One of the perennial questions we get at CNET is this: "I get my TV via an over-the-air antenna. Is there a noncable, nonsatellite DVR I can buy that doesn't require a service fee?" The answers were few and far between. TiVo works great with over-the-air TV, but that unit does require a monthly/yearly/lifetime fee. You can set up a Windows Media Center PC (with a DTV tuner attachment), but that's a rather elaborate solution for most folks. DVD recorders are one possibility, but they generally don't have onscreen program guides, and they can't record in HD. The truly geeky, meanwhile, can try their luck with a DIY Myth TV installation.
In fact, the only product that really fit the bill was the Dish Network DTVPal DVR. Despite the "Dish Network" moniker, the product had nothing to do with satellite service: you bought it for a flat fee, hooked it up to an antenna, and you were good to go. It had a rudimentary program guide, and you could record up to 30 hours of HD video on its internal 250GB drive. When we tested it in March 2009, we found it to be serviceable, but a bit glitchy. More problematic, though, was the fact that it was very hard to get; you could only buy it directly from Dish. Worse, the product only came with a 90-day warranty, and there was no real return policy. It almost seemed like Dish Network (and/or its sibling company, EchoStar) wasn't really interested in selling or marketing the product, even after it had debuted it with much fanfare at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show (where it debuted as the EchoStar TR-50, and CNET picked it as the best home video product of the show).
Given the product's rocky history, then, it was not a surprise to read (at AVS Forum, as highlighted by Zatz Not Funny) that the DTVPal was being discontinued. But here's the punchline to the story: the very same product appears to be still available under a different name. Behold the Channel Master CM-7000PAL. It appears to be identical in everything but name. The product retails for $400, but can be found on Amazon for closer to $350. And Channel Master appears to offer a more standard one-year warranty (with the submission of a registration card, at least). (Meanwhile, the original DTVPal DVR is still available at closeout prices of around $250--but that seems like a roll of the dice to save $100, given the warranty/return situation.)
When we asked about it earlier this year, here's what EchoStar's spokesman said:
"EchoStar Technologies, part of EchoStar Corporation, designed the DTV Pal products and sold them through DISH Network up until last year. We then picked up new channel partners Sears and soon, Channel Master, to sell the DTV Pal DVR. Channel Master will align their version of the DTV Pal DVR, the CM-7000Pal, along with their antenna products through their retail outlets later this month. Dish Network has since stopped selling the DTV Pal products."
Is the CM-7000PAL still a viable over-the-air DVR? Assuming the company plans to keep it on the market, we're going to rereview it to find out as soon as possible. (Hopefully, some firmware updates have fixed stability and usability issues since our last experience with the product.) In the meantime, if anyone else has any hands-on experience--with the Dish or Channel Master-branded versions--please share them in the comments below.