Setting up the EchoStar HDT-610R doesn't take too long, but it was quite slow at tuning channels -- much slower than the Panasonic DMR-HW120 that we looked at recently. However, you only really have to tune all the channels once, so this isn’t going to be an issue longer term when you're using the recorder.
Thankfully the menu system is very straightforward and easy to use, and it's nicely presented too. Press the menu button on the remote and it calls up a column on the left hand side of the screen that contains colours full icons for the programming guide, favourite channels, Recordings library, apps and settings.
The programming guide is quite well designed too. It overlays on top of the channel you're watching so you don’t lose audio and video when you call it up. It's neatly laid-out and shows eight channels' worth of data at a time with a summary box as well as a banner showing you how much of the currently selected program is left to play out.
Scheduling a recording couldn’t be much easier as you just select the show in the guide and then press the record button on the remote. If the show is part of a series you're given the option to record all the episodes in the series and if there are any clashes with existing timers the PVR will tell you as soon as you try to add a new timer. However, there doesn't seem to be a way to pad out recordings, say to add a couple of minutes to the start and end of a timer in case a program over runs or starts slightly early.
Recordings appear in the library and unwatched shows are marked with a new flag which helps you keep track of which shows in a series you've watched and which ones you are yet to view. The library screen also lets you view the recording timers that you have set-up.
As this is a twin tuner PVR it can record two channels at the same time or allow you to watch one channel while recording another. It supports chase play too, so you can watch the start of the program while the end is still recording.
The playback controls are nice and responsive and you can fast forward or rewind programs at speeds from 2x up to 64x. You can also jump in one minute blocks by hitting the right or left buttons on the remote's central D-pad.
The PVR constantly buffers the current channel you're watching to disk, so you can rewind up to one hour's worth of play time whenever you want. You can, for course, also pause live TV and again it'll buffer this for up to one hour. The 500GB hard drive is large enough to store up to 300 hours of standard definition programming or 125 hours of HD shows.
Unfortunately our review unit didn’t have the smart TV features enabled on it yet. However, EchoStar says that it will support the BBC's iPlayer service as well as BoxOffice 365 premium movie and TV rental service with more services to be added in the future.
Also, for quite an expensive PVR, it lacks some of the more advanced features you'll find on rival Freeview HD models. For example, despite the presence of the two USB ports it doesn't allow you to play back digital media files from memory keys or hard drives plugged into these ports. They only seem to be there for performing manual software updates. It also doesn't support streaming media over a network and unlike a lot of the recorders PVR from big name brands like Panasonic it doesn’t allow you to share the recording library across a network with other TVs or media streamers.
The EchoStar HDT-610R's slimness really is very impressive and we also like it's easy to use interface and good recording features. However, it's quite an expensive PVR for a 500GB model and it lacks some of the more advanced features that you now find on Freeview PVRs from the likes of Panasonic and Samsung.