Rich Warren: Service switch causing consternation about DVR contents

Rich Warren: Service switch causing consternation about DVR contents

This reader worries about making the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list:

"We exchanged DISH for DirecTV to the consternation of our 39-year-old school teacher still living at home. She gave me static for considering such a thing. She had not mentioned she had many programs and movies saved on the DISH receiver/DVR. The debris hit the fan!

"Having read you for many years, you were the first one I thought of to possibly being able to identify a way (or who) to transfer those programs to disk after the receiver had been disconnected and removed from its setup.

"I suppose someone might persuade the FBI to tackle the problem (I don't believe I would attempt that). As I am writing this I just remembered: I am somewhat close to a retired FBI agent as my former high school student who could know of a way to do this without upsetting everyone."

This email arrived at the same day one of my neighbors told me he traded in DISH for DirecTV. He remarked that the picture quality on DirecTV is noticeably better than DISH.

You present two different problems: legal and technical.

I don't know what the fine print says in the contract that you signed with DISH concerning who actually owns the DVR.

Then there's the issue of what you recorded on the DVR. If you own the DVR after the expiration of your DISH contract and if you only view what's on the DVR for your own personal enjoyment and make no copies, then technically, you can salvage what's on it, without the FBI breaking down your door.

Simply reconnecting the DISH DVR to a spare input on your TV may enable watching the contents, but I'm not certain about the software DISH uses to enable playback and whether it looks for an active satellite subscription. It's worth a try.

Failing this, pop the lid on that DVR and inside is nothing but an ordinary computer hard drive, on which all your recordings reside. Remove the hard drive, insert it in a PC with the appropriate video playback software and you can watch your recordings by connecting the PC to the TV.

Another reader about 40 miles northeast of Champaign-Urbana questioned why his reception is so terrible, especially on channels 12 (WILL) and 17 (WAND). He laments that he formerly received their analog signals with a 12-foot-high antenna, but since the advent of digital they're gone. Adding an amplifier to his existing antenna failed to help.

Channels 12 and 17 transmit from southwest of Champaign — Channel 12 from near Allerton Park and Channel 17 just this side of Decatur. That means this viewer is in deep fringe 60 to 75 miles from the broadcast towers.

Unlike analog broadcast that faded out gradually, digital broadcasts generally fade abruptly. There's a small zone of marginal, but usually unwatchable, reception — and then nothing. An amplifier cannot amplify what's not there.

Try one or both of these options:

Double or triple the height of your existing antenna and see if that helps.

Buy a new VHF/UHF antenna designed for deep fringe reception.

You'll need the VHF for Channel 12, although unfortunately, that's what makes the antenna so large and unwieldy. UHF-only antennas bristle with short elements. You can find antennas at Radio Shack, Best Buy or on the Internet.

Living where you do, you also may want to install a rotor on the antenna so you can aim it at the stations you desire. This makes the whole arrangement even more clumsy, complex and expensive.

A more elegant but costly option is subscribing to DISH or DirecTV, which carry most, if not all, of our local channels. A 3-foot satellite dish beats a 6-foot antenna while providing more dependable reception. The dish antenna and receiver are free, but the monthly subscription ends up costing more than a conventional antenna.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at

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tfdofficer wrote on November 29, 2012 at 11:11 am

For the issue of too far away from the digital signal; the antenna you presently have is not tuned for the signal which is now being broadcast.  If you purchase a new antenna you increase the chances of getting enough digital signal to get picture.  Height will make some difference but it would be more advantagous to use a directional antenna(s) pointed to the transmission tower(s) rather than an omni-directional antenna gathering some signal from all directions.

Good luck on your TV viewing.

jdmac44 wrote on November 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm


I use a Silicon Dust TV tuner for my PC and Windows Media Center for my DVR.  This requires more technical aptitude (or a nephew/grandchild/child who's in the know), but I love the results that I get with it!  This way, you can have whatever size hard drive you like (I recently purchased a 1TB external drive with USB 3.0, now I wish I'd gotten a 2 or 3 TB!)  What’s great about using a DVR setup like this is that the recordings are made into Windows Media Center files and can be played on any computer with Windows Media Center (comes stock with Windows 7), so I can put the files on my laptop to take on trips or share with friends!  I use this with my over-the-air Digital TV signal, but it works with cable and satellite as well.