Latest DirecTV Receivers “Earn Their Stripes” But the Defect Doesn’t Win Any Awards

August 8th, 2007 · 22 Comments · Satellite TV


DirecTV wants to be king of the HDTV providers, offering a total of around 50 high definition channels beginning next month (September) and up to one hundred HD channels by the end of 2007 (according to its press releases) and confirmed to the HDGURUâ„¢ by a DirecTV spokesperson.

DirecTV says in order to receive any of these new additional channels, you must discontinue use of your current HD DirecTV Receiver or HD DirecTV TiVo DVR (which only accept MPEG2 video compression) and change its own branded H20 and HR20 DVR HD (MPEG2/MPEG4) satellite receivers. In addition, you will need to upgrade your satellite dish to its 5LNB model to connect to the new set top boxes. What DirecTV doesn’t tell you is that the new receivers now add something to the image you don’t want or need, namely black vertical stripes that may permanently damage your expensive HDTV screen when viewing its standard definition 4:3 programming!

The image above clearly shows the offending black strips. This screen shot is of the DirecTV broadcast of our local NBC station WNBC, NY. Stripes appear on all standard def channels (except the DirecTV barker channel) when using either of my two DirecTV + HDDVR s (HR20) on my connected HDTVs. They are a plasma and CRT based rear projector. I had the new DirecTV equipment installed this past Thursday in preparation for the launch of its new HD channels. (At his local Circuit City, The HD Guru also confirmed that this problem occurs using the DirecTV H20 model after he had the DirecTV representative switch the box over to standard definition channels on the store’s demo set top box.)

What’s the problem with black stripes on the screen?

Keep a 4:3 standard definition program on a phosphor-based screen (plasma or CRT rear or direct view) too long and your HDTV can suffer from uneven phosphor wear, commonly called “burn in”. This burn-in can leave two vertical areas permanently on the image when you view content that is active across the entire screen such as the HD channels or widescreen DVDs, Blu-ray discs or HD DVDs. A high definition capable satellite receiver properly displaying a 4:3 standard definition channel, should place the gray bars directly adjacent to the left and right sides of the program material to prevent “burn in”.

While the latest plasma displays are less prone to burn-in than previous generation sets, they are not immune under the conditions that occur when using the new DirecTV HD set top boxes. That’s because black stripes “on- screen” indicate no light is being produced by the phosphors within the stripe area. With no light produced, there is no wear, however all phosphors very slowly diminish their brightness as they emit light. At some point the unused black area when lit up will be noticeably brighter (lighter) than the surrounding areas, and be seen as two brighter vertical stripes when you switch to full screen content such as a high definition program.

The HD Guru called DirecTV customer service regarding this serious design flaw and was informed that currently there is no fix to the problem! The HD Guru advises the following:

Avoid purchasing one of these units until DirecTV comes up with a fix, or:

Do not view 4:3 content using these boxes or:

Turn the picture (contrast) control down to less the 50% of maximum, in the “standard,” “movie” or “custom” modes of your HDTV and view as 4:3 (“pillar box” mode with gray bands as pictured above) no more than 15% of your viewing time.
Only use lamp-based projection TVs such as a DLP or LCoS
(LCD flat panels do not have phosphors on the screen but there is some evidence of other issues when displaying fixed images i.e. black stripes for extended periods of time)

There are two other aspect ratios available on the DirecTV boxes; they are called “Stretch” and “Crop”. The former stretches the image horizontally distorting it, and the latter enlarges the image horizontally and vertically. Unfortunately, viewing either of my two HDTVs (a 2007 Panasonic Plasma and an older Mitsubishi CRT rear projector) revealed these other aspect ratios would not usually eliminate this problem but instead move the black stripes to the left and right edge of the image. Perhaps some TVs may overscan the image enough to fill the screen in one of these modes, but if not, you will risk the same burn-in problem occurring at the edges.

The HD Guru called a DirecTV spokesman to inquire as to when and if DirecTV will remedy this flaw. To date there has been no response. The HD Guru will follow up when he receives a reply.

Copyright 2007 HD Guru â„¢ All Rights Reserved


22 Comments so far ↓

  • Knight256

    I have Vizio 37′ HD TV that is about 3 yrs old. I got Directv installed and after a couple of days the TV started showing these black and gray lines vertically all the way across the screen. No picture just the lines. The tv worked fine up until then. I’ve got the damage claim number for directv but can I switch the display to 4:3 and fix the problem. Thanks for any info.

  • Bart Popeck

    Have a Hitachi 42″ 1080 HD plasma, purchased 5/25/07. About a week ago, a thin, black line appeared that goes all the way across the screes (left to right). It is perfectly straight and a few mm in width.
    Any thoughts?

  • Rich

    Just had the Direct TV guy come and install my girlfriends Direct TV+DVR. (Not HD). After the setup was complete and as the installer was explaining the controller and features to me, I saw the gray and black lines next to the moving picture. I was concerned and asked about removing them. After having a 10 minute conversation with the installer and Him assuring me that there was nothing I could do to fix these bars – I sent Him on His way and did some tinkering myself. Having a Polaroid 27″ wide screen LCD these extra gray bars made the signal look that much smaller.

    Anyways what I did to fix the issue of the gray/black bars being displayed was going into the “Menu > Setup > System Setup > HDTV > and switching it to “4:3”, rather than “16:9” > then selecting “done”.

    This solved the issue of the black/gray lines/bars displaying, and now it looks normal again.
    This TV does not have a “Stetch” option, so this is all I could do, and it worked.

    Im not sure how it would affect HD signals, and also not sure how it would affect Widescreen broadcasts. But hope it helps.

  • Cameron

    So I watched a few hours of a non-hd channel in stretch mode, and didn’t realize that it placed the Directv black lines on the top and left edges of the screen. The black lines appear to have burned in – is there anyway to fix this?

  • Nonya

    Um, Joel, not to make you look like a fool (but you will after you realize your mistake), you didnt read the article correctly. Its not about the bars that are evident in ALL HDTV sets when viewing 4:3, he is referring to the THIN black lines that are beside the NORMAL grey or black bars. With Directv it IS a problem.

    Thats ok, we forgive you as many of us have jumped the gun and spouted off before.

  • Joel

    “Avoid purchasing one of these units until DirecTV comes up with a fix”

    There is no ‘fix’. You’re taking a square image and asking the receiver to display it in a rectangle space. You bought a TV that can’t be used in the way it was engineered to be used: display high definition. The entire article is about displaying standard definition content on a high definition screen. :0/

    Articles like this make me sick because you’re misleading the rest of the public in to believing something that isn’t true or accurate. The receiver and the television are working exactly as they are designed to. The unfortunate part about this is that, yes, displaying standard definition content in this format will cause the bars to appear on the screen (as they should and are designed to do with the aspect ratio stated in the article, 4:3) and these bars can damage your television.

    “The HD Guru called a DirecTV spokesman to inquire as to when and if DirecTV will remedy this flaw.”

    There is no flaw! So much for being a Guru!

    I know this article is old and I’m replying way late but I couldn’t help myself because as you many of you may have noticed, nothing about the aspect ratio or the formats the receivers display have changed since they were originally introduced. Why? Because there isn’t anything wrong with them to begin with!


  • Ralph

    Any information on bandwidth limits on direct tv broadcasts giving a poor picture?

  • Matthew Metoyer

    May I suggest an external scaler… DVDO products are my favorites. You can adjust overscan per source (eliminating the pillars you are mentioning) plus eliminate the overscan from the TV. I currently have a VP50 attached to my Sony KDS60-A2000 SXRD rear-pro and I love it! The biggest advantage is watching video formats as tthey are meant to be seen, not distorted. The biggest disadvantage is cost – $3000 at retail for their best model.

  • Pete

    Dear HD GURU

    My experience with the Direct TV HD20 receiver were terrible. The installer didn;t know what was supposed to be done and he did a terrible installation. It took Direct TV 8 service calls to correctly aim the dish to get a good signal. My previous HD receiver had no issues for 3 years.
    After resolving the signal issues they had to come back and change some cable.

    All in all it took 8 months of calling and fixing to get a decent picture. I am now considering Verizon Fios. It seems that Direct TV is supplying the signals for Fios.

  • Mike

    Dear HD Guru,
    Although the great majority of my DirecTV viewing is on HD channels, after just 4 month, my Pioneer Plasma began showing pillar box burn in. If I change them from black to gray will this eventually slow down/resolve my problem? Thanks in advance.


  • lou

    What is disturbing is how many people are “satisfied” setting their TVs to stretch. There isn’t anything more annoying then watching a distorted image on a new $5000 HDTV.

    This is a big problem that needs to be fixed.

  • nameX

    Is anyone else getting the horizontal bar on top of the screen when the receiver is set at 1080i mode, it shows up even on HD channels and on all receiver display modes(pillar box, stretch, and crop). Its pretty thick compared to those horizontal lines.

    I meant compared to those vertical lines.

  • Miki

    Thank you for your response and the information….it is appreciated. I certainly understand your problem.

    As far as I can tell, I do have the dish to which you refer and if the basebands on the back of the receiver you mention are the two approx 4″ x 2″ rectangular connections, I am O.K.


  • Miki

    Is there a reason you did not publish my two comments? I am an active participant on many usenet groups and moderated forums and yours is the first to behave in such a manner.

    Although I came to your website as a result of seeing your advertisement , methinks it was a poor choice.


    The HD Guru is having big problems with the comment section being bombarded with hundreds of robotic spam comments every day. This has slowed down the responses as the HD Guru personally answers all comments and creates all the content you see. The website solely relies on revenue generated by advertising. As the traffic continues to grow and my webmaster figures out an effective way to filter out the robotic spam, the HD Guru will be able to devote more time to comments. Yours and the other readers patience is appreciated.

    And yes you need one of the latest directv receivers, 5 lnb dish and baseband adapters (for the receiver) to be able to receive the HD content being added in Sept 2007 and beyond.

    The HD Guru

  • memiki

    ADDENDUM — DirecTV tells me my receiver is set to receive the additional HD channels coming in September. The receiver was a promo offer and did cost me other than #20 for tax and shipping. The above review is confusing…….unless I was lucky to get the receiver at the right time


  • memiki

    I have a one-month old Sony 40″ XBR2 and a DirecTV HD-DVR 2700 series. I am still working with the settings, but find that using the Crop option fills up my screen and does not distort as does the ‘stretch’. The 4.3 default setting is Off, the 16.9 is set to On, and Native is On.
    Wide Screen Mode in TV settings is greyed out because, as I have been told, DirecTV restricts it.

    I am happy with the picture both on Standard and HD……and I am very picky, too :)


  • etype2

    You are right Ron. I never noticed the thin black stripes because I always had mine set to black boarders. Because I do not want to see boarders at all,I use S.Stretch to completely remove them. I rather see a slightly distorted image on non critical standard definition then to see the boarders.

  • TruthSpeaks

    From your comments on the Toshiba HM167, I doubt that you have actually seen/tested the set in person.

    If u did, you will realise its potential after some minor calibration. You also forgot to mention the Mitsubishi’s are plagued with overheating and fan noise problems reported by several owners, including me (exchanged the 65″ 733 for the 65HM167 2 months ago).

    The JVC’s suffer from terrible SSE and lag which I have seen with my own eyes in a store demo.

    Overall, this section can be classified as ‘your opinion” BUT definitely NOT a review.

    Please do better next time and spend more time with each TV before misleading people with a bad review.

  • Ron Jones

    It probably should be made clear that the black strip problem only appears when the Directv receiver is set to show 3 X 4 std. def. channels with a Gray Pillar Box. If the receiver (H20 or HD20) is set to add a black pillar box then no separate black strips are visible (i.e., just become part of the black pillar bars if they are still there). However for plasma or CRT HDTV owners worried about burn-in the best solution is to set their Directv receiver to stretch the 3 x 4 std. def. image (with no pillar box) then no black strips are visible. The above info is correct for the H20 and HD20 receivers that I own when connected to my HDTVs.

  • etype2

    …and to add,I noticed the above picture shows gray borders with two thin black strips. I have not noticed effect on my Sharp Aquos 65 inch LCD. If you have not already set the receiver(h20) to display gray bars instead of black,this may eliminate the problem.

  • etype2

    You can inform your readers that these DirectTV receivers give the option of changing the black bars to gray which will help minimize the problem.

    I’m a critical viewer,so I don’t like much other then HD.
    I set the H20 receiver to pillar box and then do the screen filling functions using my TV remote instead of the receiver. I have the choice of dot by dot,S. Stretch, zoom and super zoom. S.Stretch fills the screen nicely,eliminating the bars with the least distortion. Yes,this format distorts,because it stretches,but I get used to it and it dose not matter much because non HD is usually non critical viewing like news shows on CNN and such. Also,I have LCD,so I don’t worry about the burn in.

    DirectTV will have the highest number of HD channels by the end of September with the recent launch of Direct 10 and more then 100 by early 2008 after a successful launch of Direct 11.
    I would like to let your readers known that I have been a DirectTV subscriber from inception in 1995. I have nothing but positive results and experience with the service. I only recently had some issues after installing a 5lnb dish,but they were quickly resolved. DirectTV customer service and management is top notch. If you don’t receive immediate satisfaction,just ask for an upper tier person or supervisor. They try their best to make me happy and in some cases gave me refunds,credits because of inconveniences. You may have heard otherwise from some folks,but if you conduct yourself in a mature manner and speak to the customer service representative the way you would like to be spoken to,that goes a long way and they appreciate it and will go the “extra mile” for you.
    Guru,in my opinion,this is not a flaw. The receiver is merely displaying the signal as it is being broadcast. It is up to the viewer to decide if he/she wants to stretch the signal using the receiver and or tv controls. A non HD broadcast can’t fill up a 16×9 screen,hence the bars.

  • Steve

    Thanks for the info. Even though I have a Mitsubishi DLP and appear to be at a lower risk, I do have DirecTV and am interested in a remedy to this flaw. It’s a little unnerving when paying so much for an HDTV only for it to be ruined through no fault of the manufacturer.


    Don’t worry about your DLP. As mentioned in the article it is impervious to “burn in” as it does not contain any phosphors, and the DLP chip can’t hang up due to a  (black) static area. Continue to enjoy your Mitsubishi, I am pretty confident that, as this story produces more publicity about the flaw, DirecTV engineers can come up with a downloadable fix. Thanks for the input.

    The HD Guru 

Leave a Comment