the HDMI connector to record onto a D-VHS tape, so if you want to archive an HD show or movie, it will take up valuable space on your hard drive. I keep one or two HD shows for wowing my friends when they visit, but I like to keep the hard drive free. Protecting a show with the onscreen menus is simple and, when a show is protected, a gold lock icon comes up next to it and it will not get erased. If the hard drive is otherwise full, it will record over non-protected events, but the locked ones will stay put.

The back of the 942 features two very distinct output sections and there is no question as to which is the HD output section and which is the SD output plugs. Zone 1 outputs the HD signal and has options for either analog HD via component video HDMI digital AV output. If you have a set with a digital input, I highly recommend using the latter. The supported video output resolutions for TV Zone 1 are 480p, 720p and 1080i. 480i content is up-converted to 480p and my particular TV set can accept all of these formats. I found the best setting for the output on TV1 to be the 720p setting.

Where the older 921 had a DVI output, the Dish Player 942 now has a more modern HDMI output. This streamlined my system, as I no longer required a DVI to HDMI adapter to send the signal into the HDMI switching input card on the Integra DTR-10.5 receiver. I have not had any HDMI handshake issues with either the DVI output on the Dish Network 921 or the Dish Network 942, but as a consumer, I’d take a look at what kind of inputs you have on your receiver, AV preamp and TV, so you can have the right cables at the ready. If you are doing a simple straight into your digital input connection, the 942 comes with a decent quality HDMI cable. However, you might want to look into higher-end options if you are going for ultimate performance.

HDTV Performance
With the Dish Player 942 set up and ready to go, I picked a few of my favorite high-definition movies with the onscreen guide that is updated to go as far ahead in time as two weeks and set them to record. It’s a fairly simple interface that, although still not as slick as TiVo, is a marked improvement over the pale light washed-out blue onscreen graphics of the 921. The first show I recorded was the classic Mafia epic “Goodfellas,” recorded from HBO HD. There are DVD players that will up-scale standard 480p content, but this pails in comparison to an excellent transfer of a movie to HD that is broadcast on Showtime HD, HBO HD or even HD-Net’s 1080i HD-Net Movie channel. TNT’s movies are seemingly broadcast in a strange aspect ratio that doesn’t quite fit the screen right, regardless of what picture format the Dish Player or TV is set on, but that is another story.

On “Goodfellas,” in the scene where Henry Hill as a young kid is breaking the back windows of a bunch of cars stored in a parking lot to throw gasoline in them and light them on fire, the recorded version of the movie looked just as good played back on the 942 as when I watched it live. This tells me that either all live content that is being watched through the 942 is already going through a buffer or that it is recorded at such a high bit rate that it plays back with only the most minimal of signal loss. When Henry Hill sets fire to the cars and runs towards the screen with an exploding inferno in the background, the 942 did not show any signs of tiling and only the most minimal amount of dot crawl along the bright edges of the flames from the explosion. At the end of this scene, the screen pauses with the silhouette of young Henry Hill diving from the fire as Ray Liotta, who plays the older Henry, talks in voiceover about what its like to be a gangster. With this picture locked on the screen, I was able to really look for flaws in the image and was hard-pressed to find fault with anything.

Dish Network has purchased the satellites that were originally launched for the Voom network and have made these channels an option for subscribers who have the high-definition package. For only $5 more a month, I was able to expand my total number of available channels. I did a search for live music and found a high-def performance by the pop/jazz fusion group Chicago. Live music is great for HD programming, as the lighting can be very controlled and the extra definition in the picture allows you, if you are so inclined, to better study every little intricate detail of what the musicians are doing. On this recording, the 1080i broadcast of Chicago performing live was so spectacular I could watch the fingering patterns of the trumpet players when the camera would cut to the horn section during the classic song “25 Or 6 to 4.” Being a drummer myself, I realized that, with the slow-motion feature on the Dish Player 942, I could frame by frame or slow-mo a scene and learn the drum patterns to any of the songs on this hour-plus-long show. The only time the picture faltered was in very dark scenes with low lighting when the house lights would dim. My own TV set is to blame here, as low black levels are still one of the flaws of older projection TV sets.

The Dish Player 942 has the ability to record shows that are broadcast in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and can be played back via the Tos-Link output or over the HDMI cable if your receiver has the ability to decode a digital audio signal that it sent to its HDMI input. The Dish 921, with only a DVI output, would not allow for this. In my system, I opted to use an analog stereo output going from the 942 to the TV and then a Tos-Link connection into my Integra receiver for decoding the Dolby Digital and I could control the TV and receiver audio levels separately. On the Chicago recording, the sound from the 942 was technically perfect, with absolutely no dropouts or glitches of any kind. Sonically, the tonal quality was not overly bright but not dull in any way. It was as if it was not putting any kind of sound signature on the music and was just letting the sound get to the speakers as the mixing engineers wanted it to do.

Sporting events drive the sales of many HDTVs, so as it’s football season, I recorded a game on ESPN’s spectacular-looking Sunday night game. The classic NFC rivalry that pitted the Pittsburg Steelers vs. the Cleveland Browns turned out to be a pretty darn good game and what took it over the top was the smooth, crisp-looking broadcast from ESPN. I took a cue from the officials and used the pause and slow-mo features on the Dish 942 to see how much detail there was on screen from the faces of the fans to the laces on the ball and the torn-up turf. I don’t know what magic ESPN does with these broadcasts, but they a superior to the FOX, CBS and especially the borderline dreadful Monday Night Football HD Broadcasts on ABC.

During this game, I found one little quirk in the remote control that I did not like at first but have now grown to enjoy. When pressing play after pausing, the action moves back about one second before resuming. This was annoying at first, as I was watching a play late in the second quarter where the Steelers almost scored on a goal line rushing play. I wanted to freeze-frame the game, then play back the action to see if it was actually a touchdown or not. I found ultimately that I could pause the action right at the moment I wanted to see, then toggle between play and pause several times, and I could basically loop a two-second piece of the action without having to stop and rewind it repeatedly. The point was all moot as Jerome “The Bus” Bettis plowed through the line on the next play for a one-yard touchdown, but with the combination of the high-definition broadcast and the playback logic built into the 942, I was able to be my own officiating crew.

Standard-Definition Performance
I have yet to meet anyone who got a big screen HDTV and then just raved about the SD performance on it. Sure, the gleaming chrome on big street hogs looks mind-blowing on “American Choppers” on Discovery, but until there is more quality HD content available, you will be watching a fair amount of your programming in the SD format. I have had several tuners in my system and thankfully I have seen the SD performance increase steadily as I have worked through the progression of Dish Network receivers. Live sporting events in standard definition on a big screen like my JVC 61-inch HD-ILA have always been a little tough to watch, as the 480p to 720p or 1080i up-scaling has just not looked quite right, but it is the best I have seen yet with the Dish Player 942.

One channel that has always struggled is the horseracing network TVG Ch. 405. They show live races from around the world and often the in-studio graphics look fairly clean and watchable. However, the actual live feed from the different tracks that plays in the center window is already a little choppy to begin with, and it becomes more so if you have a sketchy receiver that is not doing a good job of up-sampling the SD picture. When I put the 942 into my system, my immediate reaction was that the high-def picture looked good already and still looked good, but what improved the most was all of the standard-definition programming. Watching quarter horse racing from Los Alamitos, California had previously been almost an exercise in futility. You could see the starting gate fairly well before, but when these fast horses started tearing down the track, there was always some pretty bad pixilation around the moving objects on the screen and when the horses were around the far corner, you could not read the numbers on the horses and had to listen carefully to track announcer Ed Burgart to be able to tell what specifically was happening. With the 942, the picture is still not three-dimensional or ultra-refined, but the odds of being able to see the horse’s numbers on the sashes have gone up quite substantially. There are still some undefined edges on the horses and slightly blurry “halos” around the moving objects on screen some of the time, but the improvement was enough to make me really stand up and take notice.

I have found that I try to lean towards watching HD content as much as I can, but there are times when you just want to plop down on the TV and watch some music videos or a brainless game show on a standard-definition channel. Again, as with the horseracing channel, there is almost nothing on a standard-def channel that is of noteworthy picture quality, so the goal I have for SD is to have it not be so bad that it’s annoying to watch. I have been following the trials and tribulations of Adam Carolla as he rebuilds his childhood home on the TLC show “The Adam Carolla Project.” Adam will be quick to tell you that showbiz has made him “literally a millionaire, literally” and from the collection of cars and homes that he has amassed that is quite evident that he is telling the truth. One of the first things I ever saw in standard-def on the 942 that made me stop and take notice was the overhead helicopter shot of one of Adam’s Hollywood Hills mansions. The scenic images of the Hollywood hills and blue sky actually had some depth and color saturation that was better than I had come to expect from standard-definition programming.

The SD picture on my smaller Dell LCD monitor, which received input from the second half of the 942, is very smooth and looks as good as any digital cable or satellite picture that is not connected via a DVI or HDMI cable. This is mostly due to the fact that it is a smaller picture to begin with and the signal does not have to stretch to fill such a large area as with the 61-inch HDTV set. I also have a redundant feed going to the DVI input of the Dell set that is powered by a PureLink DVI distribution box. However, for this review, I used the RCA composite video inputs of the TV, fed by the TV 2 output of the Dish Player 942.

Besides watching separate live shows on two different sets, the Dish 942 allows the users to pull content from a shared list of prerecorded events. If one family member recorded “Saturday Night Live” using the high-def half of the 942, the viewer in the other room could watch that same show, albeit it in scaled-down 480p, on their TV. In dual mode, the TVs in the main room and the secondary room can operate independently. In single mode, the primary HDTV can do picture-in-picture mode and the same show can be output to both TVs at the same time. I use this mode if I am cooking and want to watch the a prerecorded or live show in my kitchen, but want to use the speakers in my home theater for sound instead of the much smaller speakers on the Dell flat screen TV.

The Downside
The only technical downside I noticed with the 942 was the fact that the highest-quality connection available for connection to the standard-definition TV set is composite video via an RCA cable connection. You can also run a coax cable into your TV if you wish. However, I would have liked to see at least an S-Video output as an option. I’m probably splitting hairs, considering that this is the standard-def output and it pales in comparison to the uncompressed HDMI output that is going to my HD set, but I’d like the best picture I can get on both sets.

The user interface, although improved over previous dish network models, does not have quite the user-friendly interface that TiVo has. Until you get the hang of it, setting shows up to record is not as easy as with a TiVo. If you are watching a show and decide you want to record it halfway through, you can do this, however you have to remember to rewind back to where you want to start recording then press the record button. TiVo is smart enough to know that you want the previous content and assuming it has the show stored up in its internal buffer, as long as you have not changed the channel in a while, it will go back and grab the previous part of the show that it has stored in memory and inserts it into the show as it records the rest of it.

Conclusion
The Dish Player 942 takes the 921 to the next level with a whole laundry list of improvements. It is smaller, more versatile, can control two different TVs, pulls more over-the-air HD channels and is the most stable dish network PVR receiver that I have ever used. I have not had to do more than one hard reboot of the 942 in the several months that I have had it in my system.

Standard-def performance is one of the shortcomings of moving to a large screen rear-projection TV set and I had not been thrilled with the SD performance on any receiver that I have had in my system. I can say without reservation that the 942 has improved the standard-definition picture on my HD set.

TiVo is still the gold standard for user interfaces and one of my knocks on other non-TiVo machines is their cold and sterile-looking menus. With the 942, the menus have a softer, more cartoonish look and have brighter colors and more defined borders that make reading them from a long distance much easier on the eyes. The menus are also slightly less translucent than those of the Dish Player 921, making them easier to read as well. The logic for setting up shows to record on a weekly, monthly or daily basis can still be a little tricky and not as smooth as TiVo’s season pass feature, but I have ultimately come to appreciate the Dish Network method because I had previously set season passes on my TiVo only to have my favorite shows stop recording weekly because technically the season ended, but I wanted to catch a few repeats.

A small monthly fee is charged for each PVR receiver that you have in your home system. However, if you have the “America’s Everything” programming package, Dish Network automatically waives this PVR fee. This gives users big incentive to pay a little more for programming since they are saving on their bill from a hardware standpoint. A working phone connection must always be connected to the receiver. Otherwise, a warning will pop up on the screen, letting you know that you will be charged for a second receiver.

In a world where everyone gets nickled and dimed with fees on everything from their cell phone bill to gym memberships, the Dish 942 can actually help you save money. You could buy or lease a Dish Player 921 for your HDTV and then buy or lease a separate 510 SD PVR, but you’d still be left either having to pay two receiver fees if you don’t have the “America’s Everything” package and you still wouldn’t have the flexibility to share recorded shows between the two sets. The 942 really shines from both a technological and financial standpoint, which can mean hundreds of dollars of fees saved and frees up space in your equipment rack. It even comes with an HDMI cable and component video cables, two items that can set you back a surprising amount of money when you realize that you need them, so having them included in the box is another nice touch, courtesy of Dish Network.

The next logical progression in the evolution of this brilliant shared PVR concept will be a unit that has the ability to send two completely discrete HD signals out to two different HD monitors. I have no doubt that the engineers at Dish Network are working on something like this. A lot of buzz has been going around about MPEG 4 satellite receivers and, although the Dish Network 942 is an MPEG 2 box, the fact that Dish Network gives users the less expensive lease option makes users not feel burned by sinking too much money into equipment, only to have to upgrade or change it at some point in the near future. Until MPEG 4 receivers are more than just a fantasy on the horizon, the Dish Network 942 is easily the best option that you can get for your HDTV viewing pleasure.
Manufacturer Dish Network
Model Dish Player 942 HD Satellite Receiver/PVR
Reviewer Bryan Dailey





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