Five years ago. Right now, last month feels like five years ago. But it was way back in 2015 that I published my first review of the HR54 DVR from DIRECTV. It was still DIRECTV back then, not AT&T, although that was soon to change. This was the last major product release from DIRECTV as an independent company.
Building on success
The HR54 was an improvement over 2013’s HR44 DVR. Sporting the same case but a simplified front panel. the HR54 positioned itself as both a server and a receiver, the last major product to do so. Although it wouldn’t be as powerul as 2017’s Genie 2, it was a true powerhouse of the time and still attracts a lot of people today who aren’t willing to give up receiver-only boxes.
The mystery of the tuners
Back then, I commented that the HR54 said it required 7 tuners and yet like the HR44 it could only record five things. The other two tuners were reserved for later use. It was said that transponder bonding — the use of two full transponders for one broadcast — would be used to provide high-quality 4K HDR. So, while those two extra tuners weren’t active at the time, it was smart to make room for them so you didn’t have problems.
However, that function still hasn’t been activated. Better encoding and better use of the transponders on the new satellites has meant that 4K HDR can be done with just one tuner. So, later HR54s have been labeled as 5-tuner units.
Yet, as far as I know the HR54 still has 7-tuner capability. It could theoretically be turned on to give the device the ability to record 7 things. I don’t know if that would slow it down too much but it’s possible. I still recommend people reserve 7 tuners for an HR54 just to be safe.
Generations of the HR54
There have actually been three generations of HR54 hardware. As far as I know all three are identical inside. However, the outside has changed.
The first release units, up until about 2017, had the old-style DIRECTV branding at the top and left. I have to admit I still miss that logo.
A later generation, rolling out in 2017 or thereabouts, replaced the DIRECTV logo with a power icon, moving the new AT&T-based DIRECTV logo to the right. There was a similar change to the top of the device to include the new AT&T globe.
This new version has been spotted in the wild for about six months. Again, it’s the same inside other than the front panel. It looks like the front panel assembly has been changed to incorporate a physical button in the center. This design also changes the location of the IR port, which is visible to the right of the power button. In this design, shiny plastic has been replaced with a pebbled design and the DIRECTV logo is stamped into the plastic instead of being printed onto it.
Still going strong
Why would someone choose the HR54 over the more powerful Genie 2? After all, the Genie 2 gives you 7-tuner recording with 7-room capability. Two of those rooms can give you 4K at the same time. Compare that to the HR54 which can support three rooms including one 4K. It’s not the hardware that really sells people though, it’s the flexibility. AT&T doesn’t allow users to activate regular receivers alongside its Genie 2, while you can do that with the HR54. So, people who need satellite TV in more than seven rooms will choose an HR54 to make sure they can expand as much as they want.
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