I have owned virtually every single Dish Network HD DVR model since the company first began offering them, and its latest ViP722 is the company’s most ambitious offering to date. I’ve been using the 722 for months now in my front projection home theater room and had been using one of the earlier 942 HD DVR models in my den, feeding various displays, including a Pioneer Elite Kuro plasma that resides there today. But, a recent notice from Dish spurred me to swap it out for another 722, as the 942 isn’t able to receive MPEG-4-encoded channels, and Dish’s notice indicated that as they migrate away from MPEG-2 encoding to the more bit-efficient MPEG-4 standard in the race to add more HD channels, older Dish HD boxes would eventually have to be swapped out for newer ones.
The installers who brought my second ViP722 also noted that I was using three of the older Dish satellite dishes in order to get my programming. Down came all three and up went a single, recently introduced multi-satellite dish (Dish model 1000.2) that gives me access to all of their new HD programming. With just the one dish up there now, my house no longer presents the look of an NSA listening post as it did before.
The ViP722 is essentially a pumped-up version of the ViP622 model, with the principal distinction being a larger hard drive (500MB, compared to the 622’s 250MB). That, and the black cabinet cosmetics are two key differences.
The 722 features three on-board tuners— two for satellite and one for digital over-the-air (OTA). As Dish doesn’t yet offer local HD channels service for my area, I’ve been receiving them instead via an antenna installed in my attic. Unlike some earlier Dish HD DVR models, however, the 722’s OTA tuner receives digital channels only. This is a problem where I live in Palm Springs, California, as the local CBS affiliate has stubbornly and steadfastly refused to begin OTA digital broadcasting and will probably wait until the very last minute next February before they throw that switch.
I also noted that while the 722 had no problems receiving my local digital channels, the program guide provided no information other than displaying “Digital Service” in the guide boxes for those channels. When the second 722 arrived, I inquired about this, and found out that if I subscribed to Dish Network’s local SD channels package (which is offered in my area), the program guide info would show up for the OTA digital stations. They flipped that switch at their end, and within a minute, voila—I got program guide info for my OTA locals. Without the program guide info, the DVR functionality was essentially useless with the OTA channels. I had to start and stop recording manually, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of having a DVR in the first place. Now if I want to watch an HD show on one channel, I can record another OTA show as easily as I can with the satellite channels, or set the box to record an OTA program in advance.
The 722 features expandable recording time by allowing an external hard drive to be connected to one of its two USB ports. Dish charges a one-time fee of $39.99 to activate this feature, though. Prior to putting the older (and now essentially obsolete) 942 into our local electronics recycling program, I popped open the cover and removed the perfectly good 250MB hard drive and installed it into an external hard drive case I had purchased (cheap, at about $33). Once again, Dish flipped a switch at their Colorado HQ, and I was able to connect the hard drive to the 722. The initial set-up process did require that the 722 re-format the drive, however, wiping whatever stored programs I had on it. Now, I’ve got about 80 hours of HD recording capability with that second drive connected, and playback is as clean and stutter-free as it is with the 722’s internal drive. There’s another USB port behind a flip door on the front panel, and it can be used for a second external hard drive, or a USB thumb drive for viewing photos, or streaming SD content to Dish’s PocketDISH and Archos-branded portable media players.
The 722’s dual satellite tuners offer two operating modes. For a single room setup, you can watch and record two different programs at once. The second zone mode allows HD and SD DVR capability in the main room, with an RF output dedicated to a second room (that output is SD only, however). The 722 comes with two identically designed remote controls, but one of them offers both RF and IR functionality and would be the remote control used in the second room to control the box in the main room. Or, in single room mode, that RF functionality would allow the box to be hidden away in a cabinet.
The rear panel Ethernet connection provides a number of benefits, including phone-home-to-the-mothership capability. Previous Dish boxes required a phone line connection, as the box won’t operate unless it can call home daily to company HQ and report PPV (pay-per-view) activity as well as caller ID location info. While the 722 will operate without a phone line, Dish advises that to activate all of the 722’s programming functionality, both an Ethernet as well as a phone line connection are required. Their installers carry Ethernet adapters and Home Plug AC powerline/telephone adapters, in case your home doesn’t have phone jacks in every room, and the price is a reasonable $49, installed.