I found myself especially impressed with the ViP 922’s graphically rich main menu system, a major upgrade from ››Dish’s earlier receivers. The tile-based menu, now in high-def, is simple, fast, and intuitive. Overall, I found its responsiveness to be faster than DirecTV’s system. You use onscreen icons to access the various options, such as the program guide, on-demand content like pay-per-view movies, and recorded programs stored on the DVR. The guide can show information about, and record, programs up to nine days out, and you can filter programming by category when browsing. Another option, Home Media, shows content available from other networked devices, while My Media Transfer helps you manage and transfer content stored on an external hard drive. There’s also a local-weather widget that I used during my test to fi nd out that a major storm was imminent.
This being Sound+Vision, I of course wanted to give the Dish Network on-demand movie offerings a spin. Basically, there are two flavors: Watch Now and Dish Online. Watch Now content is delivered via satellite and stored locally on the DVR, so you can watch it almost immediately. Dish Online programming is delivered as a real-time download via the Internet, an often lengthy process. Watch Now selections are o. ered in either high-def 1080i or 1080p, while Dish Online has both standard- and high-def 1080i/1080p content.
I ordered Alice in Wonderland in high-def from the Watch Now menu for $6.99. The movie started playing within seconds, and the video quality looked quite good on both my older 55-inch 1080i rear-projection and a new VT25-series 1080p Panasonic 3D model that I moved into the room temporarily for comparison. While it lacked the fi ne detail I typically see with Blu-ray Discs, resolution was good and there were no discernible artifacts; it appeared comparable to DirecTV’s on-demand offerings.
When I ordered 10,000 BC in high-def from Dish Online, however, the entire main screen froze, although live TV continued to play in a small window at the top. Since I was testing the DVR during a fairly nasty storm, I rebooted it when the weather calmed. This time the movie began downloading (at a speed of 3.14 Mbps, according to the onscreen meter). It took close to an hour to complete the download, but since the movie is buffered, I was able to start watching it after 10 minutes. Again, video quality was quite good, equal to what I saw with the Watch Now selection.
Of course, Sling technology is what sets the ViP 922 apart. At fi rst it didn’t work with my laptop; after checking the broadband settings menu, I found that the DVR was no longer connected to my home network. A quick router reboot and reset of the Dish’s broadband connection later, Sling was working perfectly. You can choose the video quality — Good, Better, and Best/HD — based on your network’s available bandwidth, and you have the option of playing it either fullscreen or in a smaller window.
Streaming in the Better mode, which requires at least 3 Mbps, provided a high-quality viewing experience on par with the better online streaming services such as Hulu or Vimeo. Once the program starts streaming, you can call up a virtual remote to control playback or select video options, such as zoom. Recordings made with the ViP 922 can be remotely managed via the My DVR tab. (You can also schedule recordings here.) Picture quality, however, is dependent on both your upstream speed at home and the downstream speed at your remote location.
There are some drawbacks to the Sling feature, however. For one, access to all content is via the Dish Network Web site. For another, using the Sling application from a remote location basically ties up one of the DVR’s tuners, so those at home lose the ability to watch one channel while recording another. And setting up Sling can be somewhat time-consuming, requiring you to register an account, log onto the Dish Network Web site, open the Dish Remote Access page under My Account, and select the receiver number (or nickname if you gave it one) from a pulldown menu.
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