Today, Dish Network announced a trio of portable video players (PVPs) that work with its latest satellite DVRs. Dubbed PocketDish, they're devices codeveloped with Archos that, in addition to recording video in real time and offering all the other features of Archos PVPs such as the, can interface with the and other receivers via USB 2.0. At the demo I saw at CEDIA, Dish's reps plugged the PocketDish into the USB port on the front of the 942, and a dialog appeared asking whether we'd like to transfer content. It was then a simple matter of selecting one or more shows and pressing the button; in minutes, the programs were available to watch on the PocketDish. Transferring an HD show is not possible, however. All three units, including the AV700E ($599 list) with a 7-inch screen, the 4-inch AV500E ($499), and the 2.2-inch AV402E ($329), will be available in October.
Starting in mid-September, a new version of the 942 software is being rolled out to allow PocketDish compatibility. Soon after, Dish hopes to debut a similar upgrade to itsand boxes, enabling them to work with the PocketDish as well (the earlier is not compatible). The software also lets you upload photos to the DVR's hard drive for slide-show playback on your TV. Although it's designed primarily to work with USB thumbdrives, one Dish product manager plugged his Canon digital camera into the prototype 942, and it worked fine. The box detected and downloaded the images, and I was treated to a picture of myself looking appropriately dorky as I enthusiastically absorbed the PocketDish demo. I distinctly remember wondering, "If they can do this with USB, how about hooking up a 500GB hard drive?"
I also saw the new 411 high-def receiver with MPEG-4 decoding capability. MPEG-4/AVC allows Dish--and rival DirecTV--to squeeze more channels into less bandwidth, primarily to deliver more HD channels including high-def local stations via satellite; with current satellite receivers, you need to use an antenna to receive local HD stations. Dish will roll out the 411 and associated MPEG-4 satellite broadcasts to select markets by the end of the year. DirecTV has announced a similar plan and, unlike Dish, even named the first markets on the list. Neither company has specifics about MPEG-4-capable, high-def DVRs--the successors to the and the Dish 942--but we expect to hear all about them at CES in January, if not sooner. Pricing is not yet available on the 411. I also asked whether Dish would offer some sort of trade-in to existing HD satellite receiver owners whose boxes are incompatible with MPEG-4 transmissions or a leasing program for new boxes such as the programs employed by most cable companies, but the company isn't ready to make any official announcements yet. DirecTV, for its part, will reportedly provide a free upgrade for existing HDTV owners, but details are still sketchy.