Two or so years ago, Dream Multimedia launched its revolutionary Dreambox DM 7020 - arguably the most radical and exciting enthusiast-grade satellite receiver of its time.
Instead of being based around the proprietary firmware (internal operating software) of most receivers, the DM 7020 relied on the 'open' Linux operating system. This encouraged enthusiasts to develop programs like software CAM emulations in an online community of users and developers.
The source code of the 'standard' DM 7020 firmware, known as Enigma, is available on the Internet. Some enthusiasts have modified Enigma to make their own custom versions, which are also available for download.
Not that messing around with firmware is a prerequisite. New DM 7020s come with the standard Enigma pre-installed so you can use them 'out-of-the-box' just like any other satellite receiver.
The satellite world, of course, is in a state of perpetual motion: the DM 7020 is still available, but now has a 'bigger brother'. Dream Multimedia's new DM 7025 looks identical to the original model, but the rear panel reveals that it now has two tuners.
Interestingly, the tuner modules are 'pluggable' - digital satellite (DVB-S), terrestrial (DVB-T) and cable (DVB-C) are all available. If you buy a version that only has the one, you'll be able to upgrade by filling the other socket in at a later date. Our review sample was pre-installed with two DVB-S tuners.
Having both boosts the PVR's functionality because it means you can record one channel while watching another. As with the DM 7020, no hard drive is fitted. It's easy to fit your own, but if you're worried about doing the job yourself you'll be pleased to learn that some dealers sell these receivers with compatible drives already fitted.
The DM 7025 is still so new - we got our mitts on one of the very first models available in the UK - that, at the time of writing, none of the third-party firmware that benefits the DM 7020 was yet available.
Consequently, this review will focus on the Enigma firmware that ships with the unit. Note, too, that the DM 7025 uses different hardware to the 7020, so you won't be able to install firmware intended for use with the older model.
As with the 7020, the DM 7025's dominant feature is a large backlit LCD graphic screen. On either side of this are standby and channel change buttons, the only front-panel controls on offer.
This means the remote, which was made by One For All and can be code-programmed to work your TV too, is essential for all but the most basic of tasks. A flap that runs for much of the front panel's left side lowers to reveal a Compact Flash memory-card reader for upgrades, two card slots (for emulated software CAMs or 'emus') and a CI slot (for any CAMs you may have).
At the time of writing, no software CAMs for the DM 7025 were available. If the DM 7020 is anything to go by, this situation will change rapidly.
Unlike the average satellite receiver, the DM 7025 is equipped with a 100Mbps Ethernet port on its rear panel. This is fully IP-conversant and will communicate with a network, whether it's Internet-enabled or otherwise. This gives rise to some useful functionality like FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and means you can receive firmware updates over the Internet.
Both tuners, where fitted, have independent inputs and outputs. Each is fed from a dish trained on a diff erent satellite or, in more advanced installations, from a dualoutput LNB on a motorised dish. If you only have a single output LNB, you can 'daisy-chain' the input of one from the other's output.
This, of course, means that you'll only be able to simultaneously watch and record channels of the same polarity and satellite.
The DM 7025's innards are quite busy despite the fact that most of the work is done by a single ATI Xilleon chip. A complex component, the Xilleon combines a 300MHz RISC processor with dedicated circuitry for MPEG decoding, a UDMA66 interface for the optional hard disk drive, digital-to-analogue video conversion (DAC) and much else besides.
This giant metal-capped chip is clearly visible if you open the box to install the hard drive needed to timeshift radio and TV programmes. This isn't supplied, but some dealers might fit one at an extra cost.
Thankfully, the receiver is supplied with all of the bits and pieces needed to fit your own drive: we successfully pressed an ex-PVR 40GB 5400rpm drive into service. Those with hearty televisual appetites will appreciate that the system supports 300GB of information.
Each tuner plugs into a dedicated edge-connector that resembles a small-scale PC expansion slot. Also improving on the DM 7020's specifications are 128MB of RAM and 32MB flash RAM (the non-volatile memory that stores the firmware).
You'll also find an AKM audio DAC, Thomson video switching device and a separate Realtek Ethernet controller chip. The tuners are ALPS direct-conversion (zero-IF) types, as opposed to the DM 7020's single Samsung device.
There's also a switch-mode power supply with sufficient juice to cater for both the hard disk and any DiSEqC motor you may consider partnering with the receiver. The unit's internal build quality is of a high standard, although it does tend to run rather warm.
The default DHCP setting makes the DM7025 largely selfconfiguring, although you can override it to configure it manually. We connected the receiver to our broadband home network via Ethernet and told it to search the Internet for new firmware.
Although the DM 7025 is pre-programmed to check a site specifically set up by Dream Multimedia for this very purpose (although alternative sources can also be specified), sadly this wouldn't work with the review model, which reported that no such firmware was found.
So we downloaded the new firmware from Dream Multimedia's website to our PC, and tried transferring it to the receiver using the free 'DreamUp' Windows software. This failed, but we finally upgraded the firmware from a PC using an innovative web interface.
With the new firmware installed, the Internet download facility worked as it should. We were also able to find, download and install plug-ins. These represent a powerful feature, including games and CAM emulations, though few plug-ins were available at the time of writing because the receiver was so new.
Given that it's an enthusiast product, it's no surprise that DM 7025 has plenty of settings that can be tweaked. When it's plugged in for the first time, an installation wizard takes you through basic configuration - each tuner is treated separately.
These initial parameters also include DiSEqC (1.2 is of course supported) and USALS. Further setup menus allow you to specify the type of video display and give greater control of DiSEqC parameters. Indeed, all kinds of DiSEqC tweaks are allowed.
Although no worse than competing receivers, the video capabilities fall short of the DM 7020's: there's no source-dependent multi-standard option (it's either PAL or NTSC), and the TV Scart can't be switched to deliver a component output (RGB, Composite and S-video are the only choices). Another limitation is that the UHF modulator has a narrow range - channels 30 to 39 only.
Once basic configuration has been achieved, you can tell the receiver which services you can receive. The main menu option has a 'satelliteconfig' option for determining which satellites each tuner can receive.
Regrettably, the DM 7025 refused to work with our Moteck V-BOXII, a positioner that allows DiSEqC 1.2 receivers to drive standard motorised dishes. This type of equipment is likely to be considered by enthusiasts, because it means they can use bigger dishes.
It would select pre-stored positions - thankfully, these can be modified or created with the positioner's own remote - but we couldn't move the dish or store positions via the DM 7025. Even a positioner plugin didn't work, and so we resorted to using the receiver's signal and quality bar graphs when manually 'peaking' the dish with the positioner. Hopefully, Dream Multimedia will fix this anomaly with a firmware update.
Once your satellites are defined, you can search for channels. The DM 7025 gives you the choice of both automated and manual scans. Automated searches take in all defined satellites, the dish moving when necessary. With the manual search, one or more transponders can be defined for searching, and defining your own is of course possible too.
Here, you would specify frequencies, polarisation, symbol rate and FEC values. Manual entry of PIDs is not allowed, but fortunately the DM 7025 seems to be remarkably good at sniffing out feeds and channels including SCPC signals.
The comprehensive and up-to-date transponder lists that Internet downloads make possible clearly help here. There's no blind search facility yet, and so we sincerely hope that a suitable plug-in is made available at some point in the future.
Compared to its predecessor, the DM 7025 Enigmavariant's user interface is lacking; but, to be fair, it's early days for this receiver. Gone is the neat skin-customisable 'carousel' of seven options. What you see is a rather boring main menu that includes the aforementioned setup and plug-in sub-menus.
Other entries include standby/restart, system information, a VCR option that routes the signals from the VCR Scart to the main output and a timer for scheduling VCR and hard-disk recordings. Note that, as an alternative, recordings can be scheduled directly from the 7-day EPG (which is accessed via the remote's info button).
Manual recording of programmes, timeshifting and the playback of any recording that's currently in progress are catered for too. Recording two channels simultaneously seems beyond the receiver's current capabilities, even if you are watching one of the channels at the time. Recordings are stored on the hard disk as transport streams (or .TS files).
Both radio and TV channels are accessed through similar menus. There are four colour-coded options for accessing channels: all services, satellites, providers and bouquets. An alphabetic search facility, using the remote's numeric keypad, is also available so you can get to the channel you're looking for quickly.
You can also define a list of favourite channels. Sadly, there's currently a bug in the radio mode: as soon as you leave the channel list, the receiver reverts to TV reception. As a result, it's impossible to manually record or schedule radio programmes.
Another bug aff ects TV recordings - our sample locked up when a scheduled timer recording clashed with a manual one. Assuming you don't do this, pressing the remote's video button brings up a list of recordings for playback.
Setting up an FTP session with the DM 7025 gives you access to any hard-disk recordings and allows you to transfer them to your PC for processing and burning onto CDs or DVDs. You can also go the other way, transferring content from the PC to the DM 7025.
Alas, there's not yet much point. Unlike the DM 7020, there's currently no media player option (although the DM 7025's powerful hardware could almost certainly support one). We tried copying some MP3 files to the DM 7025 via FTP, but they didn't show up on the recordings list.
Performance One unexpected pleasure is the DM 7025's ability to decode MPEG-2 HDTV transmissions like the promo loops on Astra 1H. Of course, they're 'downscaled' to standard-definition - but it's a nice option to have.
Interestingly, the spec sheet for the Xilleon reveals that the chip is capable of working 'natively' with HDTV signals. What a shame then that the DM 7025 lacks the varieties of video output, like component, VGA or DVI/HDMI , that would deliver a high-definition source to an HD Ready display in all its finery. You can also record and subsequently replay such high-def content, albeit with standard-def quality.
However, the recorded transport streams can be FTPed to a PC, and displayed in their high-def glory using a program like VLC Media Player. Note that high-def MPEG-2 is very hungry in terms of hard disk space.
Another reason to curb your enthusiasm is that there's a move towards DVB-S2 and H.264 for high-definition TV. The current satellite tuner options for the DM 7025 only cater for the incompatible DVB-S.
In regular use, switching between channels is commendably fast. Searching is also speedy, a full scan of Astra 1 takes just two-and-a-half minutes. Performance is also solid, with sound and pictures that subjectively equal the best.
As far as sensitivity is concerned, the DM 7025 is certainly competent. An 80cm motorised dish will no doubt pull in all of the satellites of interest here in the UK (19.2E, 13E and 28.2E).
In most respects, the DM 7025 is very impressive: full marks to its twin tuners and networkability. As far as the innovative electronics is concerned, our only criticism isthat the lack of proper support for HDTV is disappointing.
The current firmware is the real let down. It's unacceptably buggy and misses out on some of the features (notably the media player) of the earlier DM 7020.
We have no doubt, though, that improvements are on their way - courtesy of a broadband network near you. Martin Pipe