Dish aims high with new Hopper DVR, high-speed satellite broadband service

At CES 2012, Dish has made a plethora of announcements as it rolls out its new Hopper DVR system capable of storing 2,000 hours of programming and a new high-speed satellite broadband service that it says will be a boon to rural America.

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LAS VEGAS--More music, more magic, more memory, more movies.

That's the marketing message Dish is serving up here at CES, introducing a new kangaroo-themed, whole-home HD DVR system called the Hopper that includes a 2TB drive and can record up to six programs simultaneously while pushing content out to accompanying "Joey" boxes in up to three additional rooms.

The company has also announced a new high-speed Broadband service with partner ViaSat that will launch in the "first quarter." It's called Dish Broadband and it will allegedly provide up to 12 Mbps download and up to 3 Mbps upload speeds. If those speeds prove to be real--and the service actually launches--that would be remarkably fast for satellite Internet service.

Dish CEO Joe Clayton said the new service will be hugely appealing to rural users who currently don't have access to broadband service or are stuck with middling DSL service. An entry-level package of Dish plus Dish Broadband will start at $79.95 a month with a planned launch for this summer.

"It's like shootin' fish in barrel in rural America," said Clayton.

Dish CEO Joe Clayton speaking at CES. James Martin/CNET

Clayton, who took over the helm at Dish last May, previously served as CEO and Chairman of Sirius Satellite Radio and earlier had a stint as CEO at Thomson RCA, where he rolled out DirectTV. Throughout his career, Clayton said he and the companies he's run have been associated with "animals of some sort"--RCA had the Nipper and Chipper dogs and Sirius also had a canine mascot. This time Clayton has gone to the kangaroos and said the Hopper will be the most advanced set-top box when it hits the market.

"While other DVRs in the industry have limited DVR sharing capabilities, the Hopper and Joey system offers the ability, from up to four rooms, to manage their DVR, record and play back HD shows, and watch live HD programs," the company said.

The Dish Hopper multiroom DVR features a 2TB hard drive, three tuners, Bluetooth, and a new feature, PrimeTime Anytime, that records every show during prime-time hours from the four major networks for eight days (click to enlarge). Dish
However, the kicker here is a new feature that Dish and Clayton are touting called Prime Time Anytime. With a press of a button, you can set the Hopper to record every show during prime-time hours from the four major networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox) for eight days. Yes, you heard right, every show, every day for eight days.

Dish said: "PrimeTime Anytime records network programming in high definition, where available, every night and stores them for eight days after they have aired (eight days gives viewers one previous episode.)"

We're not sure what the networks think about the new option, but Dish executives said that because it's not a default feature (the user has to engage it), it's kosher. And while one tuner is reserved for recording all four channels at once, Dish claimed that the picture quality of the recording is not diminished.

The Joey is a small receiver that allows you to access content from the Hopper in other rooms. Dish

Due to be released in March, here are some of the Hopper's key highlights.

  • 750 Mhz Broadcom satellite TV processor, which Dish says is the fastest available today.
  • Three satellite TV tuners (one for PrimeTime Anytime, the other two for the customer).
  • Approximately 50 percent more energy efficient for a four-room installation than previous models.
  • Standard RF4CE Zigbee remote with "remote control finder" alert.
  • Two-terabyte hard drive for 2,000 hours of storage, including 250 hours of HD or 1,000 hours of SD DVR recordings.
  • High-definition user interface.
  • Easy-to-use, graphical, tile-based user interface with predictive search (the interface has been completely redesigned).
  • Bluetooth for linking to devices such as wireless headphones.

The back of the Joey (click to enlarge). David Carnoy/CNET

Dish also made a number of smaller announcements, including changes to its Blockbuster service. For those who don't remember, Dish acquired Blockbuster in a bankruptcy auction for $320 million last April. Some hoped Dish would offer a strong alternative to Netflix, but its Blockbuster offering hasn't been terribly compelling so far and has only been limited to Dish subscribers for an additional $10 a month.

Here's a look at those additional announcements:

  • Dish is dropping the "Networks" from its name and will simply be called Dish.
  • Blockbuster Movie Pass is now called Blockbuster @Home.
  • The Hopper's on-demand capabilities give access to Blockbuster @Home, giving access to thousands of streaming movies and DVDs by mail.
  • The $10/Monthly Blockbuster @Home streaming movie service for Dish customers is now available to watch on iPads through the Dish Remote Access app.
  • The Hopper also offers on-demand content for customers with limited or no access with a feature called Dish Unplugged. The company says this feature delivers via satellite "hundreds of the most popular movies and TV shows to the hard drive" and that "Dish Unplugged provides a high-quality picture without buffering as well as many of the same streaming movie choices offered by Blockbuster @Home, including premium movie access."
  • Subscribers to Dish's Top 120 programming package or greater, the Hopper provides whole-home music distribution of more than 70 Sirius XM Radio channels, including "album art from each artist and a unique collapsible list of music channels located at the top of the channel guide at Channel 99, making it faster and easier for Sirius XM music fans to find their favorite music."
  • Dish says the Hopper will feature TV apps for access to social media, games, news, weather, sports, and stock quotes.
  • The Hopper can also be managed via the Internet at www.DishOnline.com or the Dish Remote Access app.
  • The Hopper can also be connected to the Dish Sling Adapter, providing customers the ability to watch live TV or DVR recordings on their Internet-connected computer, tablet or mobile phone.
  • Dish is launching thousands of more family and kid's on-demand programs available on demand to customers who subscribe to certain programming or subscribe to the Blockbuster @Home package.
  • More HBO content will be available on demand through Dish DVRs.
  • The company is adding nine more SiriusXM Latino music channels.

So there you have it. A literal smorgasbord of announcements from Dish. What's missing?

Well, we're still waiting pricing on all this (including the broadband service) and an exact launch date, but as we said, Dish claimed Hopper and Joey will be jumping into homes in March.

It's also worth noting that for better or worse, you're going to be seeing a lot kangaroos as part of new Dish ad campaign designed to promote the new DVR system. Brace yourself.

 

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