In the process of overhauling and upgrading my system, I discovered some cool new high-def programs, products, and technologies that have transformed my home theater experience. The best of these is undoubtedly Dish Network’s new ViP622 highdefinition digital video recorder (DVR). The top-of-the-line ViP622 is a major advance in DVRs, not only recording HD with superb picture quality, but also offering dual tuners (for watching one show and recording another, watching two different shows on two TVs, or recording two shows simultaneously), copious hard-drive space (200 hours of standard definition; 30 hours of high definition), support for Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, and the ability to send a signal to a second TV (in SD only) without running cables between the DVR and the second TV.
The ViP622 has other great features, including archiving SD or HD recordings to any external harddisk drive via the USB port. This feature (which should be available soon to subscribers) coupled with the plummeting price of hard-disk storage (500GB drives can now be had for less than $200), will soon make saving your favorite programs a practical reality. (SD consumes about 1GB of disk space per hour; HD requires 7GB per hour.) To top it off, you can transfer recorded programs (via USB 2.0) from the ViP622 to an optional Dish Network PocketDish portable player (see sidebar).
Feeding my Sony VPL-VW50 front projector (and Stewart 92-inch-wide FireHawk screen), the Dish system delivered a stunning picture, whether from live transmission or the DVR. The ViP622 sent 1080i to the Sony projector via HDMI flawlessly. I was blown away by the spectacular picture and sound of Memoirs of a Geisha, which I recorded in HD. This is a beautifully photographed film, filled with vibrant color, finely filigreed costumes, detailed sets, and elaborate make-up. And its soundtrack is very well recorded. Watching Geisha from the ViP622 in HD with 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound was as close to a movie-theater experience as I’ve had in my home. Legacy (standard-definition) signals, which generally look mediocre from satellite and cable (particularly on a 92-inch-wide screen), were surprisingly clean. Nonetheless, switching from HD to SD was inevitably a disappointment. The ViP622’s menu system and user interface isn’t quite as simple to use as TiVo’s, but I might have that impression because I lived with TiVo for several years and have had the ViP622 for only a few weeks. The ViP622’s remote is dense with buttons, but I quickly adapted to the new layout.
Leap in Quality and Content
After living with a 1280x720 front projector, SD sources, and a singletuner SD DVR, I found the Sony VPL-VW50 and Dish ViP622 made for a quantum leap in picture quality, convenience, capabilities, and features. But what really made this system overhaul worthwhile was Dish’s extensive menu of high-def content. Dish acquired the exclusive rights to VOOM Networks—the all-HD satellite system that folded two years ago as a result of corporate in-fighting. The Dish Platinum package ($99 per month) gets you 240 SD channels plus 30 HD channels (many of them from VOOM), along with premium HD channels such as Starz HDTV, HBO HD, Showtime HD, and Cinemax HDTV. I particularly enjoyed Equator HD, with its stunningly photographed nature shows shot in far-off corners of the world. I was also surprised by the number of great movies available in commercial-free HD on Starz and HBO HD, in particular. Local stations are also available in HD in some areas (and in SD in most areas). In addition, Dish offers 35 pay-perview movie channels (some in HD) and up to 50 music channels and 62 Sirius satellite radio channels. The combination of Dish’s extensive HD lineup and the ViP622 HD DVR is the “killer-app” of HDTV—particularly when viewed on a 1080p display.
As part of my system overhaul, I also added upscaling DVD players (the stunning $30k Esoteric P-03/D-03 combo reviewed in Issue 71 and Arcam’s new $2995 DV139) and replaced all of the component-video connections with Monster Cable HDMI connections. (I also used the HDMI-Mate from Gefen—an HDMI extender that connects two runs of HDMI to make one longer run.) Video upscaling chips have become amazingly good at converting SD video from DVD to 1080p. Both the Esoteric and Arcam use Anchor Bay Technologies latest deinterlacing and upscaling chipsets, with spectacular results. When connected to the Sony projector via HDMI at 1080p (eliminating an entire digital-to-analog-to-digital conversion), this new breed of players delivered a picture from DVD that I wouldn’t have thought possible just a year ago. DVD looks almost like HD (on the best transfers), with a three-dimensionality and resolution that you simply don’t expect from a standard-definition source. With these additions and upgrades to my ystem—the ViP622 HD DVR, upscaling DVD players, a 1920x1080 projector, plus a wealth of compelling HD programming—the promise of HDTV is finally fulfilled. I’ll be spending a lot more time at home.
Satellite TV to Go
Viewers are increasingly watching their favorite movies and TV shows in places other than in front of the family television. Dish Network’s new PocketDish is the perfect solution for people on the go who want to take their DVR with them. PocketDish is a portable media device with an LCD screen, hard-disk storage, and DVR-like capabilities, including random access and the ability to scan through video to skip commercials. Content is downloaded into PocketDish from a Dish DVR, or simply recorded directly from the satellite. You can also store photos, music, games, and video from other sources for playback while you’re out and about.
Three PocketDish models are available. The top-of-the-line AV700E ($399) features a large 480x434 7- inch widescreen LCD display and a 40GB hard drive. This drive can store up to 40 hours of Dish programming, 160 hours of low-res video from other sources, up to 20,000 songs, and up to 400,000 JPEG photos.
The AV500E ($299) has a 4-inch 480x472 LCD display and a 30GB hard drive. The entry-level AV402E ($149) lives up to its name—it’s literally small enough to fit in your shirt pocket. The unit has a 2.2-inch 220x176 LCD display and 20GB hard drive.