The Channel Master CM-7000PAL brings most of the benefits of a full-featured DVR to those who get their programming over the air and have no interest in paying a monthly bill for service. The hardware side of things is very good, highlighted by a hard drive that's big enough to hold more than 30 hours of HD programming. The expected DVR features are also fully implemented, including trick play (fast-forward, rewind and pause programming), and you can watch one channel while recording another. Picture quality is excellent, and the digital tuners are strong enough to draw in signals that others miss. Though feedback wasn't particularly stellar when this HD DVR debuted as the Dish Network DTVPal, subsequent updates have led professional reviews to say that the DVR is now very reliable, and most -- but not all -- owners agree.
There are a few drawbacks, however. One is that while there are no ongoing monthly fees, the initial cost is a little on the high side. Second, the user interface is rather simple, and advanced features like name-based recording -- where you tell a DVR to record all episodes of a specific program -- are missing. However, while experts say that makes the CM-7000PAL a little retro in the way it works, it is still pretty easy to use.
The last issue is the guide data: Because you are not paying a service charge for guide data, it comes from one of two free services. For those in areas where TV Guide on Screen (TVGOS) is available, the guide data is pretty good. In areas where only the basic guide data provided as part of a TV station's digital broadcast is available, however, the guide is adequate at best. If you want a sophisticated user interface and a well-detailed guide, the TiVo Premiere also works with over-the-air signals, but you'll need to pay a fee that ranges from $12.95 to $19.95 per month depending on your contract.
A new version, the Channel Master CM-7400 (*Est. $400) has been announced but has not begun shipping. Added features include support for unencrypted digital cable TV channels and Internet streaming with built-in Wi-Fi, though streaming content is limited to only Vudu and the Vudu apps platform.
The Channel Master CM-7000PAL hasn't received a ton of editorial coverage, but we did find nicely detailed professional reviews at CNET and BigPictureBigSound.com. User feedback can be found at Amazon.com.
CNET finds a few faults with the Channel Master CM-7000PAL -- it's expensive and unsophisticated, David Katzmaier says. However, he adds that it's also not a bad solution for those who want a DVR without monthly fees for use with a TV antenna.
Review: Channel Master CM-7000PAL DVR, David Katzmaier, Jan. 13, 2011
2. Big Picture Big Sound.com
BigPictureBigSound.com gives a general thumbs-up to the Channel Master CM-7000PAL HD DVR. Unlike CNET, David Reinhart says he considers the cost to be a relative bargain, as it carries with it no monthly fees. He adds that the HD DVR works great and is easy to use.
Review: Channel Master CM-7000PAL OTA HDTV Receiver with DVR (DISH DTVPal DVR) Review, David Reinhart, May 2, 2010
Though its overall rating is 3.7 stars out of 5, drilling down shows that far more Amazon.com users are happy with the Channel Master CM-7000PAL than are not. Some customer service complaints are registered by those who are challenged to get the DVR to work in their situation. A few received DVRs that appear to be defective. Others say that they have no issues at all and love the long-term savings.
Review: Channel Master CM-7000PAL Digital Video Recorder, Black, Contributors to Amazon.com