HD on DirecTV: HR10-250, HR20, and HR21, and Channel Formats

The questions about the longevity of the HR10 are coming more and more frequently. DirecTV has been telling a lot of customers that to get all of the HD out there, they need new equipment; that the HR10 won’t get the HD channels.

This is true, but it’s a little misleading. We have heard of no definite plans to turn off the HD DirecTV channels that the HR10s can receive. But it is true that newer HD channels that DirecTV is now offering can not be seen by the HR10 units. In addition, the HR10s can always see the over-the-air HD channels – ones that some of the newer HD DVRs can’t see now.


So here’s a little background history: The HR10-250 DirecTV HD TiVo came out in the Spring of 2004. At the time, it was the only HD TiVo available, and one of the few HD DVRs available. TiVo lovers flocked to this unit – and in many cases to DirecTV to get it. DirecTV transmitted all of their HD stations in a compression format called MPEG2. And this unit could also receive OTA HD channels – which are uncompressed, and therefore the highest quality HD broadcasts you can get, if you can get them. More info on our OTA page.

Then, as DirecTV’s ownership changed and they charted their course forward, they decided to develop their own DVR platform. They also decided to eventually add new HD channels in a more compressed format called MPEG4 to allow for more channels to be sent simultaneously. Obviously, more compression means a lower quality signal, so the MPEG4 channels are often called “HD Lite” – better than SD, but not quite as good as MPEG2, and even further away from OTA quality. But often this difference is only noticeable in a side-by-side comparison and many people are completely satisfied with MPEG4 quality.

So with the change in the DVR platform (away from TiVo) and the change in the broadcast type (to MPEG4) DirecTV developed a new HD DVR: the HR20. The HR20 was similar in interface to the R15, which DirecTV earlier rolled out for SD DVR customers. Initially, the OTA tuners on the HR20 were disabled, but they now work.

Then, to progress from the HR20, DirecTV rolled out the HR21. The HR21 has only two major differences from the HR20: it’s black, and it has no OTA tuner.

To compare the units, here are the main points:

HR10: Uses the TiVo interface and Peanut remote; records MPEG2 HD and OTA HD and all SD stations.

HR20: Uses the DirecTV interface and remote; records MPEG2 HD, MPEG4 HD, and OTA HD and all SD stations.

HR21: Uses the DirecTV interface and remote; records MPEG2 HD, MPEG4 HD and all SD stations.

So what should I do?

Our customers know us as TiVo fanatics and often come to us asking: How do I get the HD channels from DirecTV in a TiVo unit? Sorry to say, there’s no way to do it. These are the best options:

-If you currently have an HR10 TiVo and you are happy with the current channels: Do nothing. DirecTV is definitely hinting that they will stop transmitting the MPEG2 HD channels at some point in the future, but we think that’s at least a year away. With this type of technology, a year is a long time, so there’s no reason to do anything now. Enjoy your TiVo interface and peanut remote and wait to see what happens, when it happens.

-If you currently have an HR10 TiVo and you want more HD channels: Then you can do a few things. You can move to a DirecTV HD DVR; you can ADD a DirecTV HD DVR; or you can move to or add cable. Here’s a breakdown of each:

–Moving to a DirecTV HD DVR: You can get a DirecTV HD DVR without TiVo that gets all of the new HD channels from DirecTV. We have the units – both at their stock 30 hour size, and larger, with up to 145 hours of capacity. See our HR21 page. Once you get the unit, you can arrange to have DirecTV come out and install it with a new dish if necessary, free. (If you also want HD OTA channels, you’d need an HR20. We still have a few here, but we won’t for much longer.)

–Adding a DirecTV HD DVR: Many people prefer using their TiVo, and want to only use a new HD DVR for those channels which the HD TiVo can’t see. The only downside here is an extra receiver fee of $5.99/month. But as long as your TV has two good HD inputs, this makes sense for a lot of people, especially those who use OTA channels.

–Moving to cable: This is obviously a much bigger change, but it can come with many more advantages. The obvious one is that you can get more HD and still do it in a TiVo. The new HD TiVos for cable are really by far the best DVRs yet. (To read more about how they work, see our CableCARD info.) You get networking, OTA channels, Amazon Unbox, and tons more. The one important issue here is the availability of HD channels in your area via cable and antenna – you’ll need to ask your cable provider about this specifically.

And here’s the most-asked question we get: How do I modify my HR10-250 to get the new channels? Sorry to say, this can’t be done.

Next most-frequent: I hear rumors that DirecTV and TiVo will be making a new HD DVR together – true? We wish this were true, and it may be, but we haven’t heard anything to confirm it in the least.

Finally: DirecTV says they’re shutting of the HD channels that my HR10 can receive, and that I have to get a new unit to keep getting these same channels – true? We don’t think this is true anytime soon. While they will almost certainly turn off these channels one day, we think it’s a long, long time from now. Far too many people still have equipment that can only get these channels.

14 replies on “HD on DirecTV: HR10-250, HR20, and HR21, and Channel Formats”

So I just got off the phone with DTV. My HR10 had lost all of its programming info. As the customer svc rep was attempting to get my programming info sent, she asked me if my dish was a 5 LNB. I told her that I had a dual LNB and she said that I had “old” equipment. I told her that I didn’t consider my 2.5 year old HR 10 “old”. I knew where this was going, and I told her that if and when DTV turns off my HD signal (mpeg2) they will lose me as a customer. She said that Tivo users are very loyal and that the HR 20 was available as a “swap” with DTV. “Owned equipment for owned equipment” was how she put it. My question is if I’m planning to keep my HR-10, and want to add a second DTV receiver in order to get their new, though compressed as hell channels, should I get an HR-20 with an eye toward the day that the mpeg2 is gone and then I’ll at least have OTA capabilities with it…or is there any advantage to the HR21pro…?

The HR21 Pro still doesn’t get OTA signals. It adds other features (largely for home theaters) but not any more channels than an HR21.

As above, I’d say if you love TiVo, consider cable. If you love DirecTV, just get a new DVR and a 5LNB dish and commit for two more years.

i was confused about the tivo hd B4 i read the blog. now i am really confused!!!

The TiVo HD3 is superb on both cable and OTA. It requires NO telephone lines, only an internet connection.

I left DTV and TiVo because when switching to VoIP telephone service (Vonage) TiVo could no longer call and make a connection. Now with the HD3, this is no longer a limitation, so I get high speed data, VoIP, digital cable, HD cable and OTA with my new configuration. This is by far the most stable my home theatre has ever been.

It looks like there are two paths available to me; if DirecTV wins out, then they get me to switch over to their DVR, and I get to watch their HD channels. If TiVo wins out, I tell DirecTV to go away, I keep an ugly dish on my roof, and I still have to switch over to another TiVo, this time with cable. Added to the cost of a HD TV in 1080p, I am looking at anywhere from three and a half to four $K to upgrade and switch over, not including the costs of subscribing to the TiVo content for Comcast, which was never terribly accurate.

Do I have this correct? Is there some alternative that I have overlooked? For these kinds of costs, I would think that someone would be working the hell out of developing alternatives.

Of course status quo is still if not free, relatively inexpensive.

FYI, my HR10 does NOT receive local channels in HD (I’m in the LA market); they have been switched over to MPEG-4. I receive ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, HDTheater, and maybe one other channel. Also, as an installer, I’ve seen quite a few HR21’s acting up, locking up, and being very unreliable. So try at your own risk.

Just a comment, Tivo could make a mint by selling a box capable of taking HD input and recording it to disk. I like my DTV service and I love my Tivo, If I have to choose I will most likely choose Tivo, but I have had such issue with different cable companies in the past, I don’t know how well it will go.

I upgraded to the new DTV HD dish, and now my Tivo does not get any channels. I thought only the new HD channels would not be visible, but all channel are not working. Anyone come across this before?

I just got a call from Directv and they told me they would be shutting off the HD channels my HD receiver can recicve in the near future. they offered me a replacement free and with no commitments, i asked if the replacement had a tivo interface, the rep said, we are trying to get away from tivo interface, our contract ends with tivo in 2010, and we will phase them out. I told him I’ll live with the OTA HD channels, and will go to cable if they shut down my tivo.

When will they get the message? I have been a DIRECTV customer since 1997.

Ken, obviously your directv cust service rep couldn’t see 3 days into the future.
My question is this; do you have an HR10-250?
And are you able to receive any HD channels? Do you receive OTA HD channels through your HR10-250? Thanks.

From DirecTV website: Sep 3, 2008:

EL SEGUNDO and ALVISO, Calif. — Sept. 3, 2008 — DIRECTV, Inc. (NASDAQ: DTV), the nation’s leading satellite television service provider, and TiVo Inc. (NASDAQ: TIVO), the creator of and a leader in television services for digital video recorders (DVR), announced today that they have extended their current agreement, which includes the development, marketing and distribution of a new HD DIRECTV DVR featuring the TiVo Service, as well as the extension of mutual intellectual property arrangements.

Under the terms of the non–exclusive arrangement, DIRECTV and TiVo will work together to develop a version of the TiVo® service for DIRECTV’s broadband-enabled HD DVR platform. The product will support the latest TiVo and DIRECTV features and services, including TiVo’s Universal Swivel Search and TiVo KidZone. TiVo will develop the new HD DVR for an expected launch in the second half of 2009.

and it goes on and one for many more paragraphs

I got an e-mail from Directv informing me of the new directivo hd. I do currently have an hr10-250, and get some HD channels. (From the sat and from the antenna) Does anyone know when they will cut off the channels I currently receive?? I will wait them out if they do cut off my NY locals….

I got the same letter, phone call, AND email from DirecTV about how I was supposed to “get my free upgrade to the new DVR and get the new channels before we shut off the old channels in Feb 2009”.

I called and flew off the handle on them. 1) The “upgrade” units are refurbs (says so in the fine print), 2) they are all leased not owned units (no WK upgrades — ugh), 3) they are not TiVo (of course), 4) I would lose my OTA channels, 5) the “upgrade” would require me to get a new dish, and 6) it would charge me an additional HD charge for each of my five (5) units. I told them to go to heck.

The rep tried and tried to lure me in, I wasn’t buying it. And then I asked them “when are you cutting off the few HD channels I do get”. She said “in Feb when the digital change happens”. I said, “the two are completely unrelated! Why would you do that?” She passed me to her supervisor. Same conversation. He passed me to his supervisor. I told that person that I was going to upgrade when the new TiVos come out next year. He said “you and everybody else. We aren’t likely to cut off the HD channels for the old HD machines until well after those machines are out and installed.”



I was so happy I came accross your blog. It was VERY INFORMATIVE, I myself refuse to let go of what I already have!!! WAY To Go Chris!!! I totally agree with you 100%!

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