We’ve been tracking Channel Master‘s moves since new digital video recorder hardware first surfaced in FCC documents last summer. They’ve clearly used the intervening months wisely to fine tune both the product experience and marketing strategy as the originally documented pair of K77 set-tops has been whittled down to the single and more memorable DVR+ ($250). And, as you probably guessed from the video above, I do indeed have product on hand… and my initial impressions are quite positive.
The first thing you notice about the dual-tuner, over-the-air DVR+, developed by EchoStar to Channel Master’s specifications, is its amazingly slim form factor. Weeks in, I’m still in awe of the hardware that has similar dimensions to a legal pad or slim notebook. It’s both physically solid and quite handsome… as is the matching remote.
Of course, to hit such slim proportions, compromises had to be made. And we assume the absence of analog inputs is the result. Related, the Channel Master DVR+ ships with a mere 16GB of flash storage, good for 2 hours of HD recording and the ability to pause live television for up to 15 minutes. Having said that, I appreciate Channel Master’s modular approach with DVR+ — buy what you need, when you need it (or as funds permit). For example, without an Internet connection, the DVR+ is capable of receiving a modest amount of guide data over the air and software updates can be performed manually via USB. But add Internet, via integrated Ethernet jack or $40 WiFi adapter, and more comprehensive guide data (powered by Rovi) extends to 14 days with software updates coming over the ‘net. Add USB storage to increase your recording capacity, and also receive a larger 1 hour buffer to pause and rewind live television. As a dual tuner DVR, the hardware is capable of recording up to two high definition, over-the-air broadcasts via antenna with the ability to simultaneously watch previously recorded programming. And all of that sips a miserly 9.7 watts. In fact, Channel Master intends to apply for Energy Star 3 or 4 certification.
On the software front, Channel Master has seemed to strike the right balance between form and function – the guide looks sharp, with well implemented transparency. And, functionaly, novices can get up and running with minimal fuss while there are more advanced features (like padding) for those willing to dig deeper. If I had to ding any aspect of the presentation, I’d say the networking settings and configuration could be tightened up. The plus sign in DVR+ refers to its online capabilities and those who run it connected to the Internet will have access to over-the-top app content. At launch, we’re looking solely at Vudu video on demand. But Channel Master tells me they have additional deals in place and development work will commence shortly… and I sure hope YouTube and Netflix are on the 2014 roadmap. Interestingly, Channel Master has decided to implement online content within the guide versus a dedicated app area. For example, Vudu resides at “channel” 200 and others will come in above it, with plans to map a remote button to the 200s for efficient access.
While we frequently discuss “cord cutters”, the fact is that there are something around 15 million antenna-only households… many of whom are price sensitive and still fumble around with VCRs. This is the market Channel Master is prioritizing with DVR+ and the company’s first goal is a rock solid over-the-air digital recorder, with additional online content to follow – to expand its utility and potential audience. Further, unlike a TiVo, the DVR+ does not require a service fee (or Internet connection) and that aforementioned modular approach makes for a flexible solution. Pre-orders begin today, for January shipment, and I’ll be taking questions below.