Dish’s Hopper: a whole-home DVR with a primetime twist

Dish hopper

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Dish Network will bet big on the DVR to help it win over more customers and fight off competition from DirecTV and other pay TV operators, as well as the growing threat of catchup streaming TV services like Hulu. The satellite TV provider is coming out with new-and-improved recording devices that can work with up to four TVs throughout the home.

At the center of Dish’s new whole-home DVR solution is a set-top box called the Hopper, which includes a 2TB hard drive capable of storing up to 2,000 hours of video content. It also includes Joeys, which are smaller, thin-client devices that can stream live or pre-recorded content to any room in the house. Not surprisingly, the Hopper and Joey boxes were built by Dish’s sister corporation EchoStar, and take advantage of the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) spec.

The Hopper has three tuners, but here’s the twist: One of those tuners is set to record all four major broadcast stations during primetime hours. Called “PrimeTime Anytime,” the new service automatically DVRs the most popular and most watched shows from ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. That means that Dish users will have access to eight days worth of broadcast content without having to worry about setting their DVRs. In addition to PrimeTime Anytime content, Dish subscribers can record two more programs from other channels, meaning the DVR can store up to six programs simultaneously during prime-time hours.

For those who connect their set-top box to the Internet, the Hopper will be able to access thousands of streaming titles from Dish’s Blockbuster service, which is being renamed Blockbuster @Home. And, the satellite provider is also rolling out a new feature called Dish Unplugged, which will allow satellite users without broadband access to view hundreds of popular on-demand movie titles by downloading them directly to the Hopper’s hard drive.

Due to the introduction of PrimeTime Anytime and Dish Unplugged, much of the Hopper’s recording capacity will be used up at any given time, meaning subscribers won’t be able to take advantage of the full 2TB themselves. However, even with those services, they’ll be able to record about 1,000 hours of SD programming or 250 hours of HD programming on the box.

Finally, in addition to more advanced recording capabilities, the Hopper will feature TV apps that give subscribers access to social networks, games, news, weather, sports and stock information. And subscribers will be able to access and manage the DVR and other features through the web or through Dish’s Remote Access App.

For Dish, the bet on the DVR runs somewhat counter to other pay TV operators, which are trying to win over customers with more on-demand content, as well as greater access to streaming titles through TV Everywhere initiatives. But given the fact that Dish doesn’t provide broadband services to its customers, that’s probably a good idea. Giving them as much content as possible through its own satellite feed and set-top box might be one way to ensure that they don’t go to Hulu and other services to catch up on shows they might have missed.

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