SatelliteGuys 921 Review

Scott Greczkowski

Welcome HOME to SatelliteGuys!
Original poster
Staff member
Cutting Edge
Sep 7, 2003
Newington, CT
Pictures are posted a few messages down

For close to 3 years now, the public has been waiting for the release of Dish Network's Cadillac of satellite receivers, the 921.

Well the Cadilllac is now available with the Cadillac price tag, however with it's Cadillac looks and price tag this receiver drives more like Toyota then a Cadillac.

Out of the box the 921 is a huge beast. The size and layout of this monster lets you know this is no cheap satellite receiver.

Hidden on the front of the 921 is a sliding door at the bottom of the unit which hides a USB Port, a microphone jack and a smart card slot.

The Dish 921 is one of the last receivers to be released with a Smartcard. The card is one of the new yellow Dish 500 smart cards. The USB ports seem to be disabled, as the keyboard I use on my 721 unit does not work nor does my USB network card which also worked on my 721.

Above the sliding door slot is a flimsy cover which is held in place by 4 small plastic joints. I have been tempted to rip off the cover and find outs behind this spot but have not been brave enough yet. The plastic on this cover is not the same plastic used for the rest of the case. This appears to be an expansion slot. And from the size of things a device such as a DVD recorder would fit in here nicely.

The rear of the unit is well laid out and hooking up everything was a snap.

Upon powering the unit up I was greeted on my screen by a Dish HDTV logo on my screen, a few minutes later I was greeted with a screen that my unit was not authorized. With all the computer technology today there is no reason I couldn't be greeted with a graphic or video welcoming me to my 921 and telling me to do a switch check, and a video which shows you many of the features of the 921 while the software is downloading in the backround.

When I first did a check switch it did not detect my SuperDISH or the 105 satellite, however after the software was downloaded it found the 105 satellite.

For those of you wondering they 921 WILL NOT work with only 1 satellite cable hooked up to the unit.

Before the software is downloaded you can't do much with the system, pressing the guide button brings up a message that that feature is being downloaded.

When everything is downloaded the 921 runs just like a 721, it appears the software is basically the same between the 721 and 921, the 921 even features the same games and weather applications as the 721.

As a long time 721 user using the 921 is exactly like using a 721, infact if it were not for the fact that the is a big silver box in my entertainment center and that there are some HD Channels listed in the guide I would think I was using a 721.

The 921 also features off air tuning of both Analog and Digital signals, it is the off air tuning that makes the 921 feel like your driving a Toyota instead of the Cadillac the 921 is supposed to be.

As reported by DBSTalk's Mark Lamutt the 921 has a software bug which effects the off air tuning, this bug struck me a few times so far because my local digital stations like changing their PSIP information as different programs air.

But it was not this bug that made me dislike the 921's off air tuning, one of the biggest reasons I wanted a 921 was for the ability to record Digital Off Air Broadcasts. My wife is a big fan of the CSI type shows and the ability to time shift those shows in HD made the 921 apealing to me.

Honestly I do not see myself recording Hogans Heros of HDNet, or movies off of HBO, in my honest opinion recording movies off HBO is of no interest to me. I own a Panasonic RP91 Progressive Scan DVD player and except for a few rare occations the movies from my DVD player have looked as good (if not better) then most HD movies shown on HBO or Showtime.

The big shortfall of the 921 is its Off Air Digital recording, because the 921 currently has no off air Digital Listings it makes the PVR features of the 921 useless. In order to record a show like CSI, you need to know what time the show airs, what day the show airs, how long the show is, what channel the show is on and what Subchannel the HD broadcast is on. And while a technical guy like me can figure out those things, my wife would never be able to record her favorite shows.

And like all previous Dish Network satellite features like the OTA guide are "Coming soon" Echostar has a way of releasing products without all the promised features enabled out of the box (I am still waiting for Internet access and OpenTV on my 721), this lack of OTA Guide support is the 921's major downfall.

Also the fact that there is no on screen OTA Signal meter when tuning to a OTA Channel is also another major downfall. Here in Connecticut the local CBS broadcasts at low power the only way to pick it up is to have my antenna aimed EXACTLY at their antenna. On the 6000 I could tune to the digital channel and a OTA Meter would appear in the browse bar which would let me adjust my antenna accordingly. There is no such beast on the 921.

While I am thinking about it wouldn't it be nice if the 921 had a built in Antenna Rotor control built into it. Think about it, unless you live in the perfect location all your HD Channels are not are not going to be in the same place coming from the same antenna, if the 921 had a rotor control it could automaticly move your antenna to the proper spot for receiving each channel. I can imagine a lot of folks are going to be writing saying that their 921 did not record their favorite HD show because their off air antenna was pointing in the wrong direction.

If you are buying a 921 for its OTA tuning I would advise you to stay away for now until the bugs and OTA guide is fixed.

If you are not looking for the 921 OTA tuning comptabilities then the 921 is a fine receiver, but understand it still has flaws, the biggest one being the aspect ratio controls on the 921.

On my Dish 6000 I watched all my SD shows in Stretch Mode yeah the picture was a little distorted but it was barely noticable, and the picture filled my 16x9 screen. On the 921 however when it stretches the picture it really stretches the picture. It stetches it so much that much of the picture is lost on the left and right sides. This is something that needs to be fixed.

Mark Lamutt has proposed a fix at DBSTalk CLICK HERE by resetting your settings to 480p when watching SD programs, to me this is an unacceptable fix because you should not have to reconfigure everything each time you want to watch TV, in addition on my TV when my HD input flips to 480p mode the calibration is all off, in 1080i mode my HDTV is ISF Calibrated by Gregg Lowen.

I was also disapointed that the 921 remote could not control my Denon 3802 AV Receiver.

The manual was also a diapointment, most of the photos taken were done with a 721 and not a 921, infact a few photos used are the same photo throught the book. The 921 is a DishPro Plus receiver but there is no mention of what DishPro plus is (there is also no mention of SuperDISH, or DVR fees on the 921 in the manual)

In the manual inputs on the 921 such as the DishWire Ports (FireWire), USB, and Microphone ports all are listed as "Reserved for Future Use"

One of the Disapointments I had origionally with the 921 was that the guide only went two hours into the future, programs listed after that all showed the dreded "INFORMATION NOT AVAILABLE" I am very happy to report that over night the full 9 day guide appeared.

The picture quality on the 921 is very good, it does not have the darkness problem as many reported on the 811. I believe that the colors are more vibrant on the 921 then on the 6000.

The OTA Tuning on the 921 does not seem to be as good as the 811, and from what I have seen the tuner is about on par and MAYBE slightly better then the 6000.

Overall I am not overlly happy or disapointed with the 921, infact the word NUMB comes to mind. There are ways the 921 could be much better, and there are ways it could be worse.

As I said in my early thoughts thread here at SatelliteGuys, that if you are new to a PVR you are going to LOVE the 921. If you are using an older PVR or a 50x series DVR you will also like the 921. However if your a 721 owner you might be disapointed with the 921 as there is nothing really new on the 921 which makes it exciting.

So while the 921 currently drives like a Toyota I believe it can run like a Cadillac with a few tune ups.

A few people have emailed / PMed me and asked me to give it a raiting from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest)

I would give the 921 a 6.5 out of 10. It's not a bad unit but it could be better.
Thanks for the honest report.
I also want the 921 mainly for time shifting of the OTA. Since that is not yet worked out I will hold off.

The lack of guide info for the Digital OTA is inexcusable for a unit in this price range.

Scott I don't know if this would work on the 921 but it's something I did on my old 6K. When I wanted it to autotune to a OTA channel for a LIL channel I set the timer up using the LIL info, then went back in and changed the channel number fo the OTA channel number. Not a great solution but maybe something to bypass the proble until E* fixes the code.
Maybe this is just the receiver for me then, since I would drive a Toyota any day over a Caddy!

Maybe it has the reliability of a Caddy, is that what you are referring to? Then it would not be for me! I'll continue with my Toyota's.
The manual was also a diapointment... (there is also no mention of SuperDISH, or DVR fees on the 921 in the manual)
To be fair, I'd not expect a product user manual to say anything about fees as that can change at the whim of Echostar management.

As for the SuperDish, it was no doubt developed long after the 921 and thus has no mention. The smart thing to do would be to provide a separate manual or supplement that covers the SuperDish.
Scott, do you receive locals from dish? If so, can you set a timer using the guide, then edit it changing the channel to the HD verison?
Actually a good point. :)

Locals are so new for me on Dish I forget they are there. :)

No I don't see a slot for a second off air tuner. (And no you can not watch OTA local TV while recording from both satellite tuners.) :(
Scott, do you have an 811? If so, can you directly compare the PQ between the 811 and 921 on DVI down to S-Video outputs? I'd like a sense of how bad the 811 darkness issue is.

Also, my 811's OTA analog tuner is atrocious in terms of PQ. How is the 921's OTA analog tuner? Comparable to the 6000's or the 811?
I did have a 811 for a week, and the 811 was a lot darker, as I mentioned the colors seem brighter on my 921 then they did on my 6000.

The OTA Analog tuner is on par with the 6000. Its not as sensitive as the 811, but then again its hard to say that it is better or worse, because the weather can affect the reception. On the 811 it picked up two stations I can't get now on my 6000 or 921, is it because of a better tuner or because the weather was affecting the signals.
"And no you can not watch OTA local TV while recording from both satellite tuners.)"

Well this is new! Everyone else has told me you can.

So as I understand, if you are recording HDNet and DiscoveryHD, then you can't wants an OTA channel like local CBS in HD. Guess the HDTIVO will have the 921 beat in this respect!
Don whats wierd, is if I punch in the channel number directly, or if I am watching a recorded show while recording 2 programs the browse bar pops up like its going to change but it does nothing.

Not sure if its a bug or not.

And oh BTW the 921 does NOT seem to work with the SuperDISH. It can't get channel 7000 while the 721 upstairs (hooked to the same switch can get it no problem)
How is the PQ of the analog OTAs? My 811 analog OTA is jittery and suffers from some A/D artifacts. I'm not talking about snow or that type of interference, more along the lines of frame dropping and interlacing artifacts.
Scott Greczkowski said:
I did have a 811 for a week, and the 811 was a lot darker, as I mentioned the colors seem brighter on my 921 then they did on my 6000.

The OTA Analog tuner is on par with the 6000. Its not as sensitive as the 811, but then again its hard to say that it is better or worse, because the weather can affect the reception. On the 811 it picked up two stations I can't get now on my 6000 or 921, is it because of a better tuner or because the weather was affecting the signals.

I can say for sure that the 811 OTA Digital tuner is more sensitive than the 6000. With the 811 I can get two extra channels with solid reception. And a third one I can receive occasionally which I use not to be able to get any signal with the 6000.
Step 1 compare notes with Mark.

Logically, it would seem that the OTA TUNER is available for simple viewing. However, analyzing the spec sheet it doesn't say you can do it. It says "while watching a prerecorded program" And it may have something to do with the record buffer for pause, slomo etc. In other words, recording two sat programs maxes out the buffer for the third tuner. IT isn't available. If you are recording one sat program I hope you can watch OTA channel. Most of the time that will suffice.
Don I am sitting in front of my 921 now. I am recording 2 shows from satellite.

When I try to switch to a OTA Channel I get the following message...

"Your request can only be carried out in live mode. Stop recording and switch to live mode now?"
Can you record ONE sat channel and switch to OTA?

If not then this doesn't sound very good at all.

Wonder what happens if you are watching an OTA channel when two timer sat record events are scheduled to begin? What will fail to happen?

This is just one of several permutations that I think you need to define.

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