For some reason almost all DVRs are like cell phones, they have lots of strings attached. You either need to pay a monthly subscription or you need to get a CableCARD from your provider and give up access to other features your provider offers that you pay for. There are a few exceptions and the newest one is from Dish Network in the way of the DTVPal DVR. It doesn't require a monthly subscription, or even a cable or satellite provider because it works with free over-the-air TV. It does HD, has two tuners, and a 250GB hard drive; all for the reasonable price of $250. If this all sounds good so far, then keep reading because like all things there's a catch.

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DTVPal DVR


The Good
  • Firmware update over internet is useful took about 15 minutes.
  • Reports of stability issues, but our's was fine.
  • Setup is easy and quick.
  • Picture and sound are on par with what we expect, which is a lot.
  • No subscription fees
  • Dual tuner
  • 250GB HDD
  • $250 price tag
  • Remote is programmable
  • Good ATSC reception
  • Has a mini-guide
  • Guide as a recording indicator, something all DVRs should have.
  • A number of zoom options.

The Bad
  • Doesn't record buffer.
  • 5 digit channel numbers 028-01 are a pain to direct dial.
  • Button layout on remote is whacked, volume is at the top, channels integrated with arrows, and no clue why you'd want a SYS info key.
  • Over-the-air only

The Ugly
  • The interface is ugly!
  • No series recording like every other DVR out there, just "schedules" like a VCR.
  • Limited guide data, no where near 14 days.

Dish Network branding huh?
The one thing that really has us scratching our head is why this thing is branded as Dish Network. You might say because it helps build the Dish brand, but since we've never tried out a Dish Network DVR we automatically assume this is how the Dish DVR works -- which isn't a good thing. We just don't understand how branding a bare bones DVR with the Dish Network brand helps the product or the service. We think the only thing it does is cause confusion among consumers and disparage the actual Dish DVR, but what do we know?

Bottom line
The DTVPal DVR is really a no brainer which comes down to a few key questions. Have you just made the switch to digital and you're looking to replace your VCR, but don't want any monthly subscriptions? Well then it's for you. Everyone else can just skip it and get a TiVo. Seriously it really is that simple. The only thing going for this over a TiVo, hardware wise, is the hard drive is bigger, and that is easily remedied. The fact is this box is a glorified VCR and is only a DVR at the most basic sense of the word. Now if you're thinking that although you aren't coming from a VCR, but you are considering going OTA only to save on your monthly expenses, then based on the fact that you're reading Engadget, we'd say set yourself up a HTPC. The bottom line is this only fits the most basics of needs and its biggest advantage, for some, will be the easy setup and low cost. So in other words, our mother-in-law might get one for Christmas from us, but we certainly wouldn't use it ourselves.

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Dish Network DTVPal DVR review