DirecTV HR10-250 HDTV Satellite Receiver/Recorder

I'm a huge fan of the video hard-disk recorders (HDRs), also known as digital video recorders (DVRs), that have revolutionized the TV viewing habits of millions. As the ads say, you can watch what you want when you want. But the options for time-shifting high-definition programs have been limited. There are now three types of hard-disk-based HDTV recorders, though: free-standing models for over-the-air broadcasts, integrated cable tuner/recorders you lease from your cable company, and integrated satellite tuner/recorders you buy.

FAST FACTS

DIMENSIONS 15 x 12 x 3 inches PRICE $999 plus $11 a month for HD Package (ESPN HD, Discovery HD Theater, HDNet, and HDNet Movies) and $5 a month for TiVo (waived with some program options); other packages available MANUFACTURER DirecTV, www.directv.com, 888-238-7177

KEY FEATURES

• 250-gigabyte hard drive • 2 high-def satellite and 2 local DTV tuners • Able to record two shows while you watch a third one recorded earlier • TiVo convenience features such as Wish List and Season Pass • Choice of TiVo and DirecTV program guides • Inputs 2 satellite, 1 antenna (all F-connectors) • Outputs HDMI; composite-, component-, and S-video; optical digital and stereo analog audio

I like the last type the best. Why? The others have to convert all of the analog cable or over-the-air programs from analog to digital before they can be stored on the hard drive, which can degrade the image. But all of the programs delivered by a direct-broadcast satellite system are digital, so the receiver simply stores and plays them back with the same quality as the original broadcast.

TiVo teased HDTV lovers with a prototype satellite receiver/high-def recorder way back in January 2003 at the Consumer Electronics Show. After a year and a half of waiting, these machines have slowly begun to trickle into electronics stores. So was it worth the wait?

INSTALLATION AND SETUP Unpacking the HR10-250, I was pleased to find that DirecTV includes both analog audio and video cables and a telephone cable (for pay-per-view billing) as well as two digital video cables - the first with an HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) and a DVI (Digital Visual Interface) connector; the second with an HDMI connector on both ends. If your HDTV has an HDMI or DVI input, use it - the all-digital connection will provide a better picture than you can get with an analog connection. The HR10-250 also includes an optical digital audio cable.

There are two F-type satellite connectors and one antenna jack. By connecting all three and activating the DirecTV service, you can use one of the two built-in DirecTV satellite tuners or one of the two over-the-air tuners for local digital TV (DTV) broadcasts, including free HDTV programs from the commercial networks. Even better, you can use one of each to record two different programs at the same time.

With all of my connections made, I followed the easy step-by-step Guided Setup screen and called DirecTV to activate my service, which took only a few minutes. I was now ready to do the TiVo tango - or so I thought. I tried to pick an upcoming show to record, forgetting that you have to wait a day or so for the complete electronic program guide to download from the DirecTV satellite. So much for instant gratification!

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