The Channel Master CM-7000PAL is one of the more expensive DTV converter boxes available, but it is also one of the most versatile and feature packed. First and foremost, it includes a built-in, two-tuner, over-the-air digital video recorder (DVR). Though not as easy to use as a cable-company DVR, usability isn't bad and there's no monthly fee to pay. You can set the five programmable timers directly though the guide, but the quality of that guide is pretty basic, especially in areas where TV Guide on Screen (TVGOS) service is not available. Otherwise, you can set the timers manually, much like a VCR or DVD recorder -- or other DTV converters with timers, such as the Zinwell ZAT-970A (*Est. $40). You won't find some advanced DVR features -- like the ability to record all episodes of a particular program with just the push of a few buttons -- but all of the basics are there, including a skip feature that lets you jump right over commercials in recorded programs. Storage capacity is good, and the CM-7000PAL can hold about 250 hours of standard-def shows, or 30 hours of high-def.
That brings us to the other big feature that sets the CM-7000PAL apart from other DTV converters. Most basic digital TV converters are limited to outputting signals in standard definition. However, the CM-7000PAL can send its programs out in HD resolutions (to 1080i) to a compatible HDTV. That's not a big deal for someone just looking to extend the life of a well-liked standard-definition analog TV set, but can be important for someone who already has digital TV gear but needs or wants an over-the-air DVR as part of a move away from pay-TV providers, including satellite and cable TV.
The performance is on the high side of very good. Though we've seen still better comments for some other DTV converters, such as the DVR-less Channel Master CM-7000 basic DTV converter (*Est. $55), most say that the two tuners in the CM-7000PAL do a good job in pulling in stations that challenge lesser boxes. Though stability and other bugs plagued this converter when it was first released as the Dish Network DTVPal, subsequent refinements and firmware updates have created a DTV converter/DVR combo that experts say is now solid and reliable.
High initial cost remains a concern, though that's partially offset by the fact that you get DVR features without the monthly cost of a DVR, which can run from $10 to $20 per month for cable TV, satellite TV or TiVo subscribers. If you just want a basic DVR converter, the Zinwell ZAT-970A gets strong reviews for its performance and features -- including eight programmable timers that make it a great fit for those who need a DTV converter for an analog or tunerless VCR or DVD recorder, as well as for a television set.
We found very helpful professional reviews of the Channel Master CM-7000PAL at CNET and BigPictureBigSound.com. Amazon.com and Walmart.com are among the destinations for user reviews.
CNET says that while the Channel Master CM-7000PAL lacks the polish of cable company DVRs or TiVo, it's the easiest solution for someone "who wants to DVR-ify an HD antenna setup without paying monthly fees." Performance is called good -- with picture quality on a par with what could be obtained from a high-quality HD source such as Verizon FiOS TV. Operation is "glitch-free" during a one-month test period.
Review: Channel Master CM-7000PAL DVR, David Katzmaier, Jan. 13, 2011
BigPictureBigSound.com awards 3.5 out of 4 stars to the Channel Master CM-7000PAL HD DVR in this generally positive review. David Reinhart says the DVR/DTV converter is easy to use and a solid performer. He adds that the CM-7000PAL makes a compelling case for skipping cable TV and sticking with over-the-air TV.
Review: Channel Master CM-7000PAL OTA HDTV Receiver with DVR (DISH DTVPal DVR) Review, David Reinhart, May 2, 2010
While many more owners are happy than unhappy with the Channel Master CM-7000PAL, there are also some who say they are disappointed, particularly with the manufacturer's customer support. On the other hand, those who give the CM-7000PAL high scores say that performance and value are excellent.
Review: Channel Master CM-7000PAL Digital Video Recorder, Black, Contributors to Amazon.com
Though there is less feedback here than at Amazon.com, all but a handful of users give the Channel Master CM-7000PAL either a 5-star or 4-star rating. Those happy owners say that it works exactly as intended.
Review: Channel Master CM-7000PAL Antenna-Compatible DVR, Contributors to Walmart.com