The Dish Network DTVPal DVR ($250) tries to fill the niche penny-pinching home theater enthusiasts have been looking for--an HD DVR that records free over-the-air HDTV, but without the costly monthly fees of the TiVo HD.
The DTVPal gets around the monthly fee problems by relying on the program data provided with standard DTV signals and also tapping into TV Guide On Screen data if it's available in your area. However, in this case you get what you pay for, as the program data just isn't as reliable as the info you'd get from TiVo or your cable/satellite provider. We were also disappointed to see the DTVPal uses timer-based recordings rather than name-based recordings. Most DVRs offer name-based recordings, so you can tell it to record all the new episodes of "30 Rock," and the DVR will adjust its recording schedule accordingly. With the DTVPal DVR, all you can tell it is to record every Thursday at 9:30 on NBC.
Even if you're willing to put up with those limitations, Dish's skimpy return/warranty policy (all sales are final, only a 90-day warranty) will have you second-guessing. Add in all the troubling online reports of crashes and reboots, and the DTVPal DVR starts to look like a risky buy. We really wanted to like the DTVPal DVR's cheapskate style, but Dish's stingy return/warranty policy makes it really hard to recommend.