Hughes HR10-250, DirecTV HDTV TiVo, review

September 6, 2004

hdtv-tivoIt’s been almost six months since I delivered a HDTV TiVo to a client, and I didn’t really have a lot of time to examine the inner workings of it. It was a HDTV DirecTV receiver and it was a TiVo, that’s all my client really cared about. Well, I just received another and this time I don’t have to rush it out to a client, just yet.

For those of you who have (1) been under a rock for the last year or (2) didn’t have any interest in such a device until now, I’ll go over the basics of the Hughes HR10-250 (otherwise known as the HDTV TiVo) The HR10-250 is a high definition DirecTV receiver with a built in TiVo recording system, Manufactured by Hughes for DirecTV

The unit Records a maximum of 30 hours of HDTV (unmodified) or 250 hours of standard definition television. supported recording resolutions are 1080i, 720p, 480p or 480i. The device has all the necessary connection points one would need, an optical Dolby Digital output, RGB component video and HDMI output as well as composite and S-Video. Of course users without a HDMI connection to their display device can user adaptors such as Gefens HDMI to DVI Adapter or an adapter cable such as Monster’s VADVIHDMISL Male DVI to Female HDMI Adapter, basic adaptors are included however. The unit also has a serial infrared out and two USB connections.

The graphical user interface is pure TiVo, when you really get down to the nuts and bolts of why TiVo has been such a powerhouse in the DVR world, it’s the GUI, most everyone can implement a recording codec that offers roughly the same video quality, but its Tivo and their “look and feel” that defined the market and separated the major players from the imitators.

Ok, with the unit set up (after some finagling of an antenna feed from a neighbor) I was off, as many of you know I’m a Voomer, and hi-def satellite isn’t new to me, but HD DirecTV was in so much as I’ve never had it at home, much less for a review. I have to say I did find my self keying in Voom channels from habit, and obviously they weren’t found as DirecTV doesn’t offer the same line up as Voom, once I acclimated my self to the channel list I was off and ready to start recording.

I started off by checking out HBO HDTV, SHOWTIME HDTV, Discovery HD Theater, all of which looked great, as well as HDNet and HDNet Movie, the last two which I spent the most time with as they were new to me, and hey I like checking out new stuff as much as the next guy. I was really impressed with HDNet and HDNet movies, and those two networks pretty much took the lion’s share of my recording time, during the review.

First off I was floored to see The Razor’s Edge in hi-def, one of my all time favorite movies (highly recommended if you like seeing Bill Murray do drama, as well as comedy). My DVD copy of this flick really leaves a lot to be desired, but the transfer looked really good, not as great as one might hope, but still leaps and bounds better than any other medium, readily available. The film is nearly 20 years old now, but seeing it in HD was really a treat. My default recording resolution was 720p, as this seemed to offer the best picture quality during playback. Upon playback ( I actually watched the whole thing through the first time) I was really impressed, to my eyes I noticed no visible picture deterioration, sans one transmission blip that was in the original signal not a byproduct of recording. So for this first test, the HDTiVo performed beyond my expectations. Ah I can’t wait for Voom to release their DVR… more on that later.

Moving on I caught A Clockwork Orange, for a little bit o’ that ultra violence, on HDNet Movies. Another ‘classic” admittedly but once you see enough film to high definition transfers, you get a “feel” of how to gauge the overall quality, again great transfer, bright vivid colors and deep dark black levels. This again was a real treat and really begs the question, if recording in home for personal use, falls under the fair use model, wouldn’t it be nice to have some sort of “hard copy’ backup ability? The ability to save your favorite films in hi-definition via satellite to say a Blu-Ray disc, for a nominal fee. This could even be a new business model for content providers. With the added side benefit of freeing up that valuable hard drive space. I’ll gladly take a royalty on that idea if I was first, yeah right……

Lastly I caught some concert footage on True Music with a smattering of bands I was unfamiliar with, and one I knew quite well, Stellastarr* (my favorite album of 2004 although I was slow getting on board as it was released in 2003) the sound quality both live and recorded was great, and since the footage was video based, it really showed off the recorded picture quality quite well. There really was no perceivable difference in live and recorded.

As for off air tuning, I used the off air split from my Channel Master 3010/Voom setup, and in just a few minutes I was receiving a near mirror of the same off air channels, that my Voom receiver provided, minus a few local “rebroadcast” of duplicate content. Perhaps the Hughes off air tuner was a tad less sensitive, but it didn’t miss any of the important channels.

Ok, so what did I learn, well the Hughes HR10-250 is a solid performer, no question of that, but the real question when shopping for a HD receiver/recorder combo is the programming itself. No matter how flawlessly a recorder performs, if the content isn’t what you’re after, then why bother. As this was also my first real in home hands on with DirecTV’s hi-def content, as well as the Hughes 10-250, I have to say I was impressed, the HDNet channels alone, offered some programming I was excited by, If Voom offered this channel I would be elated, however the fact they don’t (yet) still doesn’t mitigate their other programming. With Voom’s DVR a month to two month’s away by most reports, I’ll reserve final judgment on this comparison until then, so the real question between DirecTV and Voom, still boils down to the same one used pretty much since Voom launched.

If HDTV and HDTV content alone is your deciding factor on which service to buy, then Voom is still the hands down winner. However if you must have all the same channels your accustomed to in a satellite TV package and the ability to TiVo them, then the combination of the Hughes HR10-250 and the DirecTV hi-def package is hard to beat (right now) . I’ll revisit this review when the long awaited Voom DVR finally hits my door.

Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Reviews