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Finally, five tuners!
on September 7, 2012
Overall, the DirecTV Genie (HR34) is a very good HD DVR and the five tuner feature makes it a must have for those who share a DVR and are willing to pay a premium. As a standalone DVR, it is a five star product. However, due to bugs and performance issues with the Whole-Home DVR feature (recording on one DVR and playing back on another), I can't give it five stars overall.
[Updated: February 1, 2013]
I've been waiting for years for a DVR with more than two tuners and the HR34 has finally delivered. If you've shared a DVR, then you are probably familiar with the "Live TV Conflict" screen that appears when you want to watch something but all of the tuners are in use. I used to get this screen constantly with the two tuner HR24. I've had my HR34 for six months now and I can only remember seeing the conflict screen once. This alone makes up for the extra cost.
I ordered two upgraded units from WeaKnees.com. Technically, I believe the order is considered a lease, not a purchase. The upgraded model is the same as the regular HR34 except with a two terabyte hard drive, which is double the capacity of the standard model. The standard one terabyte model will record up to 200 hours of HD.
After getting the units, I had DirecTV send a couple of techs to do the install. Normally, I would install it myself, but to get the extra tuners to work, the wiring needed to be upgraded. I've read that you need to have a SWM dish and SWM power inserter, but that wasn't an issue because I already had those. I've also read that you may need to extend your contract with DirecTV for two years if you add this unit to your account. However, when I added the units I received from WeaKnees to my DirecTV account, they did not require me to extend my contract. I did order an HR24 separately straight from DirecTV and that did require a two year extension.
When the unit was first powered up, it had the outdated DirecTV software installed, so it was running the old DirecTV menus. After a few hours, the new version of the software loaded (with the new black menus.) The interface was slow for the first day or so; I was told that was due to updates and program data that it was downloading. After that, the software (the menus, etc.) has generally run at a good speed.
For those familiar with DirecTV, the HR34 is functionally similar to the HR24 except with more tuners, more storage, and a larger case. The software appears to be a variant of the software used to power the HR24 and seems to be functionally the same (menus, search, etc.) I read in a previous review about recording reliability problems; so far, my HR34s have recorded reliably. Perhaps the software has been patched since those reviews were posted.
This DVR has a nice menu system, good search functionality, and some cool extras like sports scores on certain channels. If you go to ESPN, wait a few seconds and then press the red button on the remote, you'll get a menu with sports scores and, if it's a live event, you can drill down and it will show you what channel(s) it is playing on with an option to instantly switch to that channel. Very cool!
The Whole-Home DVR service is where I've run into trouble with my HR34s. Playback of content recorded on one HR34 from another HR34 usually works until I want to pause, rewind, or fast forward, at which point the picture usually freezes. The workaround is to exit the recording and resume it again from the playlist. I've also run into a problem with the DVRs not communicating with each other. The solution was to unplug the units and then power them up simultaneously. These bugs are very annoying, but at least there is a workaround for both.
To use the On Demand features that use the Internet (e.g., HBO On Demand), the tech installed an adapter (DECA) that connects the DirecTV via Ethernet to my router. The On Demand works well but it is limited by the speed of the Internet connection. So if you want to watch a movie or TV show from On Demand, start downloading some time in advance of when you want to watch it. Also, the On Demand downloads expire after a certain amount of time (I've seen as short as two weeks.)
Overall, I'm happy with this DVR. If I were using this as a standalone DVR, it would meet all of my expectations. I really want to give the HR34 five stars, but it's not quite there yet because of the aforementioned bugs and performance issues with the Whole-Home features. Hopefully, future software updates will make this a five star product. Although it's not perfect, of all of the DVRs I've used over the years (including TiVo), the HR34 is my favorite.