on June 13, 2010
I'll preface this review with the disclosure that I own the Echostar version of this product, the DTVPal-DVR (actually, I own three of them). While these are the same physical units as the Channel Master CM-7000PAL offered here (Echostar is the OEM for the Channel Master) the firmware is slightly different and Channel Master provides its own independent warranty and customer service program.
This DVR is an excellent value in comparison with similar offerings. In fact, it is one of the few DVRs which has been designed for Over-The-Air (OTA) recording of digital TV, rather than tied to a cable or satellite service. There are no subscription or licensing fees required for operation, nor any feature limitations imposed. The DVR includes two independent High Definition (HD) tuners, which permits the simultaneous recording of two HD broadcasts and playback of a third previously recorded show. Input from an external antenna is via a standard coax RF connector, and the tuners have better than average ability to lock onto distant stations. HD video output is provided via HDMI and/or analog component outputs, and standard definition video is available via analog composite and/or RF coax (including pass through of antenna signal to TV). Audio is transmitted via HDMI, optical digital, and analog outputs. The digital audio ports support Dolby Digital output for both live and recorded shows.
There is no compression or re-encoding of the recorded material, so playback is exactly the same quality of the original broadcast. It should be noted, however, that output resolution (480p, 720p, 1080i, etc) is set via menu selection and does not automatically switch dependent on broadcast resolution. This just means that by default any scaling required (if any) will be done by the DVR rather than your TV - a function which will be unnoticed by most viewers.
A complete channel guide is provided. This is noteworthy, as many OTA units provide guide information for only the currently tuned channel. Eight (8) days of full channel guide info is obtained from the TVGuide service supported by many major stations, otherwise the more limited PSIP data is downloaded from the individual stations themselves. The DVR does a good job of combining the two in cases where TVGuide information is available for some, but not all, of the tuned channels.
Recordings can be started manually, and if the tuner has been on the current channel prior it is possible to record from the beginning of a show even if it is already in progress. Scheduled recordings are set via the channel guide, and are time-based. This means that a recording will commence at the time/date initially set even in cases that the show's timeslot has been moved. This is an important point and one area where the DVR falls a bit short compared to other (more expensive) units which feature name-based recordings, auto-skip of reruns, etc. This DVR's scheduling capabilities are more akin to a traditional VCR with the addition of a channel guide for reference.
All display material, both live and recorded, can be paused, rewound, fast-forwarded, and put into slow motion. A convenient button on the remote provides an automatic skip forward of 30 seconds, which when pressed multiple times corresponds almost exactly with a commercial break.
An Ethernet port is provided for automated firmware updates, or updates can be manually transferred via a "thumb drive" to the included USB port. The built-in hard drive is capable of storing up to 30 hours of HD material, or 150 hours of standard definition recordings (though this is determined solely by the station - you cannot choose to record HD material in SD format). Other than a somewhat tricky opening procedure for the case, replacing the hard drive for higher capacity is fairly easy and reliable (though not supported by the manufacturer).
In closing, it should be noted that the original DTVPal-DVR units (such as mine) on which the Channel Master is built have had a somewhat rocky history. Early versions of the firmware had a range of issues, some which were simply annoyances and others which were a serious impairment to usability. However, the most recent firmware, released several months ago and initiated prior to the OEM agreement with Channel Master, has proven to be quite stable and reliable. Having three units used on a daily basis in my home, the oldest of which has been in use since product introduction well over a year ago, leaves me confident in recommendation of the DVR for anyone interested in a great value, fairly well-featured OTA DVR.
The DVR (Digital Video Recorder) has changed the way many people watch TV. Now instead of being tied to a broadcast schedule, you can record the shows you want, and watch them at your convenience without having to worry about a blank tape (or a blank DVD) being inserted in the recorder. Because the DVR is hard-drive based, you just need to make sure you've set the timer and that there is adequate space on the internal drive. But moving beyond the VCR paradigm, DVRs (including the Channel Master CM-7000PAL) allow you to pause live TV (great for a quick phone call or bathroom break) or you can begin watching a show 15 minutes after it starts, and fast forward through the commercials while still being done watching the show at the scheduled end time.
Now none of the above behavior is particularly "new" -- TiVo and other hard drive-based recorders have been around for several years -- but what makes the CM-7000PAL HD DVR different from just about every other DVR on the market today is that there is no monthly fee associated with its use. Instead of getting nickel-and-dimed to death by your cable company, satellite provider or TiVo with monthly DVR or guide fees, you can pick up a CM-7000PAL: it pulls in your local HD and digital channels for free, uses publically available program listing information to give you a fairly useful and informative guide, and gets you all of the essential features of those other DVRs, for a one-time purchase price.
The CM-7000PAL isn't perfect - in some ways its operation is a throwback to the days of the VCR. Yes, you can surf through a guide listing of up to 8 days worth of shows on your available channels, and just highlight the show you want to record and hit the OK button in order to schedule the recording. But this scheduled recording has no "intelligence" in it - it's just a recording timer that begins and ends at a scheduled time on a particular day on a specific channel. This is fine for most purposes, but if a show is moved to a different day/time (as sometimes happens the weeks of major sporting events), you might miss an episode unless you remember to go back into the guide that week and set the timer to record the show at its new date/time. Similarly, you cannot program the CM-7000PAL to record only new (non-rerun) episodes of a show. If you set it to record "Survivor" on CBS at 8:00 on Thursday night for an hour, then you'll get whatever is on CBS Thursday night at 8:00 for an hour forever (or at least until you cancel that timer) and you won't automatically get that season finale and reunion show on Sunday night. More advanced DVRs such as TiVo and those available from cable and satellite providers are more intelligent in that they can automatically tape any instance of a show by the show name, regardless of the day it's on, as well as taping only new episodes if that is your preference.
Also, the CM-7000PAL will not work with cable or satellite broadcasts. The built-in tuners (there are two of them) are both ATSC over-the-air (OTA) digital tuners. This means you need an indoor or outdoor antenna in order to pull in your local HD and digital channels. The drawback here is that you can't get any "premium" channels (e.g., HBO, ESPN), but the obvious benefit is that there is no monthly fee for the TV service either. The price you pay for the DVR plus the cost of an antenna (if you don't already own one) is the only money you'll need to shell out. Period. (Well, OK, you might need a couple of extra connection cables too, but these are pretty inexpensive... see below for details).
Having two tuners means that you can record one show while watching another channel live, or you can record two channels live, while watching a third previously recorded show. Also, if your TV has its own built-in tuner (most High Def-capable TVs in the US include an ATSC tuner), then you could record two shows on the DVR while watching a third live broadcast directly on your TV.
In terms of performance, we did not notice any degradation between live HD broadcasts and recorded playback. The unit is basically capturing the live broadcast stream and storing it without any additional compression, so the quality is very high. In fact, in most cases, the quality is actually higher than the quality of cable and satellite broadcasts which frequently use heavy compression to fit more channels into a fixed broadcasting bandwidth. Audio quality is also fine, with a fiberoptic digital output provided in case you want to hook this up to a surround sound or home theater system. Depending on the broadcast, you can get up to a full 5.1-channel discrete Dolby Digital sound output from your recordings or from live TV. If you want to take full advantage of the HD image quality, then you will want to pick up an HDMI cable, as this is not included in the box (I've had good luck with HDMI cables in the AmazonBasics cable line - inexpensive but reliable, IMHO). Also, if your receiver or HTiB system does not support HDMI audio, then pick up a Toslink fiberoptic cable as well, to take advantage of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.
Overall, the CM-7000PAL is a solid DVR at a fairly affordable price, made even more affordable by the lack of any monthly subscription fees. Our comprehensive review of the unit is available at Big Picture Big Sound (dot com).
on December 3, 2010
After 13 years as a Dish Network customer, I switched to over the air transmissions and purchased this unit because reviews here led me to believe I would be buying a nearly identical DVR to the one I had as a Dish customer. Although I was initially satisfied with this DVR, there are definite differences when compared to a Dish DVR, as this unit does not seem as sophisticated as my 5 year old Dish DVR was, and the weaknesses of this unit have lead me to consider abandoning the product.
* Like with many DVRs, if the DVR has been on the same channel for the past hour, you can rewind back to that point. With a Dish DVR, you could tape the earlier broadcast, with this DVR you cannot. So if you decide 10 minutes into a show that the show is a keeper, you cannot rewind and record. You can only start recording at the live point.
* This DVR will not allow you to manually change the DVR clock. For some reason, my DVR thinks the time is 5 minutes later than it really is. So if I set a show to tape at 7 PM, it really starts recording at 7:05. I contacted ChannelMaster Customer Service about this, and the best they could do was show me how to set the unit to think it is starting a tape 4 minutes early. So I still miss the opening of each show unless I also tape the show that precedes it. This is the biggest irritation with this unit.
Update: it turns out that you can manually change the clock, but the owner's manual never states this. You will need to update the clock on a daily basis, or it wanders away from the real time. Perhaps this is due to the local TVGOS system, but you should ask yourself if you really want to figure out who is in charge of this clock and contact them to remind them to fix their clock (if you can figure out who is responsible).
* When the time moved from Daylight Savings to Standard time, I had to reprogram many of my recurring recordings. The DVR did not change with the end of Daylight Savings, so it was taping shows that were an hour later.
* If you are watching a show and have two other channels pre-programmed to tape a minute from now, this DVR does not warn you that you are about to lose your show. The Dish DVR would give you the option to overrule the pre-programmed shows. With this DVR, you are suddenly watching something else.
* Though I could always program the remote of the Dish DVR to also control my TV, I have never been able to do so with this unit.
Update: Although I stated at first that none of these points were showstoppers and I didn't really regret the purchase, the lack of stability of the internal clock in this DVR has proven increasingly irritating, and for that reason I would not recommend this unit. ChannelMaster technical service has proven very weak in its assistance, and I am considering getting rid of the unit.
on December 8, 2010
Okay, I loved this DVR. It did everything I wanted it to, but after about a month it stopped working. I have a lot of electronics, so I wasn't surprised that I eventually ended up with a defective unit. I proceeded to call Channel Master's Customer service. They told me Tech Support would get back to me in two business days. They didn't so I called back. This happened again. After the first two calls I was told Warranty would be getting back to me in one business day. I was called back a week and a half after it broke from Warranty requesting my unit's ID number and my mailing address. I was told they would call me back with RMA information so I could send it in and get it repaired. Unfortunately they haven't called back. That was two and a half weeks ago. I have called Channel Master 10 times and it's been 20 days since my unit has worked. I have only been called back once. I have completely lost hope that they will fulfill their 90-day Warranty policy.
$350 is a substantial amount of money to spend on the hope that you don't get a defective unit. I can't speak for everyone's experience with their Warranty department, but 10 phone calls and 20 days (no end in sight) with a broken unit sucks. Keep my experience in mind. Hopefully you get lucky and your unit doesn't crap out after a month.
Edit: Shortly after writing this review I filed a complaint with the BBB, FTC, and Arizona State Attorney General's office. On day 21, I called Channel Master's Customer Support again and told them who I complained to. Later that day, I received a phone call from Warranty asking where they could mail my new unit. On day 25, I got a new working unit. I think it was absurd I had to go to such drastic measures just to get a working box. I do still think think this product is a one star though. When it worked it did everything I wanted it to do, but basically being ignored for 20 days has severely diminished my view of Channel Master and their products. In the future, I would be shocked if I willingly bought another product from them.
Since other reviewers have already covered most of the capabilities of this box, I am going to focus my review on the actual setup and use of this DVR.
I used to have a Channel Master CM-7000 (rated best DTA by consumer reports) so I can watch free broadcast programming. When I want to record a program, I had to run the CM-7000 to a DVD recorder that I had, recording to a RAM disk which effected acted like a very small hard disk (2-4 hours of recording). Well, I tried to record one of the World Cup matches, and the replay quality just wasn't that great, so I decided to run to the store and get this DVR. This DVR replaces 2 devices (the original CM-7000 DTA and the DVD recorder), thus saving space in my entertainment center, plugs, reduces cabling, etc.
Physical setup was a snap (I used component cable since the HDMI port on my TV was already used for the Blu-Ray player). Upon powering up the DVR, it went immediately to the setup wizard, which walks you thru setting up the date, timezone, and zip code (for the program guide). It also scans for all the channels available. I did make a mistake in setting up my timezone, so the DVR popped up a screen suggesting the correct setting on timezone, which I accepted -- what a nice feature or I might have been missing the shows I really wanted recorded because of the wrong time.
The channel guide is an improvement. You can see upcoming programs for several channels at the same time and for up to 1 week. Note that you can set the text size for the channel guide to make it easier on the eyes or to squeeze more information onto the screen.
Watching TV on this is great. The CM-7000 DTA that I previously used was only standard definition as required by the government coupon program. With this DVR you get high definition video...what a difference! As other reviewers pointed out, you can watch TV (any channel you want) while the DVR is recording another channel.
Setting up a recording can't be easier. Without even reading the user manual, I was able to go to the program guide, select a program I wanted recorded, and I am done. This box will actually record 2 programs at the same time, which is an absolute necessity. For example, I was able to record 2 sports programs (can't watch them because I had to go to work) that were broadcast at the same time. I am looking forward to when I get off work and can go back to watch each game, fast forward through the commercials, half time, etc. Contrary to people who have cable or satellite and claim that there are no good shows on broadcast TV, I think there are good programming to watch off the free broadcast stations. The issue is more with when the programming are broadcast and when you have time to watch. A DVR solves this problem. In fact, with the big capacity hard drive included, I intend to record a number of good family/children's videos so that when our children have their friends over, instead of popping in a DVD/Blu-ray disc, I can just play from what's been recorded.
Another feature of the DVR is called "time-shifting". This may sound like a fancy word, but so easy to use. While you are watching TV, just press "pause" if you have to answer the phone, doorbell, run to the stove because food is burning, etc. When you are ready to resume, just press "play" and the program you were watching continues right from the spot where you had paused it, so you miss nothing. Then when you get to a commercial, just fast forward it!
This DVR has added to my TV viewing features such as high definition video, ability to record multiple programs "simultaneously" to later watch at a more convenient hour, capability of time-shifting, and also serve as a video vault. Until getting this DVR, we were mostly watching DVDs and internet video on our TV. Now watching live (actually 'recorded') TV is fun again.
We've been able to teach our 6-year old to operate the DVR himself (not sure that this is a good idea from an educational perspective!), so now he does not need to bug us for watching his shows.
on December 26, 2010
Due to the laziness and inability of the American TV viewers to bother trying something that has a learning cure, most will just succumb to the service providers equipment (CATV & satellite) and rent/lease their equipment month in and month out, feeding their deep pockets. I don't subscribe to this. I like a challenge, namely working with consumer equipment that does have a learning curve, that I have to find out for myself by trial and error and/or with help from a on line forum, posting questions I may have.
Most Americans really have no idea what is available 'over the air'. All they know is their cable TV company or satellite provider.
Having said all of that (my soapbox), here is my take on this unit.
1. About the only OTA (over the air) DVR available (but see below),
2. No subscription fee for a program Guide (but see below),
3. TWO tuners: record TWO different programs at the same time and even watch something already recorded,
4. Able to replace the HDD (hard drive) with a much larger 1TB (4x larger than the included 250GB drive) to provide 4x more recording space,
5. The ability to swap HDD's and retain recordings! This includes your unit and someones else's. IOW's exchange drives with someone else in another TV market (or anywhere) with different programming that isn't available in their market,
6. Lower power consumption (22 watts) and less heat generated that other DVR's, especially the MSO (CATV) provided DVR's,
7. Fairly friendly user interface (especially if you have used Dish Networks equipment),
8. Large remote with color coded buttons,
9. Unlike the Sony DVR, if you loose Rovi's data (TVGOS data provider owner) from your local 'host' station, you might loose all your listings. If this happens here, the unit reverts back to the less detailed PSIP data from each station,
10. Unlike it's predecessor's useless three month warranty, the new importer (Channel Master) gives you a one year warranty. Most of the original problems seem to be addressed with Dish Network's firmware update from July 2009.
1. OTA only, no CATV even though the unit is capable of receiving CATV QAM channels,
2. No ability to add a 2nd external USB HDD to increase storage space, even though the capability is already built in (though through modification, a single external HDD could work with cables extended through the enclosure),
3. No ability to off load recordings to a PC to save elsewhere like TiVo gives you,
4 Only one RF input. This has two tuners, why not a 2nd RF input for another antenna pointed a different direction?,
5. Overpriced for what's inside. $250 would be closer to what's it really worth. A better bang for the buck is a (far superior) used Sony DVR at a similar price. Far more bang for the buck, if you can accept it's quirks (it's not for newbies). ATSC & CATV, dual inputs, CC slot and TVGOS menu software,
6. Cheap plastic case that doesn't allow 'stacking' equipment on and above this, probably done purposely, due to concerns for heat (which isn't a concern here, see above), Poor cost cutting idea at this price point!,
7. No buttons on the front panel. If you loose the remote you can't even turn it on let alone change channels!! Another bad cost cutting idea!
8. HDD is always spinning, even in 'standby' even if no recording are scheduled for hours or even days. Unfortunately, this is the way most DVR's are setup, but not having the option of the user choosing to 'spin down' the drive when in standby is short sighted. I don't take advantage of 'pausing Live TV' so I don't need the HDD spinning all the time. JUST GIVE US THE CHOICE, that's all,
9. You can't edit the program listing channel order, adding, deleting or changing the order of specific stations or even editing the physical channel number (which for OTA, probably isn't necessary).
10. Even if does use TV Guide data, the listing aren't always complete. I have six channels (separate services) that have no information shown, even though all of those same stations have info listed on the Sony DVR! No idea what is going on here,
11. If you are used to 'name based' Guide (recording), you might not like this as it is based on the older 'time based' system. If a program gets it's time slot changed, you will loose the recording.
12. "Channel Master", like so many former American companies is only a name. PCT bought the name and closed US manufacturing of their antenna line and now imports cheap rip offs from China. Support of this product is very questionable!
The most unusual feature that was discovered elsewhere is the ability to change out the hard drive with a larger one, saving the original drive to archive it's recordings and return it back to the unit to watch again. Nothing gets 'wiped'. You can even use that drive after it's been re-formatted for a Windows PC. This is after you managed to open the case which is not a easy thing to do due to the hidden plastic clips and tabs that have to be pried out/away from the bottom half.
on February 21, 2011
This was the first DVR we bought. It was easy to set-up and use. The problem with this product it only lasted 3 weeks. We exchanged it for another one and the second one only lasted 2 weeks. We decided not to take anymore chances. It's a great product if it would continue to work!!
on June 20, 2011
Okay here's the deal-- If you've read the reviews thus far, you're not going to believe this story. I purchased the unit in late February and about month ago --mid-May-- it canceled out on me. After following all the troubleshooting listed and some stuff I thought of-- like checking to see if the television source was still in place (using the tv's original remote) This all happened on a Friday evening and I tinkered a bit through the weekend. On Monday morning, I called Channel Master. I was expecting to go through a long round of telephone tag and dead ends. I've read the negative reviews. At 9:00 a.m. someone answered the phone. I told him what was what and the steps I had taken. He said that someone from the warranty department would be in touch "real soon." 45 minutes later, I get a call from a wonderful man who heard my story (an abridged version.) He determined that the fastest and easiest thing was to ship out a new unit. There were a couple of emails during the day-- pdf of Amazon purchase page etc. It arrived at 8:45 the next morning complete with return postage for the old unit. The hardest thing was getting the return package to a Fedex drop off. Now that is customer service!
About the unit. I've never had cable or TiVo and always been an OTA guy. Living in Minneapolis there is quite a bit to choose from. Back in the analog days we video taped to time shift and save a few programs. Having said that, this unit is just magic to us. It does what it says it will and does it well. The image and sound transfer through the unit's tuners are excellent and we have a big flat screen in a small room and use an HDMI hook-up. Set up was easy and personalizing channel lists and other menu preferences was logical and direct. Navigating through a prerecorded program is a snap. My wife and I are just now getting the hang of manipulating live broadcasts-- we didn't know you could do that stuff! That's just spooky magic and we love it.
Bottom Line --I love the product-- though my need for a replacement is troublesome and something to consider, but my experience with customer service could not have been better. I hope this unit lives forever and if it needs to be replaced-- years from now, I hope the product is still available for purchase.
on May 17, 2011
I purchased this OTA DVR to get a bit of relief from the high cost of DIRECTV service. I've had a DVR for many years now, so I can't imagine going without one. I actually continue to be a DIRECTV subscriber, mainly because of the excellent HD sports coverage they provide. I specifically enjoy the NFL and NHL HD packages they offer. The issue I have with them is that the cost is a bit outrageous and they keep raising prices.
I'm not dropping satellite service, but suspending service during the period between the end of the NHL package which was in early May, to the beginning of the NFL season in September. The good news is that after only 3 mo's w/o DIRECTV, I will have saved enough to cover the cost of this DVR. Since the start of the 2011 NFL season may be delayed, I may save quite a bit more then I'm even planning on.
For anyone that is thinking about buying one, thought I would provide a list of features this DVR has that I like. In addition, I'll provide some comparisons to my DIRECTV(DTV) HR DVR. I want to mention, there are several things the DTV DVR will do that this one won't. Since I'm reviewing this DVR, I won't list those here. This is what I like about the CM7000PAL DVR:
> The picture quality on HD and SD channels is excellent (SD is compressed on DTV, so not as good).
> Channel changes are fast and the DVR is very responsive to the remote (DTV DVR is very slow to respond)
> The DVR is capable of doing true slow motion and frame by frame (DTV makes this hard to do).
> The remote has a "Live TV" button, so if you rewind to watch something prior, then want to get back to live TV quickly, just push one button (DTV you have to press buttons several times).
> It has "Skip" forward and backward button. Skip jumps 30 second w/o seeing anything, "Slip" is where you see a quick review of what your skipping (DTV comes preset to do "Slip". You can do "Skip" as well, but you have to know how to activate the hidden command).
> When HD channels are broadcasting a 4x3 signal with side bars, this DVR is capable of expanding the picture to fill a 16X9 screen and maintains a sharp picture (On my flat screen, you can't do this on HD channels, nor can you do it with the DTV)
> Has a program search to look for future programs or content within the guide (DTV has this).
> Has ability to record any local station, including the sub-stations that end in -2, -3, etc. (DTV doesn't have sub-stations)
> Has an RF output, so you can connect coax cable to an output. (DTV DVR's do not have this)
> Compatible with my Slingbox, has the remote commands. (DTV can do this as well)
> You can display the guide, highlight a program and press record to set up a recording. The negative is that it works like a VCR by taking you to a second screen where it pre-fills the start time, end time & frequency. So if it's on at a different time next week, it doesn't adjust for that. (DTV is much better)
> It uses the TV Guide data for the on screen guide, if its available in your area. Although it only has an 8 day guide. (DTV has a 2 week guide and many more options)
The only real negatives are that it only records about 35 hours of HD programming and you can't use it to record cable or satellite. Overall this is a nice HD DVR and I highly recommend it.
on July 25, 2010
It works as expected. Just recently I upgraded my entertainment center. Retired the old VCR and CRT TV. Both units needed a digital converter to receive a signal. I'm using "Rabbit Ears" (OTA) to receive a TV signal. Time shifting a program was no easy task (setting VCR and CONVERTER) and many times I recorded the wrong show, very frustrating. Non of that with the new Channel Master CM-7000PAL. I never used TiVo (did not like the monthly charge and I do not subscribe to a cable service).
What I like:
Digital quality in all formats up to 1080i (uncompressed to a Hard-drive). I can record 2 different channels at the same time while watching a previously recorded show. A very nice feature is that you can watch a show that is still recording. For example, recording started at 7pm and you arrive at home at 7:45, the show is not finished until 9pm. With a VCR I had to wait until the recording was finished before I could rewind and start watching from the beginning, with the 7000PAL I can start watching at any time from the beginning and fast forward through the commercials. Build in Program guide makes it very easy to select a recording.
The Remote control took a bit getting used to, the buttons seemed like they are unorganized however after using it for a month it becomes second nature and the most used buttons (play , pause, fast forward and back) are well within thumbs reach, their slight differences in profile makes them easy to recognize without looking. Now I like it.
There are many other things one can do with this recorder but I have not the need nor the time to study the manual.
What I miss:
How can i keep a recorded show on a transportable media ( DVD or USB stick), I guess I can still send it to a VCR since the 7000Pal does have RCA and HDMI connectors.
Currently this is the only unit that records OTA ( Antenna) and has no monthly surcharges. Good thing is that it does its job well and we know the price will come down as soon as their is more competition.
I highly recommend this unit if your main purpose is Time-Shifting of OTA programs.
It's easy to use, picture quality is the same as live TV and no monthly charges.