Tell me about DVRs and Dish Network

Currently I have basic cable in two rooms, each with a TV, VCR and DVD player set up. By basic cable I mean analog, no set-top box, the cable goes to each of the VCRs and from there to the corresponding TVs. (Yeah, I know, I am right on the bleeding edge here; I may look into getting one of them newfangled horseless carriages someday, too. I only got cable about 10 years ago, and at the time I was afraid the village might try to stop me by putting landmark status on our house, what with being the last house in town without cable and all that.)

Because Dish Network is the only provider in my region of some specific programming that I want, I am thinking of changing to their service.

  1. Should I get DVR(s) through Dish, or am I better off getting them on my own? Are there any sort of compatibility issues I should be aware of? (If it is not clear, I have no experience with DVRs. I have never even seen one in action. My 83-year-old father-in-law has one, but he lives in another country, so I have never seen it. Meanwhile, I still have a fax machine sitting on my desk here.) I am primarily interested in using the DVRs for watching, say, the Daily Show/Colbert Report the next morning without having to bother setting up the VCR to record almost every single night.

  2. I assume Dish has some sort of set top box or tuner between the little dish antenna and the TV. Am I able to connect other equipment (like a DVD recorder or a VCR) somewhere in there so that I could record some programming on something apart from the DVR, or is that not permitted?

  3. I assume I will still be able to connect my own VCR or DVD player to the other video inputs on my TV, right? I have a library of tapes and discs that I still wish to be able to view.

  4. The last time I looked, Dish had something about having a phone line always connected or there a $5 surcharge per month. What is the story with that? Do I need a dedicated phone line just for this, or if I use my home phone line (Why yes, I do have a landline, and I am also wearing a cardigan and suspenders right this very moment. Why do you ask?) will it sometimes interfere with my normal usage of the phone (or vice versa)?

  5. Does the weather (i.e., rain or snow) interfere with the satellite signal, or is that not an issue?

In short, the important considerations driving my decision-making are: Dish Network is the only source in our area for a specific country’s programming, I crave the convenience of having certain regular programs recorded for me automatically for viewing at my later convenience without having to mess around with tapes almost every day, but I do want to retain the ability to make archival copies of some material on DVD or tape.

Any helpful advice, comments, and observations will be greatly appreciated. Howls of derision and gales of laughter with much finger-pointing and merriment regarding my cluelessness, not so much.

  1. I am not aware that Dish allows the use of third-party equipment at all, but I have a DISH HD Two set DVR/Receiver, and have for a year or so, had the non-HD version before. I’ve not had any issues with either of them.

  2. Yes, see above (DVR). No, it’s not like your cable now, you cannot record one channel and watch another using an external DVD/VCR, unless you use one as the ‘Second’ TV in a two (or more) TV setup. The Dish receiver I have has the DVR built in, which works fine, and has lots of room.

  3. Yes, you can still connect any other video device to your TV.

  4. I don’t have the telephone line (or internet) connected, so I do pay the surcharge. But no, you don’t need a dedicated phone line if you do use it. That is used to order pay-per-view and such, and is only active when you are either scheduling a PPV event, or doing account services through the Receiver.

  5. Weather most certainly has an effect, but I only actually have signal dropouts during severe (and I mean, can’t see 10 feet away severe) rainstorms. All of the trees around me don’t help either, my neighbor without trees does not see the dropouts I do during severe weather. I hardly ever watch TV anymore, but Dish has had fewer dropouts (in my area) then the cable company did.

I suppose you could archive video’s by playing them from the DVR to the DVD/VHS through the video outputs of the receiver. There is also USB access (on my receiver) to the DVR, but I have never used it. I think it is primarily for the Dish ‘portable devices’.

As mentioned it’s difficult, if not impossible, to use a third party DVR with Dish. But their units work very well and are easy to use. You can tell the DVR to record all episodes, new episodes, or a single episode.

My Dish receiver has several outputs ranging from coax to HDMI, so you could easily hook up a VCR if you wish, but the quality will be less than the DVR delivers.

Driving rain will cause loss of signal, but it usually doesn’t last too long.

I have Dish and two TVs in separate rooms. Each room can watch its own program, or programs off of the DVR. Just so you are aware, it is typically not possible for both TVs to be watching different live programming while recording a third program on the DVR; but you can watch programs off the DVR while recording two others. Kind of confusing, I know. But the Dish DVR (ViP 722) is a great machine.

Once you start using the DVR, there is no reason to record anything on a VCR. The Dish DVRs have a lot of memory – something like 50 hours of HD programming and 300 of standard def programming – so you can keep programs for a long time if you want. Plus using the DVR is much easier than using a VCR to record something. You can also attach an external hard drive to the DVR to archive things – a $70 hard drive will double your storage, and if you’re talking about cents per hour of storage, the hard drive is a LOT cheaper than an equivalent number of VHS tapes.

You can plug in either a phone line or an Ethernet cable to your internet connection. They will not interfere with anything. If you plug in an Ethernet cable, you can do some neat stuff, like if you forget to record a program on the DVR, you can log on the Dish website and select what you’d like to record. I have an app for my iPhone that does the same thing.

Thunderstorms cause some disruption to service when they are close. I’ve never had an issue with snow, not even when Washington was getting hammered with 40-something inches of snow over four days this winter.

I tried to remain factual, but I’ve been a Dish customer for about 5 years and like it quite a bit.

Yep, you’ll need to go with Dish’s DVR, which I think is of average quality. I think a lot of its shortcomings have to do with avoiding the army of patents Tivo has.

Yep, this is true. I found this out after install and was pissed because I would have had the installer do it differently if I knew. I ended up just buying a wireless access point, put it in client mode, and attached it to my wireless network. I then connected the WAP to the DVR with a plain-jane ethernet cable. Shame these things dont ship with wireless built-in.

Thats up to your TV. Most HD tv’s have more than a few inputs. The DVR from Dish outputs via component or HDMI. Mine controls two TVs. My main living room TV and then it broadcasts over coax to my bedroom TV in sub-HD quality. I also have an output going to my slingbox via the DVR too.

Only severe storms or especially thick cloud cover. This is true of all satellite technologies.

We’ve got a relatively complicated Dish setup at home with one HD VIP 722 and two single-tuner HD boxes. The good news is that it’s up to Dish to put it all together and make it work.

I was able to re-purpose the cable TV wiring in the house for our install - one important caveat: There can be no splitters in the cable. Our house was wired up in a “home run” style, where the outlet in each room went to a central location that housed an eight-way distribution amp/splitter. By disconnecting all of the cables from that splitter, we were able to use the in-wall wiring. It did take me about an hour to tone and trace the lines to identify which went where.

Once that was done, I was able to have the Dish installer run the cable from the satellite antenna to the desired rooms. The VIP 722 will display HDTV locally, but the output to “room 2” is standard def on UHF channel 60. By using a little doo-lally called a diplexer, the Dish installer can feed that channel 60 signal back out on the same cable that’s coming to the box from the satellite. At the antenna, another diplexer peels Channel 60 off and sends it along on another cable to the other room.

If you have multiple Dish receivers, only one needs to be plugged into a phone line. The other(s) will set up their own private powerline network to share that phone connection. Again, the installer will configure this. AFAIK, the box only grabs the phone line when you order a pay-per-view or Dish On Demand program.

Pretty much the only time I’ve had signal interruption in the past 10+ years was when the weather was so bad (torrential downpour and/or hail) that calmly watching TV was not possible.

Ah, but it is! I do it all the time. But, I had to add a little something special: a TV antenna. There’s a jack on the back of the ViP 722 to which you can attach an antenna, whether it be regular rabbit-ears or (in my case) a big ol’ aerial in your attic. Anyway, adding the antenna gives you, essentially, a third tuner that can record from your local over-the-air channels. It is possible to record three shows at once, if one of them is off the antenna. I highly recommend adding an antenna to a Dish setup if you’re somewhere you can receive local channels; the picture is amazing.

The Dish box won’t interfere with your other devices; I have a lot of stuff plugged in to my TV and Dish box. Is your TV a relatively modern one? That is, does it have HDMI ports? If so, you’re golden; I would recommend connecting the Dish box to your TV via HDMI, and also running some yellow-red-white composite cables from the Dish box to your VCR. You can then connect your VCR to your TV however you please. With this setup, you can watch TV via the HDMI connection (Dish box), and if there’s something you want to save and cherish forever on tape, you just record on your VCR through the “LINE IN” input, or whatever your particular VCR calls it. The downside, as with cable boxes, is that you have to have the Dish box tuned to whatever channel your VCR is recording. You can always just record the show first on your Dish DVR, then play it back to record it on the VCR while you’re off doing something else at a convenient hour.

The phone line thing won’t interfere with your use of your phone; at worst, the box checks for a dial tone at about 4 AM and calls home (to a toll-free number) once a month at that hour.

Here’s one caveat: you might want to do a little research, because sometime this year, Dish, in cooperation with Sling, is preparing to introduce a new DVR that comes with Slingbox-type capabilities. That means that you’d be able to watch Dish TV, and even your recorded programs, from any Internet-connected computer, by logging in to your Dish box through the web. Should be cool, but I haven’t heard of a release date yet. So, if that interests you, you may want to wait a bit.

Yeah, I tried to caveat my statement with the word “typically” because I think most Dish owners don’t also use an antenna. I do, and yes it works fine, but I was trying to restrict my comments to what is probably the “typical” setup.

So yes, you’re right, I was just trying to dumb down my answer to make things less confusing, and I got nailed on a slight inaccuracy. :wink:

I have the Dish DVR, which is combined with the set top box, and so takes no more room. I record both of these every night. I usually walk the dog while recording it, so when I come back and watch I can skip the commercials, which saves a lot of time. You’ll find that you hate to watch things live. The programming has gotten much better also.

We have both a DVD player and VCR hooked into our TV. I thing the VCR is between the set top box and the TV - the DVD player is directly hooked to our TV. We’ve recorded from a program on the DVR to the VCR, so that works, and I suppose you can record to a DVD recorder also. The VCR thinks the DVR is an antenna.
3) I assume I will still be able to connect my own VCR or DVD player to the other video inputs on my TV, right? I have a library of tapes and discs that I still wish to be able to view.

We don’t pay this, and we have never connected a phone line to our DVR - there is no phone nearby, in fact. I think you can call in to order programming, but we’ve never done it.

I live in California, and weather has affected our reception maybe once in five years.

Our kids gave us the DVR for Christmas one year, and it is far cooler than we thought. Beyond the programming convenience, zipping through commercials is awesome. You can watch one recorded show while recording another, and you can watch a DVD while recording. We have the cheap version - I think the more expensive one may let you watch one channel and record another, but I’m not positive. When you watch “normal” TV you are actually watching from the disk, so if you set the channel ahead of time and are late, you can rewind to the beginning of the program. If you arrange to be 10 minutes late, you can watch the show in almost real time while skipping commercials.

Did I mention that I love to skip commercials?

I suggest looking into Direct TV. There’s fewer problems and no hidden charges.

For example, Direct TV doesn’t charge $5 a month if you don’t have a phone line on your box. They do request it, but don’t force the issue. I’ve never had a phone line connected to mine.

Direct TV doesn’t charge for changing your subscription package. Dish does (I think it’s $25).

A good friend of mine is a Satellite installer. They do the big dish, Direct TV and Dish network. He’s often complained about having to fix previous installs of Dish Network. They go the cheapest way possible. He’s been doing this work for 15 years and I think he knows the score.

I’d be willing to bet that the local Dish installer(s) that your friend complains about is a subcontractor paid by the job, so they have an incentive to do quick work. Technicians that are actually employed by Dish seem to be much better and in my experience, are unconcerned with how long the job takes.

I’ve never been charged to change a subscription package, but then I don’t do that sort of thing on any kind of regular basis. If you are dropping all your premium channels, and going to just basic service, I might see where they would, but if you order what you actually want, this should not be a big deal.

Neither is the phone line thing. It’s not tough to wire up an extra jack near your TVs, unless you don’t have a land line I guess.

DirecTV charges more for the same service (well, sort of, they bundle a bunch of other channels that practically no one is interested in, like music channels, and so it ups the channel count but you’re not really getting more useful programming).

I also don’t think it’s anything like impossible to use other DVRs with Dish. TiVo comes with an adapter kit type thing for use with cable or other non-OTA TV, and it’s a bit more cumbersome to use than a standard setup, it’s not terrible.

One more thing - Dish has about the best customer service I’ve ever seen. First, they have an automated system to step you through common problems - and it is smart enough to let you skip things not applicable or that you have already tried. Second, after you get done I’ve never had to wait more than four rings for an agent, they all live in the US, and they have all been helpful and friendly.
They also seem to pay attention to how people use their system. If you have an issue, most of the time rebooting your box fixes it, and they’ve moved that suggestion up from fourth or fifth thing to try to first.

Thank you everyone, there is a lot of great info here. I guess I feel alot more confident about doing this and getting the kind of functionality I am hoping for.


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While everything you say in that post is true, there is a reason to keep some way of recording to physical media. You may want to be able to record something and then take it with you to watch somewhere else. (Specifically if you have a portable DVD player) But, seeing as most people no longer have VCRs, you’re right that recording with one is likely not going to be useful.

Then again, I don’t have a Dish DVR, so I’m assuming they don’t have a USB port and that there’s no way to otherwise access what you’ve already recorded.

What I do know is that Dish has timers, so, if you do want to record a show on a particular channel with an external device, it’s not that hard. You just have to have the TV with the device attached not in use at some point. You can record it live, scheduling both Dish and the device to start at the same time, or you can save to the DVR, and then record the playback later when you aren’t using that TV. (Assuming I’m understanding correctly that both TVs can watch the same channel while the DVR is recording.)

If you call in the evening you’ll get the Philippines. I just spoke to a fellow from there when I replaced by dying DVR the other day. I find the Philipino agents to be more helpful than the US ones, FWIW and both to be a much higher quality than when I was on Directv, where I got a lot of apathetic technophobic southerners.

Oh, they have a USB port, all right. This is one of my complaints about DISH (I have very few). The USB port is disabled on all but the HD DVRs, though. And even then, the only thing you can do is add storage. You cannot play the files on it without a Dish machine, and I think it is tied directly to the Dish machine it was recorded from. So you can’t dump stuff off to take with you at all.

Stupid Dish. Now, AT&T U-Verse is no better. They have a USB port but it’s disabled as well. I think TiVo is the only one that allows you to save off your content, and that’s because their machine is not tied to a content provider. There may be some other home-built DVRs or other mass-market DVRs that allow this, but I am not aware of them. I don’t think you can dump off content with DirecTV or Comcast or Bright House or WOW, either.

Dish users have a forum at with the usual assortment of responses ranging from snarky to technically over most users heads but I think it is worth a try to ask there. Some installers are much better than others so if you give the people on the forum a location they can sometimes help you find a better installer. There is a wide variation in contract packages. Reading the OP I think you might want to consider a “722” but this is somewhat out of my league.

Actually you can - kind of. When our daughter was on GMA we recorded what we saved on the DVR onto our VCR - it records from the DVR just like it does from the TV - which is actually the case, since the DVR is always transmitting from disk, not passing something through. The quality was fine, and I suspect it would have been better with a DVD recorder and better cables. Not quite as convenient as a USB port, true.