Even though I already bought a HDTV decoder box, Dish Network is now selling their HDTV Digital Video Recorder Model 921 for $550 whereas last year at this time it was $1000 if you could find it (it had just come out). Because the HDTV signal has 5 times as much information as a regular signal, recording HDTV programs takes much more disk space and processing power. The 921 has a 250 GB hard drive in it and it still only lets you store about 25 hours of HDTV programming (or 180 hours of regular programming; that’s more than 5 times, but satellite signals are compressed). Dish itself only broadcasts a limited number of HDTV stations because it takes up a lot of bandwidth on their satellites too. They have HD versions of Discovery, ESPN, and TNT as well as a HD movie channel and HDNet with various HD offerings for $10 a month. Broadcasting hundreds or thousands of local channels in HDTV would take so many satellites that it may never happen. So Dish made sure the 921 could receive HDTV signals through an antenna and record them.
One of the only bad things about my current setup is that it can not record HDTV signals like my Dish 501 DVR can (plus it only has a 40 GB hard drive). So when I watch HDTV broadcasts I am forced to accommodate the broadcaster’s schedule and watch their cursed commercials. It was like a giant leap backward into the 90’s! But the 921 lets you record that stuff so that you can pause live television, rewind, and skip commercials once you get behind the live feed.
I am still in the window where I can take the US Digital box back to Walmart for a $200 refund, so the 921 started looking tempting. If I wait until I can’t take the USD box back, I would just be out that $200. So essentially I can get the 921 for $200 off right now. Only an extra $350.
So I started doing research. I found out that the 921 isn’t quite as convenient in recording local broadcasts since the online Guide doesn’t show what the local broadcasters are sending out (with satellite channels you can just click on a show in the Guide to record it) so I would have to manually enter dates, times, and channels. But the 921 can record two signals at once: one from the satellite and one from the antenna. In fact, the 921 requires two cables from the satellite dish so it can even record two different satellite shows or let you record one channel while you watch another (previously a serious limitation of satellite TV).
But then I had to wonder if my current satellite dish (the Dish 500) would be compatible with the 921. I am thinking that it is and that my Dish 500 supports two lines out. But then I would have to run another cable from the roof, through the attic, down the wall and into my wall outlet. As long as I don’t have to buy a new dish, I figured I was okay.
Currently I’m paying $30 for basic satellite service. But if you get a 921 you have to pay a $5 a month fee for guide (and because they know you’ll pay it). I’m still not sure if you have to get the $10 a month HD package, but I’m thinking not. Still I hate monthly fees and $5 is still $60 a year. If I had to get the HD package then I’d be paying 50% more (though they offer the first 6 months for free) for satellite service though perhaps I could drop local channels for a savings of $5 a month (putting me at the mercy of unreliable antenna signals; might have to upgrade the antenna).
Lastly, this discount is pretty steep and the worry is they are coming out with something a lot better and trying to get rid of all their current inventory. Of course they won’t let you know what it is, but the upside is that it will be something more expensive than what they are selling now. Since the 921 is essentially a Unix computer, the price could continue to plummet even as features increase, just like with computers.
I’m still kind of torn. Assuming you buy home electronics to last 4 years, I would be paying $138 a year for the 921 anyway, so does $60 ($240 over the life of it) really make it that much more? I decided it does. Plus, if I ever ditch the dish I wouldn’t be able to use the 921 anymore since it won’t work as a standalone HDTV receiver.
Postscript: Since the $5 monthly fee was offset by being able to stop subscribing to local channels I decided to go ahead and get the 921 DVR. I called Dish to ask some questions like could I connect the 921 to my current rooftop dish (yes) and could I give my current DVR to someone else without some kind of fee (yes). Then I asked if I had to subscribe to the HDTV package for $10 a month and they said yes. So that was a deal breaker. I wasn’t about to pay $10 a month for five channels of programming I probably wouldn’t even watch that often.
And it’s not like it’s all over anyway. Computers and these receivers are becoming more similar and I feel like it won’t be long before I can get an economical TV tuner card for my computer and store programs on its hard drive and play them back to my TV.