Tuesday, July 24, 2007

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back with Dish Network

Last week, we made an appointment for Dish Network to come out to the house and hook us up with a new receiver so that we could have an additional 15 or so HD channels. The Dish guy came to the house within the agreed-upon PM hours, announced that he didn't have a 40-foot ladder (necessary to reach the roof of our house), so he set up another appointment for our upgrade on the following Monday -- today.

Today, another Dish guy arrives... well before the 12-5:00 agreed-upon time. "You're early," I tell him, sleepily. "Yes, I am early," he replies sullenly, obviously refusing to take any guff from the customer. He's got a ladder on the truck but he says he has no intention of using it; I have everything I need for the upgrade already up there, and there's nothing to add on or take down. He doesn't know what the previous installer was thinking. He also can't figure out how he was able to arrange a follow-up visit with a phone call. After replacing my old Dish receiver (an MPEG-2 receiver installed in 2005) with a VIP 211 receiver (MPEG-4), he checks out the picture, tunes to an SD channel and tells me that I should never watch my TV with the gray bars displayed -- I should always watch the picture on these standard channels stretched like Silly Putty. When I begin to object, he cuts me off and says, "You can watch it any way you want, I'm just tellin' ya." Fine. Fine.

After the installer drives away to his next early appearance, Donna and I begin checking all the connections. To make a long and unhappy story short: The MPEG-4 receiver gives us a noticeably more beautiful HD picture... but.

I have always been able to record from my Dish Network receiver to my Panasonic DVD-Recorder. It didn't give me HD recordings, of course, but it recorded the programming shown on HD channels in a handsomely letterboxed format that I could then zoom-up to a most acceptable simulacra of HD. With my hours, time-shifting is often essential, and we use the DVD-Recorder a lot for that reason in particular. However... when hooked up identically to the MPEG-4 receiver, I don't get letterboxing. Even when I dumb the picture down to 480 or 720 and reconfigure the framing to 4:3x2 and get a letterboxed image on my monitor, the signal that the receiver is sending into my recorder is fully uncompressed with the left and side of the frame blocked by my gray bars. I can sit there pumping the Format button on my Dish remote, changing the screen configuration from Zoom to Partial Zoom to Gray Bars to Normal, and the onscreen image being sent into my DVD-Recorder is as unchanging as the expression on the Lincoln Memorial.

We've tried everything and don't know what to do. To make matters worse, Dish's World Cinema HD channel is showing THE WEIRD LOVEMAKERS tomorrow evening, something I would dearly love to record. (I've been fascinated by this 1960s Japanese import since I first saw its trailer as part of Something Weird's first TWISTED SEX compilation.) If we keep the MPEG-4 connected, we'll get a recording, but it will be cropped. If we hook-up our MPEG-2 receiver, which we haven't sent back yet, we won't get the World Cinema channel at all, because it's accessible only to subscribers of what they call "the HD3 package."

So now we have to figure out what we're going to do. We still have an MPEG-2 HD hook-up in our basement, but I really don't want to turn the basement into the headquarters of my DVD-R recording. Part of me suspects that the MPEG-4 was created to be used solely with Dish Network's DVR, which can store quite a bit of HD broadcast information on its hard drive but, if you ask me, isn't quite the same as burning that information to a disc. I don't need to record in HD at the moment, but I do need to continue recording my HD programming in SD. Dish Network is sending someone to the house on Wednesday, supposedly between 12:00 and 5:00, to assess the situation. I fully expect the visit to be for nothing, though I would like very much to be able to report otherwise here on Thursday.

I know that this blog is read by many different kinds of film buffs. If there's anyone out there with insight into this particular problem, and perhaps a solution, I'd love to hear from you.

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