PERFORMANCE USB transfers from the DVR 942 were incredibly quick. A 1-hour Charlie Rose Show from PBS copied over in just 4 minutes, a 2-hour Cold Pizza from ESPN in 12 minutes. HDTV programs recorded on the 942 can't be transferred digitally, but you can dub them at standard resolution (and real-time speed) from the 942's S-video output.
Digital transfers looked great. There was little loss in quality when watching talking heads or even a tennis match on the AV700E's screen. Only when I connected the PocketDish to my 50-inch plasma TV did I notice a significant loss of resolution, especially with action sequences - the tennis segment looked like something from a badly worn VHS tape. A recording of Cold Pizza made from an analog cable box was noticeably inferior to the digital transfer from the satellite receiver. Also, when I connected PocketDish to my TV via the docking pod, I could hear a slight whirring sound from the hard drive. The noise went away when I used the supplied cable to connect the player directly to my set.
Since the DVR 942 also lets you receive and record Sirius satellite radio, I copied a segment from the Pure Jazz channel. Curiously, artist names and song titles from Sirius that were visible on my TV screen as songs were playing through the 942 weren't transferred to PocketDish - only the channel name and a date/time stamp for the recorded segment. Dish says that a software update available in early 2006 will support display of artists and titles.
Another glitch: though PocketDish automatically turns off its screen when playing music transferred from your computer, it sees Sirius recordings as video files and keeps the LCD active, unnecessarily draining the battery. I was able to turn off the LCD by pressing the display button to make the PocketDish think it was sending its video to a separate TV even though none was connected. In any event, the removable 3.7-volt lithium-ion battery gave the PocketDish enough power to keep video playing for more than 4 hours.
Using a PC to load the PocketDish is more complicated than working off the DVR 942, requiring Windows Media Player or Windows Explorer software. But PocketDish won't play video files recorded on a Windows Media Center PC because they're recorded in Microsoft's proprietary DVR-MS format - too bad if you've built up a library of programs in that file type. Nor will it play such popular formats as Windows Media Video, MPEG-1, and MPEG-2 - only a variant of the newer MPEG-4 format. Some conversion utilities are supplied that may help you transfer your older files. I had no trouble copying photos from an SD card directly to the PocketDish with my own USB adapter.
The AV700E's LCD is gargantuan for a hard-drive portable and plenty bright even viewed off to one side. However, tilting it up or down even a few degrees washes out the picture. The kickstand is nonadjustable, so keep some books handy to achieve the right angle if you want to watch PocketDish hands free. Another drawback is that most buttons on the player aren't labeled, and the labels on the remote are cryptic. For example, the play button is one of three marked "O." Plain English, please! Dish says that all its forthcoming DVRs will contain USB 2.0 ports and be PocketDish-compatible. Also, owners of the DVR 522 and 625 can expect an automatic software download by January 2006 that will make the receivers PocketDish-compatible through their USB 1.1 ports. Though not as fast as USB 2.0, transfers will still be a lot faster than recording a show in real time.
BOTTOM LINE If you're looking for a portable player to carry around video, music, and photos copied from your computer, there are easier-to-use, lighter-weight, and less expensive alternatives (though with smaller screen sizes). But if you already own a Dish DVR 942, adding a PocketDish is a no-brainer. The interface is intuitive, and the fast digital transfers will make you wonder how you ever had the patience to wait for a 1-hour show to copy in 1 hour. There is simply no easier way to take your Dish on the road.
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