It’s been more than a decade since the first TiVo digital video recorder (DVR) revolutionized the way many of us watch TV. While almost all cable companies now offer some degree of DVR capability, it’s really been the satellite and telco TV service providers — as well as TiVo itself — that have pushed DVR innovation, offering features like access to online content. The newest DVR from satellite TV provider Dish Network, the ViP 922 Sling- Loaded, serves up one unique feature that pushes the online envelope a step further: the ability to watch programming and recorded content not just on your TV but almost anywhere with an Internet connection.
As its name suggests, the ViP 922 has embedded Sling technology. (Sling Media was acquired by Dish’s sister company, EchoStar, in 2007.) As a result, a Dish subscriber with a ViP 922 can remotely access Dish Network content, as well as program and delete recordings, from Web-connected devices such as computers, netbooks, iPads, and a growing number of smartphones.
The ViP 922 is also DLNA-compliant, so it can connect to a home network to access photos or videos stored on a computer or networked drive. You can search for programs across all available sources: satellite programs, recorded TV shows or movies stored on the DVR or an external hard drive, and even Internet-delivered on-demand content.
With the ViP 922 nestled next to my DirecTV HR24 HD DVR, it was easy to compare the two units. The DirecTV DVR is smaller, sleeker, and decidedly sexier than the ViP 922. But the Dish houses a robust 1-terabyte internal hard drive, twice the capacity of my 500-gigabyte HR24. It also eschews old-school tactile buttons on the front in favor of capacitance touch controls for power, Menu access and navigation, Mode, and Jump functions. A flipdown panel on the front left side of the ViP 922 hides a smart card slot, a reset button, and a USB port that can be used to connect an external hard drive to expand storage capacity. Movies can be stored on — and played back from — the external drive, but you have to pay a one-time $39.99 “activation fee” for this feature, which lets you continually add new shows without deleting old ones. There are no limitations on what can be transferred between drives, but any programs with timed expirations, such as pay-per-view movies, adhere to those restrictions regardless of where they reside.
The receiver’s back contains all the other connections, including a second USB slot, a LAN port, and a phone jack that enables caller ID info to be displayed onscreen. There’s also a port to plug in the antenna used by the receiver’s UHF remote control. Outputs include HDMI, component and composite video, and optical digital and analog stereo audio.
The DVR’s dual satellite tuners let you record two programs at the same time or watch a recorded show while recording two others. While local channels are provided as part of the service, Dish also sells an optional $50 dual-HD tuner module for receiving over-the-air channels. In addition to providing possibly less compressed, and thus better-looking, pictures, the additional tuners double your simultaneous-recording capabilities. The ViP 922’s fairly standard-looking universal remote can be programmed to control a TV, a Blu-ray or DVD player, and one other device. I found it to be a bit more cluttered and harder to use than DirecTV’s, though admittedly I’m more used to that one. I especially didn’t like the small, inconveniently placed up/down volume buttons, which should get equal real estate with the channel buttons. Conveniently, the ViP 922’s picture-inpicture feature gets its own buttons on the bottom. Although there are some paid Sling apps that let you view TV on smartphones, a free iPhone/iPod touch app should be available that will let you both control the DVR and view Dish content remotely by the time you’re reading this. According to Dish, a similarly featured iPad app is scheduled for release in late fall, along with app support for several Android, Blackberry, and Windows Mobile phones. (There was no free Android app at the time of my review, so I didn’t test Sling on my phone.)
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