About three months ago I finished up my home theater showroom (in my house)and used the opportunity to upgrade several pieces of gear, incl. an HR20-700HD. I ordered it online through Best Buy, then picked it up at the local Best Buy. After 2 or 3 frustrating hours trying to get it to work I went to Cnet and found it's 3 out of 10 rating and pages of angry reviews from frustrated users. I then spent another hour on the phone with a DirecTV rep, trying to get it to work. He finally realized that I had gotten one of the earlier versions from old Best Buy stock. He sent a brand new version by second day air and took the original one back. The new one has worked pretty much flawlessly and I am still finding out all of the amazing things that it is capable of doing. Another maddening example of a defective product being released before it is ready. It's not surprising that it was made by another Rupert Murdoch company, instead of one that had years of experience, such as Tivo. They finallly got so many complaints, and realized how much money and bad PR it was costing them that they seem to have fixed all the bugs.
Last night I switched back and forth from the ESPN HD cast of the Twins game to the recorded version and could not find any real difference between the two in audio and video quality. I have the HR20 set to 1080i output run via 35' HDMI cable to a Sony VPL-VW50 Pearl projector to a 92" diagonal screen. A lot of the quality of the picture seems to depend on the quality of the feed that DirecTV gets from the providers. ESPN HD, Discovery HD, and one or two others are consistently better than the other HD channels. The picture quality is still stunning on all of them, just a tad better on some. I also recently got the 5 LNB dish (free install) and now get local HD Denver channels, which varies even more than the nationals in picture quality, again seeming to indicate that the issue might be more about the quality of the feed that DirecTV is getting. DTV is soon to launch 2 new satellites with over 100 new HD channels coming on. It will probably take them a few days or weeks to get all the bugs out of that setup and tweak it to good quality levels.
I have been with DTV for over 10 years. Their customer service has recently greatly improved. One of their main pluses is their sports packages, incl. MLB, NFL, NASCAR, etc. They also have other perks, such as many of the XM Radio channels, with outstanding fidelity, if you want to play commercial free music without changing CD's or managing playlists, etc.
Anyway, if you are going to get one of their HD receiver/ recorders, be aware that they are $300 up front, then you lease the gear for $4.99/ month, $5.99/month for DVR service fee, and $9.99/month for HD Access. Be sure that you call them and order direct from them, and insist that you get new stock. Overall I am happy with the A/V quality and service.