Network released the original Hopper™ in 2012 with a bang and we were fortunate enough to review it. The original Hopper™ set new standards for Whole-Home HD DVRs allowing users to share recordings on any TV using remotely installed Joey™ set-top boxes placed in various locations in the home. These Joey™ units are smaller and lower powered compared to a standard DVR, yet provide full access to the Hopper™, virtually placing the more powerful DVR in any location in the house. Up to three Joey™ units can be connected to a single Hopper™ unit.
Less than a year after DISH introduced the original Hopper™ the company has rolled out the new Hopper™ With Sling, which won the 2013 CES “Best of Show” award at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show. In addition, the Hopper™ With Sling was recognized as a CES Innovations 2013 Design and Engineering Award honoree. The new design looks and feels similar to the original Hopper™, but significant changes have been made to the initial design. This review is mainly focused on the new features and capabilities that have been added to the original Hopper™ since we did our initial review. Although the Hopper™ With Sling is new, we are using the same Joey™ units from the first review.
The new Hopper™ With Sling fully integrates Sling technology into the main unit while keeping all of the features customers have come to enjoy in the original Hopper™ design. The original Hopper™ required an external sling adapter connected to the USB port to enable access to the content remotely. Sling technology (Acquired by parent company Echostar) encodes the data and sends it from the Hopper™ to an Internet-connected device. This includes iOS and Android devices (phones and tablets) as well as PCs and MACs.
The Hopper™ With Sling features the newer Broadcom 7425 System on a Chip (SOC) running at 1.3 GHz, which is a significant upgrade to the Broadcom 7420 chip used in the original Hopper™. Memory has also been increased from 768MB to 2GB. These upgrades help make the new Hopper™ snappier and more responsive overall. The new unit also includes built-in WiFi, but a dedicated ethernet connection might provide more reliable data bandwidth. Dish has also integrated Bluetooth connectivity into the Hopper, allowing users to stream audio to any Bluetooth-enabled headphone for late night viewing. The Hopper™ delivers features that will not only change the way you watch TV, but will provide you with unique capabilities not found in any other product.
The new Hopper™ With Sling comes equipped with a 2TB hard drive and with all the video options (DVR, PTAT, VOD, DISHUnplugged), there is more than 500 hours of HD programming available. Better yet, DISH also supports connecting an external hard drive in which users can transfer content to/from as well as playback directly from the drive. We use this feature a lot and love having the additional storage capacity.
Another great addition to the DISH Hopper is the new Super Joey, which adds two additional tuners to the Hopper’s three native tuners. This allows a household to record up to eight shows simultaneously (nine if you include the optional Over-the-air tuner), virtually eliminating the occasional channel conflict encountered by DISH Hopper customers. The Super Joey is powered by a 1305 MHz, 3000 DMIPS Broadcom BCM7346 processor, features remote finder functionality, and supports MoCA and Ethernet connectivity.
The back of the Super Joey has the MoCA input for the built-in tuners and standard connections including HDMI, ethernet, USB, and digital audio (toslink). They also include legacy analog connections for older TV's lacking digital interfaces.
More tuners means more programs to watch and/or record simultaneously. Since the Joey relies on the Hopper system for content, adding the Super Joey increases the system's overall capability. Here you can see that the Super Joey increases the number of tuners to five. We also have the Over-the-air (OTA) tuner connected to the main Hopper's USB port, which provides an additional terrestrial tuner for local broadcasts.
DISH has made it a whole lot easier to connect to their system with the introduction of the new Wireless Joey. This new Joey has a faster boot and connect time (about one minute).
Simply connect the access point to the Hopper and the Wireless Joey will provide a seamless interface to control content. The access point serves as a video-grade 802.11ac wireless connection
between one Hopper receiver model and up to three
Wireless Joey receivers.
This unit creates its own wireless network with the Wireless Joeys and does not impact
the performance of your home's wireless network. Front indicators provide status for power, data link, and the ethernet connection.
We have been using our Wireless Joey for months and the performance has been exceptionally good even with the access point and the Wireless Joey some distance from each other in rooms separated by a hallway. Video and audio performance has been excellent with no dropouts.
Coming Soon - 4K Joey
DISH announced at this year's Consumer Electronics Show that there's a new member in the family of Joey receivers, the 4K Joey.
This next-generation receiver will deliver high resolution 4K content with compatible televisions. It is also designed to work with standard HDTVs if you plan to upgrade at some point, but still want to use this receiver. The new 4K Joey will provide the absolute best in picture quality for your home entertainment system. As the first of its kind to incorporate native Bluetooth support, the 4K Joey will make it easier than ever to connect to your other electronics. The 4K Joey is also the thinnest receiver available from DISH, making it easy to mount and hide behind any flat screen TV.
DISH is the first major pay-TV provider in the U.S. to integrate the Netflix app into its set-top box. The app gives customers the ability to instantly stream Netflix movies and TV shows, including “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black,” from the same platform used to access their linear television channels. This greatly simplifies customer's configurations since the infrstructure is already in place for watching content with no need to add an additional media player such as a Roku. Those new to Netflix can create an account in the app or by visiting www.netflix.com/dish.
3 New Features Recently Added
Dish completed a nationwide rollout of new software to the Hopper DVR. This update includes three features that promise to simplify your TV-watching experience.
Watch from the beginning
Have you ever found something you want to watch, but it’s already halfway over? Now, rather than joining a show or movie that’s already started, Hopper gives you the option to watch from the beginning, if the title is available on demand. With this update, Hopper can identify if live content that is also available in DISH’s Video On Demand catalog.
Hopper can now help you easily binge-watch the shows you love. When you finish watching a recording or a VOD episode, a TV pop-up will show you up-to-four subsequent episodes in the series that are available, in your DVR or in DISH’s VOD catalog, for you to watch immediately. This simplifies finding different episodes of the same programs and it's fast.
Easy Closed captioning
Users can enable or disable closed captioning with the touch of a button. Most of us listen to TV dialogue, but sometimes it’s nice to rely on closed captioning. Ever stumbled across that one line of dialogue that, no matter how many times you rewind and re-listen, you just can’t understand what they’re saying? To help, Hopper has a newly simplified process to turn closed captioning on/off your TV. Instead of going into the main menu and changing your preferences, just press the green button on your DISH remote control. You don’t even have to leave your show. Very handy once you memorize it.
The external hard drive is managed through the main menu by selecting the External Hard Drive option. The user can then move content to/from the Hopper™ and the External Device. Typical high definition movies are several gigabytes, so it will take significant time to complete the transfers. Hard drives that have a green (sleep) mode sometimes take several seconds to come back online when being accessed. We like the power savings of green hard drives, but not the latency we experience with these products.
The content of the External Device can be selected in the DVR menu. Instead of selecting Family Room as the source of the programs, the user can select External Device 1. The contents of the external drive will then be displayed on the screen just like the main drive and the user can select the content to watch. The good news is that it is seamless and operates the same as the internal drive.
OTA Digital Dongle
Hopper™ does not come with a built-in terrestrial over-the-air (OTA) tuner. However, DISH offers an OTA Digital Dongle (Part Number: 194858) to receive terrestrial OTA signals for local broadcasts. There are two distinct advantages to using this digital tuner. The first is the tuner provides more bandwidth (using the OTA signal) than what you get using the satellite-based local channels. This can result in a better high definition picture (less compression artifacts) in certain cases where there is a lot of action or changes in the scene. The second advantage when using this device is there are a number of sub channels available that are not provided by DISH over their satellite system. This will allow customers to watch the sub-channels being broadcasted in their area.
Scanning for channels
Once the OTA Digital Dongle is connected to a terrestrial antenna and plugged into the Hopper™, local channels must be scanned. Using the Hopper's Setup menu and going to the Diagnostics screen, the user can initiate the scan and save the results into memory so that the channels appears in the Program Guide. We have a rooftop antenna pointing directly towards Mount Wilson, where the TV transmitting towers reside. After scanning all of the TV frequencies, we found 162 channels (including the sub-channels).
Once the channels are selected and saved using the OTA configuration screen, the channel information is displayed in the Program Guide. In the end, users have the option of recording local channels from the OTA channel (displayed in orange) or the one provided by the satellite feed (if local channels are subscribed to). The OTA Digital Dongle performance is excellent and all of our terrestrial channels indicated a very strong signal being received. My preference is to always select the OTA channel when available. Using the OTA Digital Dongle gives customer yet another recording channel on top of the ones already provided. During my tests, I was able to record 3 satellite channels while also recording an OTA channel. The OTA channels can be recorded to the DVR just like the satellite channels with the benefit of potentially better video quality.
One of the coolest features to be implemented on the DISH Hopper™ DVR is AutoHop. This feature automatically jumps or hops through a string of commercials to maximize your program time while minimizing time spent on commercials. This of course is being challenged by the media companies because they are concerned that it will affect their revenue stream. All I can say is that it is a great feature and I love it. There have been times when I actually want to watch commercials (Superbowl comes to mind), so being able to choose to enable or disable the feature is great and completely up to the viewer. We have been using AutoHop for months and it works very well.
Another great concept from DISH is their PrimeTime Anytime™, which is designed to give users instant On Demand access to their favorite primetime shows on ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC in HD. A special PrimeTime Anytime™ folder in the DVR menu and Main menu is available for quick access to this content. This will give you instant access to the primetime programming without having to set timers. The system stores primetime hours for up to
8 days from initial air date. PrimeTime Anytime™ is enabled through the main menu of the Hopper and will automatically record all
primetime programming from 8 to 11 PM ET Monday through Saturday, and from 7 to 11 PM ET on
Sunday. DISH gives users the option to save their favorite on demand primetime content to their DVR before
the 8 day window expires. When PrimeTime Anytime™ is recording programs, only one of the three satellite tuners is required. The extra OTA tuner can also be used to record channels.
DISH Anywhere™ takes advantage of the Sling technology in the Hopper™ allowing DISH customers to enjoy their favorite TV shows and movies using the DISH Anywhere website with their PC or MAC. The interface provides complete access to your live channels and content on a DVR allowing DISH customers to instantly watch thousands of TV shows and movies at no additional cost. The available internet speed will play affect the streaming performance. Some of the HD show we streamed locally were reaching over 8 Mbps in HD, but the playback quality was excellent. Standard definition requires less bandwidth, so in cases where network speed is limited users have this option.
We tested the DISH Anywhere™ application on many different platforms including the iPad, Nexus 7, iPhone, and the Galaxy Nexus (shown on left) phone. Both of our tablets (iPad and Nexus 7) require a WiFi connection to access the Hopper™ remotely, whereas the phones have the option of also using Verizon's 3G and 4G networks. The tablets were the obvious choice for watching programs given their screen size, resolution and processing bandwidth. However, the phones allowed us to be completely mobile using the cell networks, which can be nice when in a car. The apps can be a little sluggish (especially the remote functions) as it has to work two-way, but once the video starts streaming with a good signal, performance is great.
Another great feature of the Hopper™ is the ability to transfer DVR content directly to an iPad over a local WiFi network for offline viewing. DISH used to have their PocketDISH system that ran on Archos-based media players that provided a similar feature for standard definition viewing on the VIP series DVRs, but that was before so many handheld tablets hit the market. We hope that Android-based tablets will also be supported in the future. The user is required to download the free DISH Transfer application on their iPad. Once the iPad finds the Hopper™ on the network, the user is required to enter in the code that is displayed on the screen to pair the device. Once connected, content can then be selected and moved. Transfers are rather slow taking more than a minute per minute of real video.
DISH has introduced the new Explorer app for the iPad, which is designed to engage viewers and allow them to participate in social conversations related to live programs using Twitter and Facebook. Viewers can discover popular shows, including sporting events, across hundreds of live-TV channels, DVR recordings and on-demand programs. The Explorer app recommends shows and reveals popular programs by cross-referencing social media television viewing trends and real-time viewership data from DISH’s customer base.
The Explorer app can also serve as remote-control for Hopper™ HD DVR features, including channel guide, DVR and on-demand video. Customers can use the app to search live TV, DVR and on-demand programs using iPad’s keyboard instead of the remote control, but the response of the original remote is faster than the iPad.
The improvements made to the new Hopper™ With Sling are more than just hardware upgrades with all the new software capabilities added to the unit. The system is faster and more responsive with improved reliability, and offers a whole host of new features that make watching programs easier whether at home or away. We have been using the new Hopper™ With Sling for several months now and must say that the platform has improved substantially since its initial release less than a year ago. Installing the optional OTA USB tuner is highly recommended and gives customers a way to get all the local broadcast with maximum bandwidth while maintaining the ability to record these programs.
We tested the remote access capability allowing us to watch our favorite programs while away from home using DISH Anywhere on our mobile devices. Our Verizon FIOS upload speed (needed for streaming remotely) is about 25Mbps, so we were able to stream movies reliably from the DVR. Even our Verizon Nexus Galaxy phone with 4G network speed worked well for the kids while out on the road.
The new Hopper™ With Sling is everything the original Hopper™ offered plus a whole lot more. The integrated Sling technology was a great improvement to this unit and the faster processor gives the Hopper™ a bit more punch to an already responsive and well designed system. The ability to transfer your favorite shows to your iPad or stream them directly from your Hopper™ to your laptop, tablet or phone is an impressive feature. Once you experience the Hopper™ With Sling, you will soon realize just how easy and flexible it is to watch your favorite programing. With the bar raised, it going to be tough to ever live without it.
- Kevin Nakano