Comcast offered me a "standard" cable package for $42 per month, plus a bunch of random taxes and fees. The lineup was unimpressive, and didn't include anything that Comcast considered to be remotely premium... such as the Bravo network. After numerous billing errors and a growing motivation to dump their cable internet service, I started looking around. Because Comcast has a local monopoly, like cable companies usually do, I investigated satellite options.
DirecTV's service is more expensive for most channel lineups, and they require a 1-year contract. A minimum contract on a $50-per-month service that I've never seen or used? Sorry DirecTV, but that's just not worth the risk. Dish Network has no minimum contract, and they were running a free-PVR offer, so I decided to give it a shot. It couldn't possibly be a worse value than Comcast, right?
Amazingly, I was right. For once, I don't despise a monthly service that I have. (Although, to give proper credit in this category, I must admit that my electricity service has always worked too.) Dish Network gives me far more channels than Comcast for $45 per month (plus a bunch of random taxes and fees).
The Dish PVR (or DVR, depending on who you ask) unit they gave me was the DVR-522, a dual-tuner model. In English, this means that you can watch or record any two channels simultaneously. The installation was excellent - two guys came over and stuck the dish next to my building, ran wires inside, routed them neatly along my walls, hooked up the receiver, and even programmed the universal remotes to work with my TV. Nice touch.
So, what's it like to actually use the service and the DVR-522?
The service quality is acceptable, but not perfect. Like all satellite services, the signal can occasionally drop. This is incredibly annoying when it happens during the last 15 minutes of Lost, or similarly intense moments. And, of course, you can't record what you're missing if the signal drops, so you're just out of luck. (Or you can download the episode online and get sued for $150,000.)
Recordings have acceptable quality for casual viewing, but they occasionally have visible compression artifacts - I imagine they're using a very low MPEG-2 bitrate. Sometimes, the audio will drop out for a second in a recording. I have no idea why. And the playback system is buggy. Sometimes, after watching something, it won't let me delete it. "The file is currently in use. Try again later." No, it's not in use. I just pressed Stop, and now I'm pressing Delete. This happens approximately one out of four times I try to delete a show after watching it. Sometimes, a recorded show will be named "0" and consist of 30 minutes of nothing. Sometimes, the DVR-522 will completely refuse to play a particular show, no matter what I do, kicking me back to the menu or freezing completely for a minute or two.
About a month after I got the DVR-522, it decided that its hard drive had "fatal errors" and that it had to scan the drive to fix it - right now. This process took 2 hours (one of them was Lost) and it resulted in... a completely empty hard drive. I lost all of my recorded shows and all settings. Thanks a lot! Great way to "fix" it!
The menu interface has seemingly been designed by the Lotus Notes team. (Anyone who has ever used Lotus Notes has probably just fled the room, screaming.) Everything is buried in many screens of complexity, tons of button pushes are required to do simple tasks, and there's no consistency between screens.
In general, the DVR-522 is incredibly buggy, and I wouldn't wish it upon anyone who doesn't usually use cryptic software with awful interfaces. The sad part is that it has apparently been out since 2003, and it's Dish Network's best mainstream PVR unit.
I'm fine with Dish Network and the DVR-522 for now, but most people should probably consider other options.