The DirecTV subscriber who decides to upgrade to the company's high-definition service will receive the H20 satellite receiver. This set-top box features a single DirecTV tuner, as well as a single ATSC tuner to pull in over-the-air HD signals - just in case you live in an area where DirecTV does not yet offer local channels in high-def. The box supports both MPEG-2 and higher-quality MPEG-4 signals. The H20 does not offer DVR functionality; for that, you must upgrade to the HR21/HR20 HD DVR.
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The H20's back panel contains one HDMI, one component video, and one S-video output, plus dual composite video outputs - which allows you to send an SD signal to a second room (you can only watch the same content being displayed in the main room). On the audio side, you can output PCM or Dolby Digital 5.1 signals via HDMI or the single optical digital audio cable (there's no coaxial digital audio output); two stereo analog audio outputs are also included. You'll also find a USB port that is currently inactive, as well as a phone jack for ordering pay-per-view and receiving Caller ID information. The supplied remote control lacks backlighting, but the buttons are arranged in an intuitive manner. You can program the remote to control your TV and two additional components. It is an IR model; DirecTV sells an optional RF remote for $25, and the H20's back panel features an RF remote antenna jack, should you choose to go this route.
The H20 supports the 480i, 480p, 720p, and 1080i resolutions. Select all four options in the setup menu, and the box will output every channel at its native resolution, which allows you to bypass the H20's internal (and mediocre) scaler. The setup menu includes some other nice features, such as the ability to designate a color for 4:3 sidebars (dark gray, black, or gray), which is especially beneficial for plasma owners who are concerned about image retention. You can also designate an aspect ratio for 4:3 content (stretch, crop, or pillar box); the remote's format button allows you to scroll easily through the choices.
The box itself looks pretty basic, sporting a matte silver finish and front-panel buttons for power, guide, menu, info, navigation, resolution, and active, as well as four LEDs that indicate the resolution of the current channel. The Active button launches DirecTV Active, which provides access to local weather, lottery, horoscope, and customer service information.
- The H20 supports MPEG-4, and DirecTV's image quality, especially with HD signals, is very good.
- The H20 will display TV channels at their native resolution (480i, 720p, or 1080i), so you can bypass the box's internal processing.
- DirecTV offers a great HD package.
- The internal scaler does only an average job upconverting 480i signals.
- The H20 lacks some of the digital-media perks you can find with other set-top boxes: The USB port is currently inactive, and there's no Ethernet port for media streaming.
- Although a rebate is often offered, the H20 costs $99, and you continue to pay monthly lease fees after that.
DirecTV offers one of the most compelling HD packages on the market, and the picture quality is better than that of many cable services. The H20 is a worthy set-top box that's easy to set up and use.