DVR Report: DISH Hopper vs. DIRECTV Genie
The DVR tech race is a hotly contested space, but has either provider really pulled ahead? Depends who and when you ask. In this report, we'll compare the key features of each system and let you decide which is most important to you and your family.
For starters, let's cover the basics -- in the chart below, you'll get a quick comparison of some of the most important features/specs. To quickly summarize, the DISH Hopper® Whole-Home DVR lets you save about twice the programming and supports up to 3 more simultaneous recordings (unless you're a power user or have a large household, neither should really make or break your decision). DIRECTV's Genie lets you connect 2 more TVs to your home's network (max of 8) and, in our opinion, has a more intuitive on-screen program guide. Read on for all the details...
(model XiP 813)
SD: 2,000 hrs
SD: 800 hrs
(score vs all other DVRs)
Clearly, this is a very tight race, but given the larger hard drive, AutoHop™ functionality and 3rd party potential, we currently give the edge to the DISH Hopper.
The Genie does a ton of stuff well, highlighted by its superb program guide and easy wireless set-up. We've increased its rating each of the last 5 months (more than any other DVR).
Hard Drive Capacity - Bigger always better?
With some devices, a larger hard drive can actually slow down processing, especially if the CPU isn't equipped to handle heavy load spikes. With satellite TV DVRs, that's generally not an issue. The processors used by both Genie and Hopper are typically fast enough to manage the max stress during simultaneous recording and streaming (i.e., there's rarely any delay or pixelation). So, with satellite DVRs, it's always in your best interest to get the larger drive (of course, provided the price is right). Currently, the Hopper with its 2TB drive is well ahead of the pack. As the Genie (1TB) integrates more efficient components, expect that gap to slowly shrink.
The Aesthetics and Usability of Program Guides
Whether it's a website, flier or DVR guide, design and function are critical to success. With DVR on-screen guides, it's always been a mix of art and science. Anticipating your next move (or gently guiding you) comes with experience. On the flip side, poor user experience can be a VERY frustrating thing... just ask most cable subscribers. Both Hopper and Genie have award-winning guides, but there are subtle differences. Here are a couple tests I ran...
Search function - with the Genie's guide, I found 10 different events (a sporting event, documentary, etc) in an average of 7 sec. DIRECTV has a very clean way of sorting by theme, team name, and more. Hopper took an average of about 10 sec. Not bad, but those seconds add up.
DVR rescheduling - changing the end time or frequency of a previously recorded show/series usually takes a few steps, especially if there's a conflict. We tried it for 5 different recordings on both DIRECTV and DISH (same exact setup on each). DIRECTV took a total of 1 min, 19 sec. while DISH clocked in at a slightly better 1 min, 2 sec.
Wireless DVR networking - What's all the buzz about?
You've probably caught those DIRECTV commercials touting the wireless Genie systems (do marionettes freak anybody else out? :). Clever marketing but is it worth it? First off, "wireless" in this context means a lack of connection from the main Genie box to all Wireless Genie Minis (each Mini still needs 2 wires: a power outlet and connection to the TV). So, if you have a fairly large home, you won't need hundreds of feet of wire to connect 5+ rooms. The only real drawback is reception. If there's an extremely heavy wall or equipment between units, you may experience some buffering. So far, that seems to a very rare situation, so most set-ups should work just fine. Price-wise, an upgrade to wireless will run you a one-time charge of around $100.
Most folks forget DISH actually beat DIRECTV to whole-home wireless by a few months. Coined Wireless Joey, they work in a similar fashion to Genie. Swap in the wireless boxes, setup your network and you're done. Upgrading to wireless costs about $50, plus your regular monthly fees.