Dish Network DVR 921 HD DVR

Every night has come down to an impossible choice. Do I revel in the convenience of my video hard-disk recorder (HDR) or exalt in the splendor of high-definition TV? Why can't a set-top box enable me to pause a premium HDTV movie as readily as an ad-glutted network newscast? Well, the fix is finally in, and it's called the DVR 921.

Video enthusiasts long ago concluded that watching TV without a video hard-disk recorder (HDR) is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment. (These products are often called digital video recorders, or DVRs, as in the model name of the Dish DVR 921, but there are also digital video recorders that use tape.) Yet during those years we've found ourselves in a pickle: the only way we could enjoy the rising number of HDTV programs, including network series and premium movies, was in real time. Without the convenience of time-shifting, HDTV is a source of unrelenting torment - a throwback to the dark days before the VCR, when the nation flushed in unison during commercial breaks. It took until 2004, but now those of us with sky access can have all our HDTV channels and disk buffering, too - though almost everyone hooked up to cable TV is still screwed.

DIMENSIONS 16 x 5 1/4 x 14 1/4 inches
PRICE $999 plus a $5 monthly service subscription; the least-expensive package is America's Top 60 (SD channels) for $25 plus the HDTV Pak for $10 (HDNet, HDNet Movies, Discovery HD Theater, and ESPN HD); adding Showtime HD and HBO HD (available only in multiple-channel packages) bring the total to about $60
MANUFACTURER Dish Network,, 800-333-3474

• 2 HDTV-capable satellite tuners • Integrated analog/digital tuner for local stations • 250-GB hard drive for storing up to 25 hours of HDTV or 180 hours of standard-definition programs • 2 F-connector satellite, F-connector antenna/cable, and composite-video with stereo audio inputs • DVI, component-video, S-video, 2 composite-video, and optical digital and stereo analog audio outputs • USB and 2 FireWire ports, reserved for future use; telephone jack for billing PPV

EchoStar's Dish Network announced the DVR 921 in January 2003, but the prom­ised delivery date slipped from summer to fall until, finally, one of the first receivers was delivered to Sound & Vision's Midtown Manhattan video testing lab on New Year's Eve. The three installers dispatched from Brooklyn finished setting it up just in time to get out of the way as humanity descended upon Times Square.

Evidence of their handiwork included a 20-inch oval Dish Network 500 antenna bolted to the roof of our office building and a pair of cables cascading down five stories, snaking above ceiling tiles, and coming out in our main viewing room, where they were attached to the DVR 921's two satellite-tuner inputs. The installers added a tiny antenna to the rear panel for use with the RF (radio-frequency) remote, and we added a larger room antenna to receive local TV broadcasts, both analog and digital. We plugged in our high-def plasma TV and a surround sound system that cost even more than the plasma, then dimmed the lights.