Will DIRECTV’s DVRs ever output 4K by themselves?

I know, I know. It seems like a bit of a pain that DIRECTV’s HR54 Genie DVR doesn’t actually output 4K even though it can receive and record it. To actually watch it, you’ll need a DIRECTV 4K Genie Mini client or a DIRECTV 4K Ready smart TV. DIRECTV didn’t build the necessary hardware into the HR54 DVR and so it’s never going to be able to output 4K directly.

This, I’m sure you would agree, is a bit of a drag.

Now, you’re not really missing out on a lot by using the C61K Genie Mini Client. It’s a little slower and doesn’t have picture-in-picture, but very few people use PIP so that’s not a deal-breaker for most. In most cases you can configure your home installation so that there isn’t an additional mirroring charge for that client by putting the HR54 in another room that doesn’t need 4K. If you only have one room, sometimes DIRECTV will waive the mirroring charge for the client if both devices are hooked to the same TV, but that’s something you’ll have to fight for. It won’t just happen automatically.

So we know that the HR54 DVR is never going to output 4K, because a look inside the DVR, done with DIRECTV permission, reveals a video processor that won’t output HDMI 2.0, and independent testing of the HDMI port confirms that it’s only HDMI 1.4. So it isn’t outputting 4K now, and it’s not ever going to output 4K, ever. It doesn’t mean you should stay on the sidelines or move to another provider, but it does mean some careful planning on your part.

It’s very hard to know why this decision was made, but looking to the future, several key DIRECTV managers have talked about the future hardware and how it will work. Proposed rules from the FCC for “opening the cable box market” have caused providers like DIRECTV and DISH to think carefully about the way they build their products. These companies have offered their own branded hardware for a decade now and that’s allowed them to offer a consistent user experience and cut down on support calls.

A lot of people think DIRECTV makes its own hardware; it doesn’t. The very same companies that make cable boxes make DIRECTV boxes, but DIRECTV controls the design and supply chain. If DIRECTV were forced to allow people to get hardware from any manufacturer it wanted, it could put DIRECTV’s intellectual property at risk from hackers and that could be a big problem. Those proposed new rules, when and if they happen, are going to really dictate the kind of boxes DIRECTV offers to customers, and that may mean 4K solutions that look and act different from what you’re seeing now. The term “satellite receiver” may become obsolete when you look at what the next generation boxes will look like and how they’ll act.

The one thing that’s sure, though, is that DIRECTV does plan to push hard for 4K in the coming years and as long as content providers actually come through with live 4K channels, DIRECTV will build hardware that takes advantage of that.