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DTVPal converter box: The good—and bad—news

Consumer Reports News: July 02, 2008 06:19 PM

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The EchoStar TR-40, a DTV converter box announced by Dish Network six months ago, sparked a lot of interest among consumers because of its long list of wanted features and proposed $40 price tag.

But the TR-40 still hasn't hit the market. And consumers (myself, included) who were the first to request the government's $40 DTV subsidy have to use their coupons before they expire in coming weeks.

Frustrating as that is, there is some good news. Dish Network, which recently split off its satellite-TV services to EchoStar (now a separate company), has started selling a new $60 DTV converter: the DTVPal. (Click on image at right for a closer look.) This new DTV converter box model offers some of the TR-40's sought-after features, including:

  • Analog pass-through
  • A searchable seven-day electronic programming guide
  • An "events" timer that automatically changes channels, allowing your VCR or DVD recorder to record multiple shows across many days—channel 4 on 8.pm. Thursday, channel 7 on 9 p.m. Friday, channel 2 on 5 a.m. Sunday, etc.

We've bought a few DTVPal units and will be taking a closer look at them soon. We're eager to find out how this box stacks up against other converter boxes we've tested. So far, reviews of the Dish Network DTVPal on other blogs seem to be quite positive.

But there is some bad news, too…

The bad news

Like other DTV converter boxes, the DTVPal has a few issues that may cause consumers further angst.

  • Price. Its suggested retail price of $60 means that even after the $40 government coupon is applied, consumers will still have to shell out $20 (plus local sales tax).
  • A confusing name. "Dish Network" is a brand name better known for subscription-based satellite TV service—which is now run by EchoStar, a totally separate company. "DTV" is also an acronym for DirecTV, the other satellite TV service. And "Pal" could be mistaken for the television standard used in Europe and other parts of the world. Run them all together and it's easy to see how confusion can arise.
    (I personally called a local retailer—twice—asking for this specific model, by full name. Both times I was told the store had it and I could pick two up. Upon arrival at the store, I was given a Dish Network satellite TV box. When I corrected the salesperson, I was told the store only carried one brand of DTV converters and Dish Network "doesn't make DTV converters.")
  • Limited availability. Retailers are having a hard time keeping DTV converters, in general, on hand. And some are having particular difficulties stocking DTVPals, specifically. Consumers can purchase units directly from Dish Network's Web site (www.dtvpal.com) and via a toll-free order line (1-888-638-9912). Both are set up to accept the $40 DTV coupons, but buying direct will incur an additional $9 shipping and handling fee per box ordered.

The take away: If your $40 coupons are about to expire and you really need a box that allows you to program VCR recordings, the DTVPal is the only option available—for now. Just be prepared to shell out some cash for "free" digital TV. But if you can afford to wait (i.e. your coupons don't expire until October), you might want to keep dreaming of the TR-40 or some other $40 box.

For more help in deciding which DTV converter box is right for you, see our free "Guide to DTV converter boxes" on ConsumerReports.org.

—Paul Eng

Paul Eng

   

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