Review: DISH Network’s PocketDISH AV700E - Macenstein

Review: DISH Network’s PocketDISH AV700E

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

There can be no argument that in the portable media player arena the iPod is the undisputed heavyweight champ. Both Mac and Windows users have time and again chosen the iPod over rivals that have often offered more features and lower prices. With the latest generation of iPod, Apple has expanded on the audio-only roots that made the iPod such a huge hit, and added the ability to play back videos on the iPod, thus eliminating one of the last justifiable argument in selecting a different portable media player. However, with a 2.5-inch screen, many users have felt the hand-held home theater experience a bit lacking.

To be sure, the iPod is still first and foremost a music player, and this 5th generation of iPod can be seen as largely a test by Apple to judge the marketplace’s reaction/demand for portable video. Based upon the latest reports of healthy iTunes video sales, Apple will likely be looking to deliver a more cinematic viewing experience by equipping future iPods with larger screens (and dare I say, perhaps even external speakers?).

But the iPod will always be limited by its size. It is doubtful that the iPod as we know it will ever outgrow the average person’s pocket. While I have incredible respect for the industrial designers over at Apple, there is only so big you can make the screen on an iPod. For an actually enjoyable portable video viewing experience, consumers (for the moment) still need to look elsewhere.

The French company Archos had been making portable media players long before Apple, and even with the latest video iPod on the market, many industry analysts will still you Archos delivers a much more engaging viewing experience than the iPod, and delivers functionality that Apple’s player just can’t deliver.

So why am I bring up Archos in a review of DISH Network’s PocketDISH? Well, while the outside branding is all DISH, the guts are all Archos. A couple years back DISH Network sunk about $15 million or so into Archos with the agreement that Archos would design some neat products for DISH Network customers. The PocketDISH portable video players are the first spawn of that marriage. These devices allow you not only to view videos, photos, and listen to music, you can also record video and audio directly from any source with RCA/S-Video jacks.

Above: the PocketDISH AV700E.

The $599 7-inch widescreen AV700E is the bad-ass big boy of the PocketDISH family, and boasts a couple of unique features the smaller PocketDISH players (the AV500E and AV300E) do not. First and foremost, by connecting the AV700E to your compatible DISH Network receiver’s USB2 port, you can transfer any recorded programs you have in a matter of minutes, without recompressing them. This is a result of that funding Archos received from DISH Networks, and it allows for the decoding of the encrypted DISH Network programming, so recorded shows can simply be moved to the Pocket DISH without the need for recompression. What this means is you can quickly move shows off your receiver’s hard drive and onto the PocketDISH to either free up space or for on-the-go viewing on the large 7-inch LCD screen. In addition, programs can be played on ANY TV directly from the PocketDISH via an RCA cable and adapter. This is great for people like me who only feel like they need one TV in the house, but occasionally wouldn’t mind watching a show upstairs as well.

So, now that the iPod plays video, how does it stack up to the PocketDISH?

Comparing the PocketDISH to a video iPod: Exterior

Ok, well the most noticeable physical difference is the screen size. Here the PocketDISH has the iPod beat hands down. Almost the entire length and width of the PocketDISH is comprised of its bright and surprisingly clear 7-inch LCD screen that blows away the iPod for video viewing (although photos do look a bit crunchy). This of course comes at the expense of some amount of portability, and the iPod bests the PocketDISH in that respect. Unlike the iPod, the PocketDISH is too large to really just have on your person all day long (and makes you wonder if the word “pocket� should even be in the device’s name at all). The PocketDISH also boasts twin speakers (on each side), although perhaps “boasts� is a poor choice of words. They deliver adequate but tiny sound, so I am not quite sure they deliver any real advantage over the iPod. On both devices you will find yourself wearing headphones. The PocketDISH has far more external controls than the iPod, and in the ergonomics/user interface category, the iPod wins hands down (more on this later).

Above: the iPod’s screen is just a little smaller than the PocketDISH’s.

Comparing the PocketDISH to a video iPod: What they can do

Both the PocketDISH and video iPod can play videos and music, but the PocketDISH cannot play any content purchased from the iTunes music store due to Apple’s refusal to let any player other than the iPod access their material. This is a huge drawback to be sure, but nothing that is the fault of the PocketDISH. On the other hand, the PocketDISH is actually able to play a much wider range of video files. PocketDISH can play 720 x 480 AVIs, most Divx movies, and Windows media files, as well as MP3’s and copy protected WMA’s from other online music services. Battery life is basically similar between the two, with the PocketDISH delivering just over 4 hours of constant video viewing, and 30 hours for music-only playback.

Both the iPod and the PocketDISH can play back photos in a slideshow, although as a Mac user you will not be able to interface directly with Apple’s iPhoto folders as you can with an iPod. Photos must be manually placed into the photos folder on the PocketDISH, meaning there is a bit more time needed to organize which pictures you want to have with you. However, the PocketDISH DOES provide a very nice bit of functionality that the iPod does not (at least not without purchasing extra equipment). You can plug your digital camera into the PocketDISH via a mini USB cable, and import photos directly from the camera (you will need a separate mini USB to mini USB cable to do so). This is great for long vacations where you continuously fill up memory cards. All you need to do is unload your photos into the PocketDISH, then erase you card and keep shooting. When you get home, simply plug your PocketDISH into your Mac, and pull off your photos. The PocketDISH shows up as an external hard drive on your desktop when plugged into an available USB2 (or 1) port.

The one area that the PocketDISH definitely bests the iPod is when it comes to recording. While the iPod is (currently) limited to merely playing back video, the PocketDISH can record video from any source that supports RCA or S-Video connections. You can also record audio directly into the PocketDISH via a microphone. Video is saved as 1800 kbit/sec AVI files, and they look surprisingly good.

However the most unique thing about the PocketDISH (and one of its biggest selling points in my opinion) is its ability to interface directly with select DISH Network DVRs. Assuming you are a DISH Network subscriber, you are going to find this feature extremely cool. Just hook your PocketDISH to your receiver’s USB2 port, and a menu pops up on your TV asking you which of your recorded shows you would like to move to the PocketDISH. You can check multiple programs, and set up a queue for transfer. Once you hit “Send Video�, the shows are quickly transferred to your PocketDISH at a speed of about 5 minutes per hour long show. Once there you can then watch your shows anywhere you want, or connect the PocketDISH to another TV via RCA/S-Video connections. Shows looks as good as the originals because, in effect, they ARE the originals. The 40 GB AV700E can hold an estimated 160 hours of standard definition programming.

While neither the iPod nor the PocketDISH would be considered “gaming machines�, both do have games as well. However the PocketDISH’s large screen and wider selection of games goes far beyond the iPod’s trivia and Bricks, and new games can be downloaded from the internet and installed on the PocketDISH from your computer.

Comparing the PocketDISH to a video iPod: How They Do it

When comparing the two devices, the most glaring difference to me is each company’s approach in dealing with the end-user’s experience. We all know the iPod has pretty much redefined the term “ease of use� and set new standards for elegant and intelligent design. My 4-year old daughter, who cannot read very well yet, can navigate my iPod and find her songs, change the volume, fast forward and skip songs. Four days after unpacking my PocketDISH, I still needed the manual to figure out how to use many of its features. While this may mean I should perhaps have had my daughter review the PocketDISH, I prefer to see the PocketDISH’s design as a great idea, horribly executed.

The PocketDISH at first glance seems like a very sleek and stylish piece of portable hardware, and truthfully, it IS a bit of a showstopper. Co-workers seemed unanimously impressed with the large screen, and the most common phrase upon seeing the PocketDISH was “Oh COOL!�. However, upon handing the PocketDISH to an unsuspecting guinea pig, it was soon obvious I was not the only idiot in the room. “So, how do you get it to play?� was the most common question. This reaction is even more distressing because the PocketDISH boots up with a screen showing you some big recognizable icons like VIDEO, PHOTOS, MUSIC, and even with the “VIDEO� icon highlighted, no one was able to figure out how to select that icon in under a minute.

Above: the PocketDISH AV700E’s stylish exterior masks some severe usability flaws.

So what’s the problem? VERY poor UI choices by the PocketDISH’s designers. It seems the “select� button is actually the “power� button. Or, I should say, the “On� button, as the PocketDISH has a separate button for ON and OFF. And the “Off� button, of course, is also the “Cancel� button. That is, unless you are playing a game, in which case it is no longer the cancel button, you need to navigate a new menu with another set of controls to cancel out of a game.

The main navigational buttons are located on the left side of the device, and while it would have been nice to keep the select button there for one-handed navigation, sadly the select button (actually BOTH select buttons) is on the far right of the unit. The buttons are all very small as well, and their tactile response and loud clicks are just a little “off� to my tastes. I would much rather that Archos used some of that $15 million and incorporated DISH Network’s remote control layout in some way.

The ability to record video, which is one of the PocketDISH’s strongest selling features, is also one of its more disappointing user experiences. For some reason, you cannot connect the PocketDISH directly to a video source or TV via the included RCA cables as you can with an iPod. Instead, these cables must run from the video source to an external “TV docking pod�, and then from the docking pod to the PocketDISH. This causes a number of problems. The first is the “docking pod� requires power. The poorly designed power chord ends at an odd rectangular plug with a folding prong design. This is not a traditional “power brick� and there is no need for such a large plug. Also, the folding prongs are located in the middle of rectangle, thus causing this device to needlessly take up at LEAST two outlets (depending on your powerstrip/outet configuration it may be more). I feel the PocketDISH is most likely geared towards people like myself who love gadgets and have a bunch of devices filling all available slots their entertainment center. When you have a TV, DVD Player, DVD recorder, VCR, Satellite receiver, and surround sound system plugged in, you are not exactly swimming in extra outlets. Also, the need to have the power chord plugged in in addition to the RCA cable means you have to try to find a physical position in your entertainment center that is equally between both your power outlets and your satellite receiver, plus it needs to be close enough to the receiver to plug in to the USB 2 port (yet that cable is ridiculously short). But the real drawback to this whole docking pod thing is that it is such a pain to access the RCA ports in the back of most devices, that you really do not want to be constantly plugging and unplugging the docking pod and cables when you want to move the unit to another room to view it (yes, you also need the dockng pod to playback through a TV as well) and you certainly begin to feel the drawbacks when you imagine having to carry a full accessory case just to manage all the extra cables and the docking pod while traveling. It would have been nice if the PocketDISH shipped with two docking pods, one to leave by your receiver, and one you can take with you.

Also, when recording from my DISH receiver via the RCA cables, I noticed an odd line appeared at the bottom of each recording (see below). This almost appeared to be some sort of blanking issue, yet it was higher in the frame than I would have expected, so I do not know what caused this.

The weird line at the bottom appeared on all my recordings made via the docking pod. (Off topic, $1 goes to whoever can tell me how to get toys of these little guys!)

As for navigating your various media, again, the iPod is the clear winner. Being able to navigate through clear menus with a unified selection tool is something you may take for granted if you have not tried to use other portable media devices. The PocketDISH’s menus are laid out very much like the Windows Explorer, which while ubiquitous enough to seem familiar, has never been called “user friendly�. You can even see files you are probably not supposed to see, like “UPDATE_AV700E.AOS, and the TRASH and ASIAN FONTS folders.

As an example of the type of thought that went into how to operate this device, I will quote an excerpt from the manual regarding the “simple� act of viewing your slides in slideshow mode.

1 Turn the PocketDISH on, allow the PocketDISH time for the desktop to display
2 Highlight the Photo icon and press ON to access the content.
1 Press the bottom Setup key and highlight the Photo browser settings.
2 Press the center Setup key to open the Photo browser settings.
3 Highlight Image Display and change the setting to Progressive.
4 Highlight Picture Pause and select the desired viewing time.
5 Press OFF to exit the Photo browser settings.
1 Press the bottom Setup key and highlight the Slideshow option.
2 Press the center Setup key to view the slideshow.
3 Press OFF to exit the slideshow.�

If this sounds confusing, don’t worry. This doesn’t make much more sense when you are holding the unit. This is hardly something Grandma is going to be using to look at photos of the grandkids.

Finally, the most disappointing thing about this unit is also the thing that works the best. The seamless integration with the DISH Network receivers is extremely intuitive and easy, and yes, even Grandma might be able to handle this. However, in reading the literature on the PocketDISH, you will time and again run into the words “selectâ€? and “compatibleâ€?, as in this seamless transfer of recorded DVR shows works only on “selectâ€? and “compatibleâ€? receivers. DISH generously uses the plural “receiver(s)â€?, however, as of this writing, the PocketDISH AV700E supports only ONE of DISHNetwork’s receivers, and it is of course their most expensive one, the $700 DISH Player-DVR 942. DISH claims that they are working on compatibility with older receivers with USB ports, but those of use with 721 receivers who were promised name-based recording capability on a “Charlie Chat” over two years ago will not be holding our breath. So while this fast syncing with the 942 receiver works as advertised, you are looking at a $1300 investment to make it happen.


Based on the last 8 paragraphs or so of this review, you would likely assume I hate the PocketDISH. But to be honest, I like it. And my kids LOVE it. They find it fascinating for some reason to be able to watch their shows huddled on the floor around a tiny 7-inch screen with less than stellar sound, instead of watching them on the 36-inch TV located just to their right. The reason I spent so much time in this review pointing out the PocketDISH’s shortcomings is because they ARE legitimate, and they are MANY. I have always prided myself as a bit of a gadget geek, and I don’t mind spending countless hours in my basement trying to figure out how to get one gadget to play nice with another. But I realize most people aren’t willing to do that. I wanted to make sure that no one thought the PocketDISH was just a video iPod on steroids. While the device does everything it claims it will, you sometimes have to beat the hell out of the PocketDISH to get it to do what you want it to do. I liken it to the feeling of trying to assemble a complex toy with only the Japanese instructions on hand. You will find yourself hitting the wrong menu keys and buttons quite a bit, even after weeks of use. There are many poor design choices both in the physical design and in the software. However, 90% of the time you are just going to be watching a television show or movie on this thing, and once you get it playing, it doesn’t really matter how hard it is to set up a slideshow or that it just feels weird to have to hit the “ON� button to select something. At the end of the day the PocketDISH delivers a really great viewing experience and is far more versatile than a video iPod.

Comparing the PocketDISH to the iPod is not quite a fair comparison to either unit. It might actually be better to compare the PocketDISH to a portable DVD player than an iPod. After all, the PocketDISH is really designed for playing back video, and the iPod is still mainly for listening to music. Both are portable hard drive based media devices, but there the similarities begin to get fuzzy. Using Handbrake you can fit about 50 or 60 DVDs at full-res onto the PocketDISH, and that can make long car rides and business travel much more enjoyable. In the end I would chose an iPod over the PocketDISH, but that is because I find I have more opportunity to listen to music throughout my day than to watch TV. Ideally I would like to have both.

If you own the 942 receiver, the PocketDISH is a very cool device. The fast syncing works great, and will eliminate much of the hassles I spoke about when recording via the RCA jacks. I am not sure just how many of DISH Network’s 12 million subscribers also own the High Def 942 receiver, but it seems like a rather small potential audience (DISH Network claims more of their receivers will become compatible soon). Still, If you do not have the 942, or even ANY DISH Network receiver, and you don’t mind recording files in real time (and ripping DVDs in slower than real-time), the PocketDISH AV700E will make an excellent traveling companion.

DISH Network’s PocketDISH AV700E

Price: $599 ($60 rebate now available through DISH
As a Video Playback Device: 8.5
As a video recording device: 6.5 (if you have a compatible DISH Network satellite receiver) 9.0
As a music player: 6.0
As a photo Viewer: 6.0

Total rating: 7.2
Total rating (if you own a compatible DISH reciever: 8.3

16 Responses to “Review: DISH Network’s PocketDISH AV700E”
  1. Way Cool Jr. says:

    I guess once Apple makes a DVR though, the video iPod would sync pretty seamlessly with that.
    I am a big fan of waiting around for the next big thing and never actually buying anything, so I think I wil do that here as well.

  2. Wolfman Mac says:

    very cool.
    I’d get one if they were abot $150 less.
    Just a bit pricey

  3. Mindcrime says:

    That was a great unbiased review and it basically taught me enough about the equipment to steer me towards a portable dvd player with a 10inch screen that plays divx movies for just over 2 bills. Thanks

  4. mikelmahoo says:

    I own a AV500E and it is awesome! I don’t know why you are criticizing them so much.

  5. Peter says:

    Have you tried transfering any TV programs to you laptop and playing them back there ?

  6. Another Peter says:

    You can transfer a program to your computer for storage purposes, but you can’t watch it there.

  7. Cruzer says:

    I own a AV700E pocketdish and I love it! It is really great when traveling. I DVR all my favorite shows then I download them before my trip and I always have more content than I need to keep me entertained the entire trip. My only complaint is the lack of games available but other than that this gadget is cool!

    Also, to answer the Peters question above, the Dish Network content is encrypted in a .dpd file and is veiwable only on your specific Pocketdish and DVR. It would be nice if someone found a way to unencrypt these files. Thus far I have had no luck. But I am sure someone will figure it out eventually.

  8. Al says:

    Iam wondering how the sound quality is with mp3’s. Does it have an E.Q.? Basically if it is comparable to the ipod that way. I already have the necessary DVR, so it is an obvious option for me. I use my current mp3 player often, and would probably use this unit more for my music than movies. Please enlighten

  9. Way Cool Jr. says:

    Dude, it is WAAAAY bigger than an iPod.
    How big are your pockets?

  10. Lou Brenner says:

    thanks for your review — talked me into the vip622 hd receiver (replaced the 942) to get video transfer at the USB 1hr content to 5 minutes download rate — dish offers this to existing customers for $199 w/18 mo contract now; programming upgrade is $20 w/10 month $10 rebate = $10/10mos & $20/8 mos of the period of contract. Not soooo pricey considering this includes in home installation to “turn key” operation. AV700e is down to $399 w/free shipping until 11/30 at Dish as well. Not soooo pricey any more! Thanks again for a very helpful review.

  11. K. Hunter says:

    Best thing about the PocketDish?? It’s NOT made by Apple…..

  12. Beetle-1 says:

    Excellent review. I have enjoyed using my AV700E when traveling by hooking up to a TV. The transfer ratefrom a “standard” Dish at 40 minutes per hour of programming is slooow …. will probably upgrade to a DISH vip622.

    I have not figured out how to view Pocket-Dish recordings on my Toshiba 17″ Satellite notebook using Windows Multi-Media Player. Any suggestions would be appreciated

  13. Jennifer says:

    I received an AV700E for Christmas and enjoyed reading the review. A couple of comments. It is now compatible with more than the 942 receiver and you do not have to have the docking station for playback on another TV.

  14. Jennifer says:

    Reply to Beetle-1:

    Can I take content from my DISH
    Network DVR, put in on my
    PocketDISH, then transfer it to and
    play it back on a computer?
    • You can transfer content from a
    PocketDISH to store on your
    computer, but you may not play
    it back on your computer, or
    anywhere but the originating
    • You can transfer the content
    from your computer back to your
    PocketDISH for viewing and

  15. Gary says:

    With DirectTV you can get TIVO-to-go and sync to your iPod, that’s the way to go…!

  16. I had a device similar to this a couple of years ago, its called an RCA Lyra.

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