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DirecTV HD-DVR Update

Back in December of 2006 I wrote a little entry comparing the DirecTV DVR to the TiVo. The DirecTV HD-DVR (the "HR20" as I'll call it from now on) has improved dramatically since then. Many people experienced a lot of growing pains with their HR20s, but aside from having two shows wiped out early on in testing, I am happy to report I never had any problems.

The topic of DirecTV's DVR came up recently on Twitter, and I promised to give an update. This is that update.

My earlier post broke things down into some sort of order, so let me keep that same order here for the sake of simplicity. You may want to read them side by side so you know what I'm talking about.

What I Missed from the TiVo

30-Second Skip
The 30-second "slip" feature I mentioned before still exists. Some people like this more than the TiVo's true "skip," but I still prefer the actual "jump" rather than the "super-fast forward slip" by a very small margin. There are times when I'm grateful for slip, too, and the ability to queue up to 20 slips comes in handy frequently.

One Guide Display
The guide now displays the first time you hit the Guide button, and I've gotten used to the lack of the "one-channel" view I used on the TiVo. A second press of the Guide button on the HR20 will let you display programs that match pre-sets like Sports, HD, Movies, etc. It comes in handy, and I'd be hard pressed to choose that feature over the "one-channel" view on the TiVo. So, this feature's now a wash unless you really like that view on the TiVo.

More Visible Guide Data
I still wish the HR20 would display more data, but it does display video. For that "picture-in" feature I'll gladly trade off the two lines of guide data. Also, the animation I spoke of has been sped up. It's now a nice feature, and one that's better than the TiVo's "jump" method.

Dual Live Buffers
I miss this, but much less so now. I've become accustomed to not having it. I watch less live TV now and instead just choose to watch a program after it's been recording for about 15 minutes (for an hour-long show). Beneficial behavior modification through feature withdrawal? Sure!

TrickPlay AutoCorrection
I don't think it's official that the HR20 does this, but it does skip back slightly from where you hit "play" so that you don't miss anything. I don't think the HR20 can advertise this as a feature due to a TiVo patent, but it's there.

Better Folders
Contrary to my earlier opinion, the HR20 method is easier to use. It also contains more data (like "2 New/3 Total") and is thus a winner over the TiVo.

The Remote
I've adjusted, and some things are nice, like the power-user "dash dash" method for deletion. If I could get a peanut-inspired HR20 remote, I might use it, but like the skip-vs-slip item above, my "favor" for the TiVo remote is slim.

Sound Effects
The HR20 now offers sound effects. I don't miss the TiVo's because… I have them again. So, another wash.

Ownership
The HD package is gone and DirecTV now offer a lot of HD channels. The rental fee is $5.99, which is cheaper than a lot of people pay for TiVos (or is at least about the same as you'd pay with DirecTV). Given my lack of problems with the HR20, I don't really care about "leasing" it and the perpetual insurance policy is kind of nice. If you're new to DirecTV or think you'll leave them soon, I can see how this may still be a sticking point for you.

Performance
After one early episode where some shows were deleted, the HR20 has been steady. The bugs and issues I mentioned before have largely been worked out, and I haven't seen any in the past several months.

Things I Now Enjoy on the HR20

No Phone Line
Still a plus. TiVos still require the phone line right?

High Definition
TiVo has an HD model, but they're still pretty darn pricy, aren't they?

One-Click Recording, Two-Click Series Link
Still very, very nice. I don't think TiVo offers anything like this yet.

Non-Modal Interaction
Mmmmmmm. I can't stand how everything on the TiVo cuts away from whatever you were watching.

Available Disk Space
It's good to know. Surely the TiVo tells you this by now???

External eSATA Expansion
Can the TiVo do this yet? I've never had the need.

HDMI and All Active Output
Again, I'm not certain where the HD TiVo stands on this, but I'm happy to have it. It works well.

Non-Crippled Hardware
I guess this is a wash if you're using a standard TiVo and not a "DirecTiVo."

Moot Issues

These are all still moot.

Updates to the HR20

These are the things that the HR20 does that may put it ahead of the HD TiVo. Again, I don't have an HD TiVo, so please correct me if I'm wrong.

OTA Recording and Tuning
The HR20 can not only tune into over-the-air channels (like your local HD broadcasts), but it can retrieve guide data, tune to all available sub-channels, and record any OTA channels as well (one-off or as part of a season pass).

VOD
The HR20 can connect to the Internet and download thousands of VOD programs, many of which are quite good. There's the usual fluff and filler, but you can also download full episodes of shows like Dirty Jobs and the like.

ViiV Support
I haven't even tried this on the HR20, but if you have a ViiV PC (or install some Home Media software) on your Windows PC, you can stream content to your HR20. I think others found a way to make this work on the Mac, too, but I just use my Xbox for my Mac-to-TV connectivity.

In the End

As I said in the Twitter posts, about the only thing the HR20 lacks that my TiVo had/has is the dual live buffers. In virtually every other aspect, the HR20 has either pulled ahead, pulled even, or remains in the lead over the TiVo. The DirecTV team should be applauded for their work on the HR20, as it's become a solid, feature-packed DVR. I've seen the DVRs on offer from Comcast, Adelphia, and other systems, and the TiVo and the HR20 are ages beyond them in terms of reliability and functionality. You really can't go wrong with either.

Update: The HR20 is now $199 only, down from $299.

9 Responses to "DirecTV HD-DVR Update"

  1. This is exactly how I feel. When I gave up my DirecTivos for an HR-20, I initially was in shock. The HR-20 had some serious issues and usability problems.

    Now, I only have two complaints:

    Dual live buffers

    Can't setup 2 series links with the same show name on separate channels

    Otherwise, they have gone way ahead of what my DirecTivo offered.

  2. Phone Line: No, Series 3 (HD) and TiVo HD do not require a phone line, they work off network connectivity.

    HD Models: While Series 3 recorders are pricy, TiVo HD models are only $300, or what you paid to lease your HR-20 initially.

    One-Click Recording: I think right now it's two-click to record, three-click to series. I don't mind it. I don't think it's badly designed.

    Non-Modal Interaction: The guide is modal now (has always been?), you retain the audio from what you're watching, but if you go into the watch menu, the dialog is modal. Makes sense to me overall, as you're clearly not interested in what's on NOW if you're going to look what's in your list.

    Available Disk Space: Nope. This I'd like to see added, but it maintains an adequate buffer of storage for me as it stands.

    eSATA Expansion: Yup.

    HDMI and All Active Output: HDMI works great with my TV. I've got 720p and 1080i when the feeds switch back and forth. Totally seamless. Very pleased with this.

    So, overall, it's really the modality of the TiVo play list that has you peeved. That's cool, that's fine, but I'd much rather trade the TiVo Experience for the lack of modality.

  3. Tom Bridge said on January 22, 2008:

    The guide is modal now (has always been?), you retain the audio from what you're watching, but if you go into the watch menu, the dialog is modal. Makes sense to me overall, as you're clearly not interested in what's on NOW if you're going to look what's in your list.

    That's not entirely true. Sometimes you're watching live TV but want to check on your recordings for later in the evening, delete some old shows, or do other tasks but don't want to cut away from the current program entirely.

    Or sometimes you want to do things while commercials are on, and then stop when the program comes back on. Can't do that in a modal dialog.

    Tom Bridge said on January 22, 2008:

    HDMI works great with my TV. I've got 720p and 1080i when the feeds switch back and forth. Totally seamless. Very pleased with this.

    That wasn't really the question. The question is whether all outputs were active simultaneously. This is important to people who want to set up a recorder on one output (or a Slingbox) but leave the HDMI plugged in (and active).

    Tom Bridge said on January 22, 2008:

    So, overall, it's really the modality of the TiVo play list that has you peeved. That's cool, that's fine, but I'd much rather trade the TiVo Experience for the lack of modality.

    It's quite a bit more than that. Given the choice between the two, I'd take the HR20 right now, hands down. Remove the "modality" and I'd still take the HR20 - it offers several things that best the TiVo, and as I've said to you on Twitter, I don't believe you've ever tried the HR20, have you?

  4. I have the HD DVR 21--at least, that is what it says on it as the model number. Just got it a month ago, I assume it is essentially the same as HD DVR 20. It is certainly better than my one experience with a cable DVR but not as good as my old DirecTV TIVO. One point and and one question:

    Point: I cannot tell it to order my playlist alphabetically as the default. It always lists programs in the order they were recorded; you can go to menu, pick "sort by" and change that to alphabetical listing, but it doesn't stick. You have to do that every time. This is pretty stupid.

    Question: You say "The HR20 can not only tune into over-the-air channels (like your local HD broadcasts), but it can retrieve guide data, tune to all available sub-channels, and record any OTA channels as well (one-off or as part of a season pass)." I don't see how to do this. I would love to do it if I could because DirecTV still doesn't provide my local PBS station in HD, but I could get it over the air in HD. If I could do that through the DVR that would be great. But I don't see any input on the HD DVR for an antenna. Am I missing something? If this can really be done, please tell me how!

    Thanks.

  5. Ira Ellman said on January 26, 2008:

    I assume it is essentially the same as HD DVR 20.

    It's black and it doesn't do OTA. But otherwise, it's just about the same, so far as I know.

    Ira Ellman said on January 26, 2008:

    I cannot tell it to order my playlist alphabetically as the default.

    Isn't there a setting for this? I believe mine sticks. I prefer to see it in time view, but if you're correct and there's no setting and it doesn't stick, indeed that kind of stinks. Especially as things get shuffled around as new items record.

    Ira Ellman said on January 26, 2008:

    I don't see how to do this. I would love to do it if I could because DirecTV still doesn't provide my local PBS station in HD, but I could get it over the air in HD.

    Page six of the HR-21 manual as well as this thread at DBSTalk.com indicate the HR21 can't do OTA.

    Perhaps you should ask DirecTV to send you the HR20 and you could send back your HR21?

  6. Update:

    I just called DirecTV. They no longer offer the HR-20 new, but in effect they will treat me as complaining that my 21 doesn't work correctly, and will send me a replacement "refurbished" model, and the agent told me the odds are very high it will be a 20 because the 21 is too new for there to be many refurbished. If it turns out I get a 21, I can just send it back. They do this at no cost. Of course I have to send the 21 back.

    As for the order of the playlist, they confirmed there is indeed no way to make one's choice stick. This agent patiently took down my complaint and said she will forward that point on, and perhaps the next time they update the software they will fix this.

  7. Ira Ellman said on January 26, 2008:

    As for the order of the playlist, they confirmed there is indeed no way to make one's choice stick. This agent patiently took down my complaint and said she will forward that point on, and perhaps the next time they update the software they will fix this.

    I've just tried this on my HR20, and it sticks just fine across putting it into "standby" mode and turning it back on again. I can sort by name, date, or expiration date (in ascending or descending order) and it sticks.

    We also just got a software update last night or something. When I turned on the TV today I was informed of three big changes. So far, they're quite nice: re-organized menus with larger type, etc.

    I'm also not entirely sure I believe the bit about the HR20 not being available. You should investigate here.

  8. I tried again..it clearly does not stick on the HR-21. Whether it is a difference between those two models, or the software update you just got, I guess I might learn when I get my HR 20.

    To experiment, I connected up an old pair of Radio Shack rabbit ears directly to the antenna input of my Panasonic Plasma. Great picture on the PBS HD stations, which I now learn are multiple. I sure look forward to getting that HR 20.

  9. Further update: today I received the replacement receiver...but it was another HR-21. After several hours on the phone with DirecTV, I learned:

    1. THE BAD NEWS. They cannot send me an HR-20. No one has authority to make that happen. I could keep trying replacements and hope it is what I happen to get, but I'm not sure they would cooperate with that.

    2. The secret to dealing with DirecTV is to threaten to cancel your subscription. You then get connected to a "retention specialist". She thought maybe she could get me an HR-20, but came back to say the rules allow her to do that only if the subscriber is in an area that gets no local stations. If it's officially an area that does get locals, then you're out of luck even if they don't have the locals you want.

    3. THE GOOD NEWS. On February 27 DirecTV is coming out with an add-on box for the HR-21 that provides the OTA functionality of the HR-20, with this additional feature: you can simultaneously record two satellite broadcasts and two OTA broadcasts for four simultaneous recordings. It will be sold as a $60 option--but the retention specialist was able to arrange to have one sent to me gratis. So, my problem is solved as of that date. The box is supposed to integrate the OTA with the satellite, just as with the HR-20.

    Cheers,
    Ira


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