Hands On With DTVPal


On the way to dinner with TiVoShanan last night, I swung by my former office for a few minutes and received a sneak peak of the upcoming EchoStar/DISH Network DTVPal. It won’t be the first digital-to-analog converter, nor will it likely be the last when it launches mid-month. And as you can see from one of the pics below, DTVPal’s footprint has been substantially reduced since the product originally debuted as the ‘TR-40’ at CES. I’ve already met my weekly rant quota, so I’ll spare you my thoughts on the digital transition spectrum auction.


UPDATE – DISH sent me a unit, so I’ve shot some initial unboxing and setup videos:

87 thoughts on “Hands On With DTVPal”

  1. This is Dish’s converter box for people who use antennas!

    My God Man, tell us more! You know there is an entire online community just waiting to know if this box can come close to meeting our expectations!

  2. I think the confusion comes in due to the branding of the device as a Dish Network device. Typically you think Disk Network, and you think satellite. But the 2nd and 3rd picture both show the Disk Network logo on the Program Guide screen, even though it has nothing to do with Disk Network programming.

  3. They are selling this device as a loss leader to get Dish branding and functionality ingrained in the brains of those of us who use antennas. They feel that, when we upgrade, we will then be more likely to choose Dish as our content supplier.

  4. It’s branded EchoStar/DISH but has nothing to do directly with satellite television. It’s meant to enable NTSC (analog, SD) televisions using antennas to receive digital (ATSC) broadcasts without buying a new set. (The drop dead date to switch the broadcast is February 2009.) The program guide information comes over-the-air and is provided by the local broadcasters. There’s a government subsidy in play to the tune of $40 (link embedded above) which will offset the cost of these devices.

    Partsman_ba, I have no idea what the expectations are – I would think the critical info is how well does it tune/receive HD channels compared to the competition and I’ve spent next to no time looking at the various models. I’m the wrong demographic…

  5. I would’ve liked to have heard your rant about the theft of the public airwaves. Other than that. The DTVPal looks like the best CECB box so far.

  6. The main things we are interested in:

    Programming search
    Event timer operation – no other box has this feature
    (see Tim’s post above)
    Ease of setup
    Adding/Subtracting channels – only done automatically, or can it be done one at a time
    and of course, ASTC tuning performance, picture and sound decoding quality.

    I’m sure some other folks will have more questions from AVSforum!

  7. Is the “Downloading Guide” screen part of the initial setup?

    Is it passive after the initial download or do you have to run this again?

    However, if it is not passive and does need to be run happens if you don’t?

    Will the Guide only show the channels you watch as you have tuned to them to get the PSIP data or will it be useless until the “Guide Download” has been run.

  8. tim- i’m sure all your questions will be soon answered. only one or two more weeks!!!

    everything you want it to do it does…

  9. Been waiting for this model to use with my OTA connected Series 2 TiVo once the new software update (from TiVo) comes out later this summer…
    Hey, I just thought about something… TiVo and Echostar together again…

  10. MZ, nice you helped identify some WP gallery/image flakiness. (it’s visible when I’m logged in) Not sure if I care enough to file a bug report. ;) (loaded photo to TwitPic instead) Also, the comments plugin was deactivated – not something I consciously did. Though I have been adding/subtracting other comment-related plugins/services. Hmmm…

  11. I read reviews of some other boxes and they haven’t been very good, so hopefully Sling did a better job. Although, I have no use for it, so I didn’t even bother requesting coupons.

    P.S. Dave, next time you infiltrate your old place of employment, may I suggest “borrowing” Catcher and HD? :)

  12. There’s only one question regarding the DTVpal which counts:

    Will it reach the market and when?

    (Okay, you can count it as two questions, if you wish.)

  13. Ivan, Sling is helping with the retail push but as far as I know the boxes are independent Echo engineering. As far as other Sling goodies and info, I’d like to think that I’m one of the most well-connected non-employees…

    Tim, the guide download photographed was not part of the initial setup. The photos are actually of two separate boxes – one had already been configured and when I pulled up the guide it downloaded new/more info. Not sure how often that occurs. I won’t be back in the office for awhile, but I’ll see if I can have someone send me a few more photos of the interface.

  14. I too would like more info on the event timer.

    Also, does this work with cable tv as well? I’d like to get the DTV sub-carrier channels and be able to pass those signals out via the RCA jacks to a recorder of some kind. (VCR, DVDR, analog PVR)

  15. Still we would like more info on when and where the DTVPAL will be available to us (the general public). A better and cheaper product is always welcome.

  16. dorlia2 – One chain store that will carry this box is Ultimate Electronics

    Dave Zatz – I was looking and think the DTVPal looks very similar to the DISH 322 Satellite Receiver.

    Did you ever see any of the other fuctions of the DTVPal and can comment on the similarity because you don’t have access to the DTVPal and won’t be back in the Sling office for awhile?

  17. Dave, thanks for this info. Glad to see you on the AVSforum thread – see what I meant about the interest? If you can see your way clear to visiting your former office again, we would truly appreciate it.

    Maybe you can add some (former) insider insight into what retailers we may expect to carry this box? As Tim said, we have only one brick-and-mortar that has any knowledge of carrying the unit, and Dish’s customer service folks have no idea.

  18. I live in Texas. I hope there is a chain store in Texas that carries it. It would be even better if the chain store was one in the DFW area…

  19. Marriner @ DBSTalk said:
    Charlie Chat Announces that DTVpal will be available on 6-19-2008 for $59

    What is Charlie Chat?
    Charlie Chat is a live monthly TV show broadcast on channel 101, just for DISH Network subscribers.

    I am not a Dish Network subscriber but would love is someone could post this on YouTube

    I don’t get this price raise.

  20. Originally Posted by dweber @ satelliteguys.us
    On the Charlie Chat they mentioned that the DTVPal would be available on June 19th for $59. Charlie then mentioned that another model would be available after testing for $39.99. Does anybody have any idea what are he differences between these 2 units?

    Looks like more people than just Marriner are reporting this price change.

    Now I have two new questions:
    1. What is Dish Network Testing?
    2. What is the other model?

  21. SatelliteGuys.US

    Charlie Chat 6/9/08

    Hosts: Charlie Ergen and Eric Sahl

    When the DTVPal converter will be available?
    A: about June 19th $59, waiting on a $39 box to be approved.

    We will offer an installation service for those that cannot install the digital converters, we offer a locals channels only package for $9.99 a month. Our website will have information on this.

    There were two images of the DTVPal
    1. http://www.satelliteguys.us/attachment.php?attachmentid=25600&d=1213076040

    2. http://www.satelliteguys.us/attachment.php?attachmentid=25602&d=1213076040


  22. Tim, it’s not cool to post Francie’s email address and phone number here, on AVS Forum, etc and encouraging all of the Internet to contact her. She handles press relations – which doesn’t apply to most of the people you’re sending her way.

  23. Thank you! It is nice to see real photos, at long last. I haven’t seen a press release since January, when it was free with coupon and coming out in March. I hope they didn’t take 3 extra months and spend 50% more just to make it smaller. It will be lost in the darkness of the VCR shelf, anyway.

    Anybody know what the planned difference is between the June model and the “free” one? Or what they will be changing inside, to get the price down? CECB approval is so slow, nobody with current coupons could get one free anymore. If we knew where to stand in line on June 19th, we might get lucky and pay $20 with coupon, instead of $40 without.

  24. DaveZatz I wanted to thank you for offering to ask other Sling friends for more DTVPal pictures.

    Scott Greczkowski a Staff Member at satelliteguys.us has posted another review full of pictures and impressions so they might not be needed after all.


    I do have to say is most of my DTVPal curiosity has ended as has he has confirmed just about everything including the use of Analog TVGuide.

    The only thing that remains is if Charlie Chat was correct about the price hike.

    Either way I would say that this definitely sounds like the best one to get.

    Scott even said:
    I am very pleased that the DTVPal is picking up every one of the digital channels listed on AntennaWeb.Org on the yellow and red category! I have done this test with a Zenith DTV converter and an RCA DTV converter and did not have this kind of success in my office.

    This also says a lot for the DTVPal regarding it’s sensitivity.

    Thank you again DaveZatz
    I have also been removing all of the contact info for Francie, sorry I used here but I didn’t know who else to post.

  25. Dave thank you for the videos.

    I was wondering why you didn’t show “Point Antenna” in your Setup, Part 1?

    I am sure for most OTA viewers that get a clear signal in Analog don’t need to run it so Continue would be fine.

    For those who don’t get a clear signal in Analog pointing the antenna could help those viewers who are in a fringe area.

    Thank You Dave and Sling Media for sending you the box.

  26. A few things that were left out. Can the remote control turn your TV on and off? And how is the volume controled via the remote, through the box or your TV?

  27. @Ryan The remote only controls the DTVPal. So, no, it won’t turn the TV on or off. However you can adjust the volume up/down, though it’s specific to what the unit is outputting to the television.

  28. I’ve watched your videos and if this was covered, I missed it and I apologize.

    If you do *NOT* have a TV Guide-On-Screen device or a Guide Plus device, can the timers in the unit be used to make recordings on a VCR?

    The manual segment posted on satelliteguys only discusses TVGOS option.

    Is there one timer, or are there multiple as there are in older VCR’s?

  29. @Stuck Not sure about the VCR question… I’m not really getting how a VCR would control this. Guess it’s an IR blaster of some sort, though I don’t think there’s any way to do it in the other direction. It did look like multiple timers can be set – so you should be able to manually schedule multiple VCR recordings and the DTVpal would change channels at the appropriate time.

  30. Stuck/Dave:

    What you would do is hook one of your DTVpals to your VCR. Program the box to switch to the show at the proper time, then program your VCR to record whatever Line In you hook the box to, or channel 3/4 if you have a REALLY old VCR. Double your programming, but at least it will work for multiple shows!

    BTW, you will probably have to turn off that auto shutdown feature or no recordings.

    Then, with your other DTVpal, you can watch some other program!

  31. Thanks Dave/partsman. This is EXACTLy what I hoped would be possible. I knew I’d have to program both devices to (VCR) record on ch3/(CECB)to change to the digital channel.

    I’m glad to know the DTVPAL has multiple timer settings. Do you know how many? The VCR has 8. If they matched it would be beyond perfect.

    I’ve had no experience recording using any method other than putting in a date/times/channel etc. Since the DTVPAL (and all CECB AFAIK) have no date or time setting as does a VCR, I needed to understand that the programming from the EPG would in effect, set those parameters.

    BTW – my VCR isn’t that old, just inexpensive but still very functional. All I use it for is time-shifting so I need nothing fancy.

    Now, I just have to get my hands on the DTVPAL and find a cable friend to get coupons. :( Mine expired, unused. I wasn’t about to buy useless junk at any price.

  32. NBC in DC does broadcast on channel 4, but only in analog, so no surprise that the box couldn’t find it when you tried to add it manually. It broadcasts in digital on channel 48 (675.25 MHz) so I wonder what would have happened had you tried to add 48 manually. How high would the signal strength meter have gone?

    Note that through the magic of “DTV virtual channels” the channel number displayed to the user is not necessarily the channel number on which it is broadcast. Most television stations choose a virtual channel number that matches their ANALOG channel number. (Last time I checked, the only DC-area station that wasn’t doing this was ABC out of Baltimore, which showed channel 52, not 11. That was a while ago, so things may have changed.)

  33. Thanks for the pics and YouTube videos Dave. I noticed the onscreen keyboard in the your videos (as seen in this picture captured from your video by Malouff and posted at avsforum.com):


    You apparently used the directional buttons to select keys and type on that keyboard, but I’m guessing that you would have been able to use the remote to type text like a cell phone keypad. Note that it has letter characters above the numbers. It even has # and * keys on either side of the 0.

    I also wonder if one of the # or * key can be used to enter the dot or dash for a subchannel, such as “17.2” or “17-2”. (Maybe the DTVPal would use “17-02”, unlike most converter boxes.)

  34. Thanks Dave! This was an exhaustive and informative review of this new Digital Tuner you gave and clears up many speculative posts.
    The videos you created covered all features just marvelously. I thought the signal bar nested in the Set-Up menu was a plus for sure. Kind of gives you a better idea of how to position you antenna for optimum strength even before you hunt for channels. All vendors should take note. Truly amazing the reception you got even with just a single telescopic element. I am thuroughly impressed:’ Hoping you are able to review the upcoming TR50 (propossed model) box that was shown at this years CES show. The addition of a HD matched with a unit with these features should be a sure winner.

  35. Does the DtvPal have CC2 (closed caption 2)?? for spanish subs? I can’t seem to find this info anywhere.

  36. @MArcela It turns out that there’s quite a few CC options (which I didn’t cover in the videos). Color, font, font size, opacity, etc can be adjusted. Additionally, it looks like I have a choice of 1-6 for CC services.

  37. According to the automated response from tr40@slingmedia.com and FreeDTVShop.

    The DTVPal (TR-40) and TR-50 are now ONLY available through the DISH Network Sales organization.

    This would be only retailers using Echosphere which is DISH Networks distributor.

    Dave do you have any way of finding out what retailer/retailers will carry the DTVPal?

    Thank you

  38. Stuck In The 70’s:

    I didn’t mean to demean your VCR – the whole reason I’m interested in this box is to keep functionality on MY VCR. What I was saying about old VCR’s was that they didn’t have composite inputs (RCA jacks). Your inexpensive newer one should have them, in which case you would want to hook up the DTVpal to those inputs (L1 or something like that, just below channel 2) to get the best signal going to your tape. You will eliminate an unnecessary conversion/decoding of NSTC that way.

  39. DTVPAL looks like a great product. The only converter box which allows programmable recording (as far as I know). Why are they so secretive about where it will be sold?

  40. Partsman – The VCR does have RCA jacks (yellow/white only) but the television doesn’t so I kind of ignore those jacks on the VCR.

    I hadn’t thought about connecting it the way you suggest. Thanks for the tip.

    :) Now if I just had something to connect it *to*!

  41. Hi You be answering this question for my grandma she asked me this but I couldn’t answer her: “Will I be able to turn on the SAP feature with this digital box?”” (Spanish dubs)

  42. Seems like dish stumbled onto a goldmine with the vcr capablilites of the dtvpal/TR-40/50 and now they are holding it ransom. Prices have jumped from the original $40 and availability is scarce to none. hmmm. I hope I am wrong and they finally release it to the public without hurting us on the price. Unfortunately my coupons expire the 3rd week of June. I sure hope someone can find something out soon….

  43. We need to just hold tight. The only place that the $60 price has been announced was on a Dish Network “Charlie Chat” with the CEO and as a list price on a retailer website.

  44. I’m interested in learning more about the second antenna used in the hookup video as that appears to work quite well. Any advice on where to look for one?

  45. I’ve seen “phantom” machines before. Products that look great in press releases and prototypes, but never reach the market.

    With the DTVPal (or whatever its name is today), I think Echostar has produced another “phantom” machine.

    Its name has changed several times, its packaging has changed, its price has changed, the date of its availability has changed several times and it’s still not available.

    My advice: Don’t hold on to your CECB coupons waiting on this “phantom” device; they’ll likely expire before the DTVPal reaches the market. Use the coupons to get a DTV converter which actually exists.

  46. SolidSignal says they will be available in July for $79.99. They are taking preorders, but no coupon orders until they are in stock.

  47. I’ll take preorders at $79.99 + FRT too! Will ship as soon as I am able to buy a bunch at $39.99.

  48. I just tried to order the DTVpal from dtvpal.com and it would not let me order online because I do not currently have Dish Network service. It instructed me to call to buy it. When I called I was told that I had to get Dish Network service to decode the local channels with this box. THIS IS COMPLETELY INSANE that Dish Network expects people to pay them $5-10 per month for something they can get for free with any other DTV converter box. Be aware before you order this box from another site which may not warn you of this requirement. I don’t care how good the box is, if it is better at all, I WILL NOT PAY FOR FREE BROADCAST TV. Dish Network needs to stop trying to take advantage of people by charging for something that is free. Don’t waste your coupon.

  49. I have analog tv, philips indoor antenna, and Series 2 Dual tuner TiVo. ?? Anyone know if the pal will work with my TiVo. Have read some posts on AVS forum regarding RCA800B having some workaround success, but would the pal work better?

  50. Dave S

    I went to dtvpal.com and was able to order the converter box without a monthly fee. They even list a disclaimer # 5 shown below, that there are no monthly fees. However, all sales are final.

    4. All DTVPal sales are final.
    5. There is no monthly fee for the use of these products.
    6. Once a converter coupon has been verified it cannot be replaced, canceled or reused.

  51. If I understand this right. I have a VCR and analog TV. Using the DTVPal alone- only one box will allow me to program weekly/daily shows without a problem? It will allow me to rename these stations or will it do it auto?
    Either way, I am in need of a box that allows me to program my shows. It sounded almost “iffy” – I need extra cables or something to set up? Any help? Thanks..

  52. I would like to get the DTVpal but will not pay 59.00 – 40.00 + shipping plus tax, Are they crazy? And the people that buy them also.

    I will look into others that will cost a couple of dollars after the coupon. I think it is insane to spend that money for something that does almost nothing.

    Good luck to all of you that fall in the trap!

  53. Garbage. Originally priced at $40 for months, now that it’s officially on sale, they’ve raised the price to $60. And that doesn’t include the obscene $8.95 S&H as well as your local sales tax.

    They can suck it. I don’t care how “good” it’s supposed to be. I just need to watch my TV properly. I’ll be looking elsewhere.

  54. OK I got mine today, my cost when all was said and done, $40 ($80 – $40 coupon). Works well with outside antenna, not so good with rabbit ears. Draws 5 to 6 watts, 0.10 amps on or off. After an hours use, box and transformer were very warm but not hot to the touch. Features are about as described. Changes channels faster than my HVR950, or my cable Motorola digital receiver. Considering that the smaller HDTV’s are getting close to $10 an inch, the value ($80) is disappearing fast.

  55. I just called Ultimate Electronics and was told they will have the…and I quote “Echostar T-40 and it will sell for 39.99”. and they are expecting it to show up in about a week-and-a-half.
    It will be interesting to see what happens…

  56. I ordered the DTVPal from dtvpal.com (Dish) on the first day it was available. I am not a Dish customer but I had no trouble placing the order.

    There was no e-mail confirmation of the order and when I called Dish to ask about my order, the customer service person didn’t seem to know much about orders for the DTVPal but she was able to confirm that the order had been placed.

    I received the DTVPal five or six days later. After applying a CECB coupon, paying the S&H and the local sales tax (on the full amount) it cost me about $33 out of pocket.

    It works just fine. (I haven’t tried the timer feature yet.) Very easy to set up, very good reception with an outdoor antenna (haven’t tried rabbit ears). Remote control is quite adequate.

    Haven’t quite figured out the automatic/manual changing of the aspect ratio and the automatic aspect ratio on a couple of channels didn’t seem quite right but perhaps I’ll get it figured out.

    I’m a little disappointed that the price seems to have gone up $20 (TR-40 price? or DTVPal price?), but all-in-all, I’m quite satisfied.

    There are many products out there today which are poorly designed or don’t deliver promised features. I think Dish deserves credit for delivering a well designed product with very good features.

  57. Ultimate electronics does not have any left. They advertised them and run out of the quickly. One problem is that you cannot order them on line or over the phone. They say they have to have the coupon in person. Would you think that they are back en the 1900s?

    My coupon expires soon so I have to decide what to do, but for sure I will not pay what people are paying for these things. I guess I will buy any that I could get for almost nothing.

    And this business that they get too warm is not for me. I could see those things going up in flames if they get too too warm. Hope not!

    good luck!

  58. Quick note on adding new channels. Your local NBC 4 is actually transmitting on channel 48, so that’s the channel to add. 4 is just a virtual channel so people identify the station.

  59. ann, sorry to hear about you not finding it at Ultimate Electronics.

    I do have a list of retailers for alternatives at http://epg.notlong.com but none of them are as cheap.

    You should also ask if they can redeem your coupon now and order a DTVPal for you.

    I have heard of other stores like RadioShack cashing in coupons and ordering a box to the store for the customer and calling them once it’s in.

  60. I tried to buy the Dtvpal from Dish website, but they seem to overcharge on the state taxes. Has anyone else find this to be true, or is it just with me?

  61. hi there. i’m visually impaired and i’m wanting to get one of these boxes. in the alternate languages do languages for described programs for the blind and visually impaired appear? i heard that these options were carried if a broadcaster chooses to put them out and if they’re availible for the program like it currently works. do they appear in the languages section in the dtv pal? this is an important feature for me.

  62. Nice demonstration. My only question is how the !@#$ do you get all that international programming?! Especially Japanese/NHK? We don’t get anything like that out here in the midwest. I can’t even get those channels with DishNetwork. (without the extra International packages anyway) I’m going to look up your zip code right now. ;)

  63. i have had my dtv pal converters for about 2-3 months and ever since about the second week they have been freezing up, i mean just like somebody paused the channel you still have sound as if the show is playing normal but the picture is still about a month ago i came home and the box had frozen, and i still have the image of wttw 11 burned in to my screen. both boxes are doing this they both drop and lose signal out of no where, has anybody else had this problem and who can i talk to about my burned screen (is there a # for dish network?????)

  64. The timers for the DTVPal only work if the unit is on, however the manual says not to do this so it can perform “basic maintenance”. Even if you leave it on, there’s a built-in “inactivity standby” function which will turn it off after certain amount of time. If you disable that function, you get a warning not to do it.

    So, if you want to use the unit for VCR recording, you may have problems…

  65. What’s the story on DTVPal DVR availability? dtvpal.com is apparently sold out, and solidsignal.com has pulled the DVR from its website. There’s been forum speculation about the unit being discontinued due to the Tivo litigation. I hope that’s not the case – can you confirm there are more DVR’s on the way?

  66. I have been using 2 of them for quite a while now. I don’t understand why it will not let me adjust the aspect ratio of all channels. Sometimes it will let me and sometimes not. It is fairly annoying to set up the unit and a VCR to record and then have the program recorded in the wrong aspect ratio.

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