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DirecTV HR21 HD DVR Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 April 2008
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ImageMy father is pretty high-tech for a guy in his early sixties. He has an iPhone and can make his Mac laptop jump through hoops, including wirelessly pumping music (and often vintage jingles from his days as a program director at WIBG in Philadelphia in the late 1960s) to his Wilson Audio and Krell-based audiophile system in his living room. His music students at the University of Southern California demand this level of tech savvy, but where he had admittedly fallen behind was with his home theater system. Installed in an odd niche in his house in Scottsdale, Arizona, this system was pretty state of the art in its day, with a big Sony CRT standard-definition television set, a DVD player and a custom installation in a nifty cabinet. However, by 2008 standards, a 40-inch standard-definition tube TV (which is badly gaussed, resulting in a purple picture) isn’t cutting it any more for a dad on the cutting edge. He wants a big Sony 1080p LCD. He definitely wants Blu-ray. And, most of all, he wants a new TiVo. Last night, I had to explain to him that no matter how badly he wants a new TiVo to replace his trusty Sony TiVo for DirecTV, he wasn’t getting one. Instead, he was getting a new DirecTV system, specifically the HR21 – the DVR that replaces four (count ‘em – four) DirecTV HD TiVos in my house. He wasn’t pleased and I don’t blame him.

At one point, I was told DirecTV owned as much as seven percent of TiVo, but today, they have completely abandoned the operating system, as well as all partnerships with electronics companies like Sony to make DirecTV hardware. While DirecTV leads the way with HD content and has one hell of a deal with the NFL, as well as increasing volumes of NHL games in HD (definitely the draw for my dad and me), they have absolutely given the technological advantage to cable providers by bailing on TiVo. Moreover, they are leaving themselves open to an exodus of clients to cable, as millions of people may or may not want to learn a new operating system for their DVR, which isn’t as easy to use as TiVo. Try taking my dad’s Macintosh laptop away from him and you will have the fight of your life. Little does he know his installer will soon be doing something similar with his TiVo, to be replaced by the DirecTV HR21.

The DirecTV HR21 is priced in stores for $299, but is frequently offered as a trade-up for people like me who invested as much as $1,000 per unit to buy an HD TiVo. Clearly DirecTV knows that suckers like me might very well leave their $130 per month service (with all of the sports packages I get) for cable if they hit me up for another $4,000 to upgrade my HD receiver/recorders around the house. My old HD TiVo was an MPEG2 device that worked with a smaller dish with fewer LNBs. The new DirecTV HR21 is an MPEG4 device, meaning I needed to significantly upgrade my dish to a five LNB set-up. The move to MPEG4 allows for the dramatically increased bandwidth that makes possible new HD channels like Food Network, National Geographic, Biography, Cartoon Network and many others that you couldn’t get on the old MPEG2 rig. Without question, this is the reason why one would make the upgrade. If you are starving for more HD content, the HR21 will bring you more than any other system at any price.
Programming the HR21
Man, do I miss my TiVo. The menus and familiar “pops and rings” made it so that anybody could get what they wanted from the DVR in a matter of minutes. The DirecTV HR21 does all of the same tricks, and in some cases a little more, but generally in a different way. It really is a Macintosh vs. a Windows Vista-type debate. You can write your life’s memoirs on either platform, but it’s just so much easier and less in-your-face on the Mac. Getting to the menu to record shows is a little clunkier with the HR21 than with my old TiVo and the overall menu isn’t as easily accessed. When you do get there, you can record shows with all of the same options that allow you to start a program early, record first-run events, record every show, record from keywords (seemingly better than TiVo for sports so far), record past the end of shows (great for sporting events that go into overtime) and far beyond. I would suggest that you give yourself an hour to get comfortable with the settings before you become the master of your HR21.


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