Dish Network Vip722 High-Definition DVR 
Home Theater Media Servers Satellite & Cable Receivers/PVRs/DVRs/TiVo
Written by Bryan Dailey   
Friday, 01 February 2008

Every time I hear about a new high-def DVR from Dish Network, I get excited. “Will this be the one that finally has dual-zone HD output via HDMI?" I ask myself. I have been successfully using Dish Network’s line of non-high-def and high-def dual output DVRs for years. The one feature I have been waiting for is dual HDMI support, so I could run two HDTVs independently and simultaneously. I currently have a mirrored version of the picture on my big screen also going to the smaller kitchen LCD, but ideally I want to be able to have two different high-def shows on simultaneously.

Dish Network has been a real innovator in the DVR market for several years, as they were the first company to feature units with multi-room capabilities. This not only saves the consumer on monthly DVR fees, but also frees up valuable space in the equipment rack. For example, if you had two bedrooms and you wanted both to have satellite, but you didn’t want to put DVRs in both rooms, they can share a single box. One bedroom would get an infrared remote and you would need to point the remote right at the box to change channels. The user in the other bedroom would simply have a single cable running into the TV from the DVR and would be able to access the second output of the DVR and control it with an RF (radio frequency) remote that passes through walls, sometimes from as far away as two stories.

The latest high-def DVR from Dish Network is the Vip722, an upgrade over the Vip622. Unfortunately, the Vip722 is still is not the dream box I have been waiting for. Both the Vip622 and Vip722 are MPEG-4 boxes that allow Dish Network users to access the HD channels that were formerly part of the VOOM network. Dish Network acquired these satellites and channels, but unless you have an MPEG-4 receiver (and the proper subscription), you cannot access these channels. It features HD output via HDMI or component video on zone one, but zone two still just has a standard-def output via composite video.

Cosmetically, the only real difference between the Vip722 and its predecessor is the fact that the new box is black instead of silver. All the inputs on the back and buttons on the front are identical between the two models. The 722 is a simple rectangular box with rounded corners and two doors on the front that can be popped open with a simple press on the door to unlock them. The door on the right is the more important one, as it gives you access to many of the system controls and comes in very handy during those frantic moments when the remote is lost behind some godforsaken couch cushion and you really need to set up your DVR to record something in a hurry.

On the rear of the unit, moving from right to left, there is a phone cord connection to download the programming guide automatically, an Ethernet port for updates via the Internet, and a USB 2.0 slot for a killer new feature, which I will talk about more shortly. To the left of the USB port is zone one, with an HDMI capable high-def output, an S-video output, a TOS-link digital audio output, component video outputs and a standard-def coaxial audio/video output. Just to the left of zone 1 is the disappointing zone 2 video output. This features only a standard-def composite audio/video output. The remaining inputs/outputs on the box are the coaxial plugs for the satellite and antennae connections.

Hard drive space is the only difference internally between the 622 and the 722. With the 722, users can record up to 55 hours of high-definition programming or 350 hours of standard definition. This is an improvement up from 40 hours of HD or 250 hours of standard-def programming with the 622. This means the device takes about six times more space to record high-def programming. If you were to record six hours of standard-def programming, you would have 54 hours of HD record time available or 344 hours of standard-def recording ability.

Even with the larger hard drive, you’d be surprised how quickly a DVR can fill up, especially if you record several days’ worth of a golf tournament, which can sometimes have as much as eight hours a day of coverage during major tournaments like the U.S. Open. If you find yourself frequently running out of space, Dish Network has a killer application that can be purchased for a one-time $39.95 fee and installed on either the Vip622 or the Vip722. This application gives the user the ability to hook up a USB 2.0-equipped external hard drive, up to 750 gigs, to the DVR for storing movies or shows. You’ll need a dedicated drive, as the Dish Network proprietary software for this application will wipe out any other data on the disc and will format it for this application. You can move it between DVRs that have the same software, but you won’t be able to hook the drive up to your PC or Mac and access the files that way. Of course, if you are a computer wiz and can set up custom partitions, I'm sure it's possible to do what I just described. However, if you’re an average user, you’ll want to just get an external hard drive that you can use for your DVR if you want to have extra storage space.

Transferring shows from the DVR’s internal hard drive over to the external drive is surprisingly simple with the USB 2.0 cable, which is faster than Firewire. The process of dumping a handful of HD movies wasn’t as painfully slow as I thought it would be, and you can use the DVR to watch TV while this is happening. The response time of the DVR slows a little while this copying process is happening, but it doesn’t grind the machine to a halt. Playing back shows that are on the external hard drive is simple and, aside from having to push a few extra menu buttons to call up the external hard drive’s play list, it’s a pretty seamless process.

HD Movies and Television
I love football, but I enjoy actually golfing more. Other than watching the occasional big game like the 2008 USC/Illinois Rose Bowl event, I rarely watch football games live. I’d rather be out on the golf course during the sunlight hours and then drive home to watch the game. I intentionally bury my head in the sand so that I don’t accidentally hear the score of the football game on the TV in the bar at the course or in my car on the way home.

I was looking forward to watching Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers end Eli Manning's and the New York Giants' season on their frozen home turf in the playoffs this past weekend. Unfortunately, Favre’s game got colder than the surrounding 23 below zero temperature, and he couldn’t put together any kind of drive in the last quarter, even after being given the gift of two shanked field goals by the Giants' kicker.

Favre’s farewell performance did nothing to impress me, but what I was impressed was the quality of the camerawork by the Fox crew. The new turf at Lambeau Field is a mixture of real and synthetic, heated so it does not turn into the equivalent of a frozen block of ice. Several times throughout the Fox broadcast, the cameras would show extreme close-ups of the players’ cleats on the turf and the level of detail was quite good. I saw only a few little jagged lines and very little flicker in the white lines of the field. The Vip722 has a slightly clunky slo-mo and frame-by-frame capability, but it is good enough to pause some action on the screen to make your own play-by-play assessment of a close call.

With astonishingly low temperatures, every player, coach and spectator in Lambeau field had a white puff of water vapor coming from their mouths and noses with every breath. In other words, there were a lot more fine details to resolve visually here than in your average football game. Watching someone breathe in cold air on standard def is no big deal. During close-up hi-def shots of players on the sidelines, it becomes much more interesting. The details of the steam coming off the players’ heads and the steam coming out of Tom Coughlin’s ears after his kicker missed two game-winning kicks are what make HD great.

Being shot on native HD cameras, most high-def football broadcasts look great, but what about a TV show? Having always been a fan of the Terminator movies, even the kind of silly third one, I was looking forward to the new Fox series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I made sure to record this show on the Vip722.

With the MPEG-4 format that allows for more video bandwidth, I saw much less video compression on the Vip722 than I did with on the older boxes like the 921 and 924 from Dish Network. The picture was more three-dimensional and had richer colors. In the first episode of Terminator, where a young John Connor is being chased through his school by an evil Terminator who posing as a substitute teacher, the potential for motion artifacts was huge, but there were few, if any notable ones. It was a pretty typical, shoot-em-up action scene, but it ended with a big twist. The shiny metal of the Terminator’s internal frame, poking through the ripped open human skin tissue on the leg was extremely detailed, and I didn’t see the contour lines that I would expect to see on these shiny surfaces.

Standard Definition
You can still expect to be underwhelmed in this area. Unless you spring for a video processor of the caliber of a DVDO VP50pro, you probably are not going to be wowed by the performance of standard-definition picture of any satellite receiver, especially when viewed on a big-screen TV. On the 722, the standard definition looks decent on my 19-inch Dell. However, it is horrible on my 61-inch JVC. Although my TV scales up to 1080p, the amount of data that is in a standard-definition signal is small enough that, when stretched to fit in a 1080p-resolution large screen, it simply does not look great.

I have come to expect very little in the standard-definition realm, but I do know that the 722 is much improved over the very old 921 Dish Network high-def MPEG-2 DVR. Watching a friend’s 921 on my reference system, the 921 was very washed-out and flat. I was hoping for a small improvement between the 722 and 622, but when I did an AB comparison between the two, the picture quality was exactly the same. To make a long story short, the standard def on both the 622 and 722 is better than on their predecessors, but still won’t impress anyone.

The Downside
For me, the drawback of the 722 is that, other than the larger hard drive and black case, there is no difference between it and the 622. If you already have a 622, there isn’t much incentive to upgrade.

The 722 doesn’t have multi-zone HD, and it doesn’t even have new interface menus or system software. Dish Network just used a different case color and a bigger hard drive. The inputs and outputs are exactly the same. With the really cool USB 2.0 external hard drive option, you get more hours on the internal hard drive you of the 722 over the 622, but this isn’t a fundamental change.

The real question is not whether or not the latest high-def receiver from Dish Network is better than their previous effort. I think what consumers want to know is whether the performance, reliability and special features of Dish Network’s high-def DVRs are better than the ones offered by DirecTV. I have not done a scientific study on the two, but the general consensus is that the channels on DirecTV are better, with about 20 more high-def channels at present and the high-def NFL package available for a $250 per year subscription fee. However, the amount of complaints I have heard from DirecTV subscribers about the clunky interface seems astonishingly high. I heard a few squabbles back when they used high-def TiVos as their receivers, but now that DirecTV has their own proprietary box, it seems everyone I know with a DirecTV box longs for the much cleaner, simple TiVo interface. I too prefer TiVo to the proprietary DVRs from both satellite providers, but I’d give the fairly simple Dish Network Vip722’s interface the nod over the current DirecTV Plus HD DVR in terms of simplicity and reliability.

I have had very few complaints about the previous two Dish Network HD receivers from a reliability standpoint, and the Vip722 is no exception. Sure, I wish I could get the NFL package, but the fact that I have rarely ever needed to hard-reboot my Vip622 or Vip722 and, knock on wood, have never had the system software get corrupted or a hard drive fail on the 722 in the five months that I have had it, tells me this is a pretty reliable unit. For good measure, I can occasionally back up important shows to my 750-gig hard drive, so I have that peace of mind.
Manufacturer Dish Network
Model Vip722 High-Definition DVR
Reviewer Bryan Dailey

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