Dish Upgrade Time
This is the time of the year when HDTV and Home Theater take a quick nap. CES has come and gone, the Super Bowl is done, and there’s a bit of a lull in activity until March Madness kicks in. Sure there may be some mid-season shows that pop up, but we’re always looking for ways to spice things up. So what better way than a full revamp of our Dish Network gear?
In some areas we strive to be early adopters. Braden, the Dish representative in the HT Guys duo, jumped in on the Hopper and Joey system as quick as possible almost three years ago (Episode 527). Sure Dish may not have been the first to the party, but the Hopper has been a consistent innovator for them, and has kept them in the news, both good and somewhat controversially, quite regularly.
For those not familiar, the Hopper is Dish’s whole-home DVR. The Hopper itself isn’t much more than a standard DVR, other than a few killer features we’ll talk about later. But it uses MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) to also alloy the little Joey boxes to playback any live content coming into the Hopper tuners, or any recorded content sitting on the DVR’s hard drive, in any room in your house. Any room with a coax cable.
Our upgrade involved swapping out the original version 1 Hopper for the updated Hopper v2 and swapping out two Joeys for more modern ones, a Super Joey and a Wireless Joey. The Super Joey works like a standard Joey, but also adds two additional satellite tuners to pair with the three already in the Hopper. That gives you five tuners, and during prime time, allows you to record up to eight shows simultaneously. The Wireless Joey is exactly what it sounds like, a Joey you can use even in rooms without coax.
The standard features on the original Hopper, like Auto-Hop, or the ability to automatically skip all commercials in a show recorded using Prime Time Anytime the day after it aired, or Prime Time Anytime itself, which is the ability to automatically record all primetime shows on the big four networks: ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, using only one of the DVR’s three tuners, are all still there on the Hopper version 2. But the update adds a couple great new tricks.
First and most importantly, the new Hopper has Sling technology built right in. With Sling you get the ability to watch live shows anywhere in the world where you can get an Internet connection, and you can browse your guide and schedule recordings from anywhere as well. A little added bonus is the ability to transfer recordings to your iPad for offline viewing later, like on a plane, a train or a long road trip.
Second is the Netflix app. You no longer need to jump out of your TV experience to fire up an Apple TV or a Roku to watch Netflix. You now get it natively in the same interface. This isn’t anything groundbreaking, Tivo has had this for years, but they are the first major pay TV provider to offer it. And, although it isn’t there yet, a future update will include Netflix results in a standard search on your Hopper, in addition to the live, recorded and On Demand results you get now. The Netflix app should be rolling out to the Joeys soon as well.
Third are the little bonus features and easter eggs you get just by having the new Hopper. One example is the recent reverse Auto-Hop feature they added for the Super Bowl. If you’re a fan of Super Bowl commercials, you’d love this. It gave you the ability to watch the game the day after it aired, but skip all the pesky football parts and just watch the commercials. Maybe not the most useful feature, but a fun one, and a good indicator of how Dish plans to use the Hopper.
Super Joey Features
The Super Joey isn’t much more to talk about than the original Joey. It is quite a bit larger, and requires special installation to make it work, but once you’ve got it, you can’t really tell any difference – other than the fact that you can now record up to eight shows at once during prime time, five shows at once during other times. The Super Joey doesn’t have any hard drives of its own, it just adds the tuners and the content is still recorded on the Hopper.
Wireless Joey Features
The Wireless Joey is pretty awesome. Not because it does anything more than you’d expect, but because it does exactly what you’d expect. Want to add a big TV to a room without coax? Go for it. Put a TV in the garage, a shop or work room, wherever you want. The Wireless Joey uses a custom Wifi network, so you don’t have to worry about any other devices on your home Wifi killing the HDTV on your Joey. To make it work, you just plug the Wireless Joey access point into a coax connection somewhere in your house, ideally somewhere fairly close to where the wireless Joey will be, and you’re done. It takes all of 5 minutes to get it running.
One thing we’ve noticed over the years is that Dish installers are typically big fans of Dish Network. You can be positive because they sign your paycheck, but that’s different than being an evangelist when you’re already doing an install. You already have a closed deal. This time was no different. Our installer couldn’t stop talking about what’s coming next for the Hopper. Since some of it sounded pretty cool, we thought you may be interested as well.
Evidently in the coming months Dish will be jumping into the Sonos killer game just like everyone else. They’ll allow you to stream music to your Joeys, either all of them in sync, or different content, or a mix of both. You’ll use your smartphone to decide what plays in each room and also control the volume. To us, it looks like the TVs will need to be on in each room to take advantage of the TV speakers, but the Joeys do have stereo audio output jacks, so you could probably connect a pair of powered speakers just as easily.
But perhaps the killer app may be Hopper automation integration. The Hopper already integrates with the big Automation platforms like Crestron, AMX and Control4, but the next big move, coming in the fall, is DIY integration with support for Zigbee and Z-Wave. The setup will require a USB dongle plugged into the back of the Hopper. Once you have the dongle plugged in, you’ll get access to all your automation devices from directly within the Hopper UI. You’ll be able to monitor and operate your lights, thermostats, cameras, door locks, and we assume many other devices as well.
The automation server part of the Hopper will also be able to fire events based on information in the electronic programming guide. So the standard use case of wanting to dim the lights when you play a movie, or brighten them when you pause it, will be built right in – no need for an IR adapter or anything like that. If the doorbell rings, the system can pause what you’re watching and switch over to your front door camera so you can see who’s there. All your cameras show up in the guide as unique channels, which means you can view them, or a couple of the with PiP, from anywhere at home or away from home using the Sling technology.
In all, Dish continues to innovate, perhaps more than any other Pay TV provider. They push the envelope of what you can do with a DVR and are doing the most to provide an experience that matches what you and I the viewers are really after. Top that off with great prices and really good customer service, and Dish is a really strong option if you’re fed up with what you’ve got. If you’re a die hard football fan, you may be locked in with DirecTV, but if not, Dish is an excellent option for those who like to be on the cutting edge.
Download Episode #673