Review of Dish Networks' Dish Pro 501 receiver (long)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ken Stuart, Apr 7, 2001.

  1. Ken Stuart

    Ken Stuart Second Unit

    Jan 31, 2000
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    My Dish Pro 501 just arrived on Friday afternoon from Dish Depot (who I hear have been incredibly busy trying to get everyone's unit shipped out). (I opted to upgrade the shipping, since almost all of my favorite TV programs are on the weekend). I have bought previous products from them (a DishPlayer and some accessories) and have always received good and prompt service, so I chose to pre-order my 501 from there. (It's if you want to check out
    their prices and products.)
    I decided to write a long and comprehensive review that would contain everything about the receiver that would be valuable for someone who is somewhat new to DBS, rather than just the highlights. So, it might be a little boring for the enthusiast, but everything is in there. :)
    My comments are based on not having bought a receiver in two years - some things that seem new to me might also be found on other recent receivers. I have previously owned a 4000, 3000 and DishPlayer.
    The 501 comes with:
    - Silver and gray colored universal remote (sort of "tech" looking). It takes 4 AAA batteries (included). It has four separate buttons for SAT, TV, VCR and AUX, and two power buttons (one designated TV). Other buttons are Menu,
    TV/Video, Page (up and down), Mute, Volume, Guide, Arrows (left,right,up,down) and Select in the center, Recall, Info, View, Cancel. A PTV button brings up the list of recorded programs, and then there are the PTV buttons - Rewind, 10 second replay, 30 second jump forward, FastForward, Play, Record, and Stop. A "Dish" button lights up and currently is reserved for future nhancements. Below that is a 12-button keypad identical to a phone layout, with the # button also marked "search". The remote comes with its own little manual, which includes instructions for changing the UHF address, and setting it up to control your TV, VCR and other audio equipment.
    - Standard Dish Network receiver pack of phone cord, video/left/right cable, RF cable and the aforementioned 4 batteries.
    - Premium receiver pack with UHF antenna for the back of the receiver, and E* s-video cable (one of the better s-video cables, featuring plugs with a flat spot on top allowing "blind" installation).
    - Improved "user's guide" (manual) with important points listed in the margin. It looks like a new tech writer was found to revise the usual manual.
    - No installation instructions were included in my box (standalone receiver). In my case, I was replacing my 4 year old 4000, which merely required hooking it up in the same way as the 4000 (although some of the jacks are in different spots, but a chart is included in the manual).
    The two main features of the 501 not found in older receivers, like my 4000, are Open TV and a hard disk.
    Open TV is an interactive TV system. Currently, the only application for Open TV on Dish Network is AccuWeather local weather information on channel 9500. However, my city was not included - the closest one is 40 miles away, with
    somewhat different weather conditions. Future applications will undoubtedly include impulse shopping, as well as possible interactive sports (multiple angles and stats) and game show applications. But, OpenTV is still mainly a future capability at this point - but one that could eventually be valuable to have on your receiver.
    However, the main feature of the 501 is the hard disk. This provides two main features, TV Pause and Hard Disk Recording ("PTV" as it is called by Dish Network).
    TV Pause allows you to pause any TV viewing, just as you would on a VCR. And, like a VCR, you can rewind and fastforward, at speeds of 4x, 15x, 60x and 300x. And, very useful is the 10-second replay button (to see that sports play again, or to replay that line of dialogue you couldn't quite make out), and the 30-second advance (just the length of one commercial, of course).
    The Pause button is a yellow button right in the middle of the remote and "toggles", ie one press to pause, and another to resume. While the program is
    paused, a counter appears with the length of time that you have paused. This
    counter is cumulative, ie it is the total amount of time that the program has
    been delayed. This is valuable in case you are planning on watching another
    program soon on another channel, since the delay only applies to the channel you
    are viewing. TV Pause is a very useful feature, as you will find out the
    first time that the phone or the door bell rings during a program you are
    The other major feature of the 501 is Hard Disk Recording, which Dish Network
    calls "PTV". At this point, they simply added a "PTV" option to the usual
    options of "Auto-tune", "VCR" and "Reminder" and the usual repeat options of
    "once","daily","weekly" and "mon-fri". And, as with previous Dish Network
    receivers, you can create a timer manually, using the above options, and then
    entering channel number and start and end times. Or you can create a timer by
    selecting a future program in the Guide, which adds the usual option of "start
    one minute early".
    Anyway, if you select "PTV" as the type of timer, the program is recorded to the
    internal hard disk. The hard disk is 40GB, which allows approximately 30 hours
    of recording. Pressing the "PTV" button on the remote, allows you to select
    any of the previously recorded programs to view. The same VCR-like controls
    that you use in TV Pause also work here.
    You don't have to wait until the program is finished to start watching it. Any
    time after the recording starts, you can go to "PTV" and select that program and
    start watching. Or, you can select any other program you have recorded, and
    you can view it while your other program is still recording.
    When the hard disk is full, ie once you have recorded 30 hours of programming,
    then the system will automatically delete the oldest programs in order to fit
    your new recordings. But, if you have an old program you haven't viewed, but
    really want to see, you can mark it as "protected" in the recording's screen
    that you can select after pressing the "PTV" button.
    And, one-time timers can be set to "protect" in advance! That means, you can
    go on vacation, and set a protected timer for that season conclusion of your
    favorite show, and be sure that the daily timer for a less important magazine
    show will not cause that important recording to be deleted -- no matter how many
    days your plane is delayed. (Daily and weekly timers cannot be protected,
    undoubtedly because they cannot guarantee there will be enough space weeks later
    for the recording.)
    Audio-only music channels can also be paused (!) and rewound and fastforwarded.
    So, you can still find out what that great song was, even if it ended before you
    could get to look at the screen. (Great if you keep your TV off while playing
    the music channels to save electricity.)
    And, audio-only music channels can be recorded ! Both pausing and recording is
    complete with song titles. And, like the 4000, the song titles move, instead
    of using a screen saver, so - unlike DishPlayer - you can continue to view the
    song titles indefinitely.
    Another nice feature not currently found on DishPlayer is that the PTV list of
    recordings tells you how much hard disk recording time is available. So, no
    guesswork as to whether you can fit that upcoming show.
    Another nice touch is a red light on the front panel that indicates a PTV
    recording in progress.
    You can also record the current program to the hard disk simply by pressing the
    record button. Unlike DishPlayer, this works on any portion of the current
    program, in other words, if you change the channel and decide you like the
    program enough to record it (for example, if you are watching something and
    think that your spouse would like it too), you can rewind back to the beginning
    and press the record button and it will start recording at that point.
    Another useful feature is "browse". This key on the remote places a
    transparent banner at the top of the screen stating the program name, channel
    number, start time, and time remaining in the program. Another identical banner
    appears on the bottom. But, pressing the right button changes the bottom banner
    to represent the next program on that channel. Or entering the number of a
    channel gives information on the current or next program on that channel -
    allowing you to "browse" all the other channels and programs. This can also be
    done while the program is recording or while it is delayed.
    My subjective impression is that the interface and guide are significantly
    faster than the 4000 or DishPlayer. And, although the guide still has the
    "please wait or cancel" messages, once you have received the information for a
    particular future time block, it is saved in memory - so you can go back and
    forth between time blocks without having to wait each time.
    Unlike the DishPlayer, the 501 is surprisingly quiet. It puts out a fraction
    of the noise of a DishPlayer.
    Other useful information is that the previous UHF remotes, such as used for the
    4000, will work on the 501. The "vcr" buttons on the 4000 remote control the
    TV Pause functions - except that the FF and REW buttons have already been
    previously mapped to Page Up and Page Down, so there are no keys to do FF and
    REW. Also, the 501 remote does not put out as strong a UHF signal as my old
    4000 remote.
    All other features of the 4900 are still present - Dolby Digital output through
    Toslink optical cable, favorites lists including a "subscribed only" list and so
    on. See the 4900 on for details.
    Since the 501 is based on the existing 4900 satellite receiver design, there are
    a few drawbacks - relative to other hard disk recorders - that should be
    mentioned. I would like to point out that EchoStar receivers can have their
    software upgraded by automatic downloads from the satellite and all previous
    receivers have had new features added this way, such as song titles and timer
    enhancements. So, some of these "drawbacks" may be temporary, as future
    software upgrades may contain some of these features. But, there is no
    First off, there are still only 10 timers, just as on the 4900 (I haven't tested
    this by trying to do 11, but this is what I've been told). This is as many as
    most VCRs, but the unique possibilities afforded by hard disk recording demand
    the availability of more timers. Dish Network is currently looking into the
    possibility of increasing the number of timers, and this is likely to occur in a
    future upgrade, if at all possible.
    Another drawback not found in most other hard disk recorders, is that on the
    501, you cannot use the guide listings when your current program is "delayed" or
    when you are recording. This is because the receiver must tune to a different
    channel to download the guide listings. Most other hard disk recorders
    actually download the entire guide to the hard disk during the early morning
    hours. Currently, EchoStar has not implemented that for the 501, but this
    might be a future possibility.
    Lastly, DishPlayer has a 7-day Guide, while 501 has only the standard Dish
    Network 44-hour guide. Rumors state that Dish Network may implement its own
    7-day guide by the end of the year, but this is certainly not definite. Also,
    DishPlayer has a search function that can look for a word or phrase in the
    entire Guide. This can be done because the guide is downloaded in one piece to
    the hard disk.
    The EchoStar Dish Pro Model 501 receiver adds some valuable new features to its
    previous model 4900, including TV Pause and Hard Disk Recording ("PTV").
    Currently, unlike some hard disk recorders, there is no extra monthly charge for
    these features, and the current situation is that those who purchases right now
    will not have to pay a monthly fee for PTV for the life of their 501. But,
    this may change for future purchasers, and may be different for other models yet
    to come.
    Currently, the retail price on the 501 is $349 for a standalone unit and $399
    for a complete system with a Dish 500 dish (and I'm told the complete system
    includes installation instructions).
  2. Chad Beaudin

    Chad Beaudin Agent

    Dec 17, 1998
    Likes Received:
    Great review Ken. I was just looking to find some info on this dish as I am about to make the jump into DSS, and this one caught my eye.
    I have one question. If I record a DD movie off Starz and then play it back will it be in DD? Same goes for if I pause the movie will it resume in DD.
    Also as a point of clarification, if I am watching a Basket Ball game and switch to ER right in the middle, and decide that I want to record ER will it go back to the begining of ER and record even though I was watching the B-Ball game? Or is this only the case for the show I had been watching (b-ball)?
    Thanks for taking the time to write this great review.
  3. Ken Stuart

    Ken Stuart Second Unit

    Jan 31, 2000
    Likes Received:
    If you switch to ER in the middle of the program, there is no way that it can know what was before, since the hard disk has the basketball game on it.
    I don't subscribe to Starz! and I tend to rent or buy the DVD these days instead of using the PPV in Dolby Digital (because the movies come out earlier on DVD).
    So, I haven't even tested the recording or pausing of Dolby Digital on my DishPlayer, let alone the 501 which I have only had a few hours.
    I can say that I have heard people say that both receivers will record and pause Dolby Digital, but I can't verify that from personal experience.
    However, I do use the digital audio (optical toslink) output on both receivers, and it makes a significant sound quality difference even on Dolby Surround, stereo, or even mono material, since the output of the digital-to-analog converter in your A/V receiver is connected directly to the audio amplifier. And the A/V receiver's DAC is generally better quality than the ones in satellite receivers.
  4. Robert_J

    Robert_J Lead Actor

    Aug 22, 2000
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    Real Name:
    All of the satellite receiver/PVR combo boxes playback Dolby Digital. The record the MPEG bitstream directly from the dish and play it back unaltered.
  5. Chad Beaudin

    Chad Beaudin Agent

    Dec 17, 1998
    Likes Received:
    It looks like DBS-Sales (or whatever they are called) has a "PVR-501 System / 2800 Receiver " combo for $220. So after my $200 rebate the whole system will only cost me $20+$25 S&H. Looks like a great incentive for me to dump cable.
  6. Ken Stuart

    Ken Stuart Second Unit

    Jan 31, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Look at the fine print - I would guess that the $220 price already includes the rebate - if it really doesn't include the rebate, then that is an amazing deal, since the dealer cost is over $300 on the 501...
  7. Steve Ridges

    Steve Ridges Stunt Coordinator

    Jul 26, 2000
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    Ken, I have a couple of questions for you about the 501. I currently have a Tivo and dishnetwork reciever that connect with the IR blaster but they're having problems so I've been thinking about replacing them with a 501. Here are my questions:
    1. When you say it has 10 timers, does that mean that to record something, you select timer 1, channel x, start time, end time, etc? That seems like an old VCR. With the Tivo, I can browse thru the guide press record on any program. It will then give me the option to record 1 episode or a "season pass" which records all episodes. Can the 501 do this?
    2. Can you look at the program guide while you are recording something?
    3. Can you comment on the User Interface? Is it colorful and easy to use like the Tivo or is it a bland two color design like my origial dish network EPG?
    Thanks for your help. This is the only review I've found on the unit so far.
  8. Ken Stuart

    Ken Stuart Second Unit

    Jan 31, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Yes, it can do that, but the "season pass" is unique to TiVo. If you browse through the guide, and press the big "select" button, then it puts you in a timer creation menu. You can either create a hard disk recording timer, or just a reminder or channel change timer. These timers can be one-time or weekly or daily or M-F.
    One further press of the "select" button uses the default, which is hard disk recording the program one time.
    If you choose a recurring option, the timer will occur at the same time. (Currently, there is limited functionality to adjust the time of a program if it changes, but that only happens in certain circumstances.) Some more automation of following time changes may happen in future upgrades.
    So, to answer your question, yes it has the capability to create a record timer of anything you see in the guide with two button presses.
    It's a slightly spiffed up version of the bland two color design. However, I've always found the Dish Network interfaces to be very easy to use - just not particularly beautiful graphically.
    UPGRADE - Dish Network has publicly announced that "in June" there will be a software upgrade for the 501 that will add:
    - 9-day Program Guide instead of 2-days
    - Guide downloaded to the hard drive, which will allow searching the Guide, use of the Guide will recording or delayed/paused, and essentially instant access to all 9 days of the Guide without waiting.
    Of course, anyone who is familiar with software upgrades (such as MS Windows) knows that the best case would be June 30th, and otherwise some time "soon" after that. [​IMG]
    Privately, Dish Network has mentioned that the upgrade also includes expanding the number of timers from 10 to 50, and that the upgrade is currently in testing.

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