Dish Network has rolled out a great selection of HD (High Definition) DVRs and HD set-top boxes for their customers over the last several years. The ViP722/ViP622 and ViP222 DVR's were reviewed earlier in the LA Audio File and the performance we experienced was excellent. We recently took the ViP211k HD set-top box for a spin and found some interesting capabilities hidden within this unit. The ViP211k is a standard HD receiver with a single satellite tuner, but also includes an over-the-air ATSC tuner for terrestrial broadcasts. This HD satellite receiver is perfect for those with a single HDTV and has a sleek modern look that includes some of the latest decoding technologies.
Dish Network ViP211k satellite receiver is capable of decoding both MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video
supporting both standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) content with 5.1 audio if available.
Unlike some of the other models offered by Dish, the ViP211k supports only a single satellite channel or over-the-air terrestrial channel. Not all users will take advantage of the ATSC tuner and will opt for paying the extra monthly fee for local channels beamed down from the satellites. However, customers with a terrestrial antenna (rooftop or indoor) can use this box to gain access to local HD and SD channels for free. Four different output resolutions are supported (480i, 480p, 720p, and 1080i). The slim design does not require a fan and runs much quieter than some of the other more powerful receivers from Dish Network. As a stand-alone digital receiver, the ViP211k provides customers with excellent video quality from the many HD channels being offered by Dish Network. Of course, all standard definition programming can be viewed as well.
The ViP211 was connected to a Dish 1000 unit mounted
on the side of our roof. This is the same dish we used with the ViP722 unit we
reviewed early last year. While only
one output from the Dish 1000 was used with the ViP211k receiver, three additional outputs
are available for other receivers, thanks to the built-in multi-switch. All three
LNB's on the Dish 1000 are enclosed into a single sealed unit connected to the arm of the dish assembly.
Pointing the dish correctly can be difficult especially for the multi-satellite units where proper bearing, elevation, and tilt is required. Having
a professional install the dish can save you a big headache and be a great time
saver, especially for those lacking experience in this area.
The ViP211k has just a handful of buttons that control Power, System Info, Channel Up/Down and Select. The extensive menus in the ViP211k cannot be controlled from these front buttons and they were never used by us except for testing purposes. Pressing and holding the Power button resets the unit in the event it becomes erratic. We never encountered any problems that required this function. The left side of the receiver has a flip-down panel with a slot for the smart card.
The ViP211k rear panel has three F-connectors, two of which are inputs and one
that is an output. The ATSC antenna/cable input is designed to receive over-the-air
or cable 8-VSB digital signals, which means local high-definition broadcasts can
be received with this unit. We connected our large Terk TV38 terrestrial rooftop antenna and received a very
strong signal from Mount Wilson. The satellite
input came from our triple LNB Dish 1000 antenna. The RF output
can modulate the baseband RF signal (Audio/Video) on a select number of channels, but we never tested this output due to limited video resolution.
Standard A/V outputs (Composite video, s-video, L/R Audio) are provided. The analog component
(Y/Pb/Pr) and digital HDMI outputs support all available video rates (480i/480p/720p/1080i).
The optical toslink
output carries the digital audio to the preamplifier or receiver and fully supports
5.1 audio for those programs that carry it. There is also a telephone jack, ethernet jack, and USB 2.0 port. Our ViP211k review unit was connected to a Mitsubishi LT-52148 52-inch LCD display.
Network requires that the phone line be connected to the receiver and if you happen
to have caller ID from your phone company, the phone number and caller identification
is displayed on the screen when the phone rings. This is a great feature when watching television and the phone rings. A call history is stored
for reference and can be manually cleared by the user.
over-the-air high definition channels can also be viewed on the
ViP211k thanks to the built-in ATSC tuner. Picture quality for these
free local HD/SD channels is excellent. Setup is easy and our box found 80 local channels from our rooftop antenna. As an alternative to installing an external terrestrial antenna, customers can pay an additional
$5 per month for local channels and get the content through the satellite along with the Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) information on local shows. While it is not necessary to have the EPG to watch
local content, it makes it much easier to see what shows are available in your area.
The ViP211k universal infrared (IR) 4-component
remote control can be programmed to operate up to
3 additional devices (TVs, VCR's, DVD players). The remote includes buttons for full DVR control (if enabled on the ViP211k) to quickly navigate
forward and backwards through the prerecorded programs. The 30-second Skip
Forward and 10-second Skip Back buttons provide the user with a fast
and efficient way of moving through the recorded content. Additional controls
include Stop, Play, Record, Forward and Reverse (4x, 15x, 60x, 300x), slow motion and frame-by-frame (forward and back). Unfortunately, the remote is
not backlit, so you will be out of luck when the lights go out. The dedicated TV power button comes in handy.
The ViP211k cross-converts
all sources to the selected output rate. For example, SD content can be displayed
using the HD outputs, but it will certainly not look like an HD picture unless
the source is truly HD. The HD signals are output in the form of analog component
video as well as digital HDMI.
Dish Network has been steadily increasing the number of HD channels being offered to their customers. They currently have a comprehensive lineup of HD channels that cover a wide variety of sports, movies, concerts, news, lifestyle
and family entertainment.
Instant DVR - Just Add Hard Drive
Dish Network has a great new feature that allows ViP211k customers
to plug in an off-the-shelf external USB 2.0 hard drive and instantly turn their HD receiver into a full featured DVR. Dish customers have to pay a one-time "Activation
Fee" of $39.99 for this service. It is a small price to pay to get the powerful DVR functions. Once configured,
customers will be able to make use of the DVR controls on the remote. In fact, the operation of the DVR was virtually identical to that of the more expensive ViP722 DVR we use in our theater room. Once you use this feature on the Dish box there is no going back. The flexibility and power it offers customers is amazing. Even when watching live TV, skipping back to see something you missed is easy as all of the content is being buffered into memory in real-time. Giving customers the option to upgrade their box with the DVR features is what Customer Service is all about.
Connecting Hard Drive
Once the DVR feature is enabled, simply connect an off-the-shelf external hard drive between 50 GB and 750 GB to the unit. We connected one of our inexpensive 500GB external USB 2.0 hard drives (Calvary CAUE37500) to the rear USB port of the unit. There is also a front USB port, but using the rear port helps to minimize clutter and allows users to hide the drive. Most external hard drives have a light that flashes when the drive is being accessed and this can be annoying when watching movies in a dark setting. If all goes well the ViP211k should recognize the drive that was connected and check for compatibility.
Once the ViP211k receiver determines the connected drive is compatible, the unit will need to be restarted for the DVR functions to become active. This can take several minutes as the unit restarts. Our external 500GB hard drive gave the ViP211K the ability to become a full featured DVR with room for 200 hours of standard definition content and 30 hours of high definition content. The DVR button on the remote gave us access to features that were not available on the original ViP211k.
Choosing a program to record is as simple as selecting it in the Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) and choosing from All Episodes, New Episodes, Once, Weekly, Daily or Mon-Fri. Recorded programs are listed under My Recordings on the DVR screen. Program information along with the recorded length are displayed on the screen.
The high definition video quality produced by the ViP211k is stunning and the unit is very easy to control with an intuitive user interface. Watching programs has never been so simple with Dish's Electronic Programming Guide. No longer do customers have to waste time waiting for their favorite shows since
the ViP211k can now be upgraded to provide full DVR functionality.
We have had the ViP211k installed for 2 months in our system and it has performed flawlessly for us during that time. The intuitive user interface makes it easy for anyone to operate the receiver and DVR features. Selecting programs to record with the
DVR is a simple process using the Electronic Programming Guide. The ability to store large amounts of data
(both high definition and standard definition) to the external hard drive through
the USB 2.0 interface is a great feature. Dish should be commended on their ability to provide their customers with the exceptional upgrade path.