DISH Network Model 6000 HD-DBS Receiver
The press has lamented the lack of HDTV programming for far too long. In reality, there's a reasonable amount of HDTV broadcasts right now—enough to warrant the purchase of an HDTV, anyway. You just have to know where to look for it. In certain areas, you can get most of CBS's prime-time lineup, as well as various shows and movies from NBC and ABC. Almost anywhere in the country, there are at least two cable networks, Showtime and HBO, and one pay-per-view channel that broadcast HDTV signals. Granted, there isn't as much high-def programming as there is NTSC programming and you can't get it from cable, but who needs cable when you can have satellite?
All of the necessary controls to run the Model 6000 DBS receiver can be found on its front panel.
DISH Network, a division of EchoStar Communications, is a direct-broadcast-satellite distributor and competitor of the other DBS company, DirecTV, which is a division of Hughes Electronics. The two coexist rather well. DISH Network's current top-of-the-line product, the Model 6000, is a DBS satellite receiver that can tune both standard-definition and high-definition satellite programming. This does, however, require the use of two different, small dishes, pointed in two directions. Neither dish is included in the receiver's relatively low price of $499. One dish, the Dish 500, points south and receives DISH Network's core programming from two different orbital locations at 110 and 119 degrees, while the second dish points east and receives HDTV programming from the 61.5-degree orbital location. An add-on module (currently available but not used in this review) offers terrestrial analog NTSC and digital ATSC (HDTV) broadcast reception when connected to a roof-top antenna. While the antenna requires signals to be actually transmitted in your local area, the satellite signal is available nearly everywhere.
On the software side, DISH Network offers hundreds of channels dedicated to your favorite cable programming and dozens of channels dedicated to music. In most major markets, you can even get local TV stations, as well. While DirecTV offers more sports programming, DISH Network offers as many or more movie channels and twice as many HDTV channels. OK, so "twice as many" means two more than the competition. DISH Network offers Showtime and HBO, a demo channel for retail displays, and a dedicated 24-hour pay-per-view movie channel. DirecTV offers only HBO and a second channel that displays demo material during the day for retailers and pay-per-view programs in the evening. Regardless, for high-definition-display-owning, non-sports-enthusiast movie lovers like me, the extra HD channels are a big bonus.
Connection options are abundant: dual A/V connectors with one S-video output, a component output, a D-Sub 15-pin output, an optical digital out-put, and a phone jack.
An additional bonus for high-definition enthusiasts is the flexibility in output formats. While both regular and high-def satellite and terrestrial broadcasts can be output in the NTSC (480i) format, you can also output these signals in either of the HDTV formats (1080i or 720p). As is common, signals transmitted in one rate are up- or downconverted to the designated output rate. The receiver has a nonfunctioning menu setting to account for 16:9 or 4:3 displays. According to DISH Network, an automatic software upgrade should enable this function by the time you read this. There's even a handy light on the front to let you know if you're in the high-def or standard-def output mode.
The Model 6000 continues to impress with its arrangement of outputs. Dual audio/video connections with one S-video output allow NTSC signals to be sent to multiple places. As with other HD-DBS receivers, these are dormant if you're using the high-definition outputs, which can be a drag if you want to use the system in multiple rooms simultaneously or if you have a better-quality external video processor. There is an SD/HD button on both the front panel and the remote, which will toggle between the regular and high-definition outputs. Unfortunately, this isn't easy to automate. I'd recommend leaving the unit in one mode or the other. Fortunately, you have the option of using either component (Y/Pr/Pb) or RGBHV (in the form of a VGA-style D-Sub 15-pin connector) outputs for high-definition signals, making the system compatible with all HD monitors. A simple computer-monitor breakout cable will convert the D-Sub 15-pin connector into an RGBHV signal. Note that the component connection outputs only high-def or upconverted standard-def signals, and it does so only when the receiver is switched to the HD mode. It doesn't, at any point, output standard-def signals.
Other connections include an optical digital output that offers Dolby Digital (5.1 or 2.0) or PCM (two-channel) audio signals that can be sent to your receiver/surround processor. The satellite receiver had no trouble switching between the two digital formats as I changed channels. Other systems have a slight delay that can trip up some surround processors. High-def programs, however, were noticeably softer than regular channels. According to DISH Network, Dolby Digital channels are output at a lower level to maintain the dynamic range supported by the format.