- Editor's Rating
- 2TB hard drive capacity
- Dish Anywhere lets you watch TV and movies on your mobile in HD
- Hopper Transfers enables offline iPad viewing
- Wide range of free On Demand movies
- Hopper Transfers only available for iPad
- Remote control has a slight learning curve
- AutoHop only available for Prime Time Anytime shows
- Prime Time Anytime limited to broadcast networks
Quick TakeDish Network’s Hopper with Sling delivers great HD picture quality, which ought to be enough to win over the vote of any fence riders still undecided about giving up cable TV for good. Add to that the ability to watch on your mobile device in HD from any location that offers an internet signal, and a DVR with enormous storage capacity with three tuners, and there’s no question. The minute your cable TV contract is up, it’s time to make the shift to Dish.
In 2012, Dish premiered a show stopping whole-home DVR system with an even cooler name: the Hopper. This year, Dish unveiled what they’re touting as a vastly improved experience called Hopper with Sling, which enables users to take the experience to any TV in the house. But is the final product really deserving of all the hoopla? We took a closer, hands-on look at the Dish Hopper with Sling and found out for ourselves.
First off, Dish requires a dish unit installation somewhere on the exterior of the house or building. For this review, it took about two hours tops, and the Dish unit was installed on the roof, out of sight, with a clean line to the southern sky.
The Hopper (which refers to the main unit) is a sleek, solidly-built device with a handsome front end and an all-business rear panel. A quick tour of the back of the device reveals inclusions like two Ethernet ports and one telephone jack for your choice in wired online connectivity (it also supports Wi-Fi), two USB ports, a mini antenna hookup, one coaxial input where the dish itself is connected, an HDMI port, and a digital audio output. Traditional RCA jacks for audio and video are also included, facilitating a broad variety of home theater setups. The back of the Hopper also includes an eSATA port, enabling users who outgrow the 2TB of built-in storage to branch out onto external drives.
Non-technophiles may be more interested in the inclusions on the front of the Hopper, which are well disguised behind a small flip-down panel door. Here is where you find the standard Power, Menu, Info, and channel select buttons to operate the device without a remote control. For users who are constantly losing or misplacing said remote, a Locate Remote button is also included on the front panel, which sends a signal and causes the remote to broadcast a three-tone beep and makes its top buttons flash until it’s recovered. There’s also a third USB port found on the front of the Hopper, for easy access.
In keeping with the kangaroo theme, Dish has bequeathed its additional room viewing boxes with the catchy nickname of Joey. Compact enough to fit conveniently on top of or beside most bedroom TV sets, the Joey is a scaled-down version of the main Hopper device but still includes RCA output jacks for audio and video, HDMI and digital audio out, one Ethernet port, and one USB port. The Joey also comes with an easily configurable base for vertical or horizontal orientation in areas where space may be an issue, and can even be wall mounted.
Each Joey costs extra, however… $7 per unit per month (originally, we claimed it was $10 in this review). Each Dish unit supports up to 3 additional Joeys. If you have four or more TVs, it will require an additional Dish unit. As of this writing, customers can lease 2 Dish with Hopper units and 4 Joeys to connect 6 TVs. Anything more, and customers actually have the purchase the units. Each Joey comes with its own standard remote and offers the same Dish experience.
Depending on what entertainment system you’re migrating from, you may find the Dish remote a bit too busy for its own good, and there is a definite learning curve. Considering that the remote itself will likely take users the longest amount of time to master, it’s not all that bad. At least you know that everything you need is included, if not easily found.
Available buttons offer a wide variety of leisurely control, including four color-coded buttons – red, green, yellow, and blue – that allow you to rapidly jump to some of the Hopper’s most frequently used functions. These include apps (Pandora, The Weather Channel, Facebook, etc), device settings, and TV Viewing Status, which gives you the ability to see what programs are being watched throughout connected devices in your home.
One of the most oft-used buttons on the entire remote is the one labeled View Live TV, which immediately backs you out of any menus you’ve ventured into and takes you to the last channel you were viewing. The directional pad on the upper section of the remote control is another bonus, giving the remote an intuitive feel.
Dish has done an excellent job in upgrading their system to catch up to pace with the evolving state of user interfaces like those you’re used to seeing on touchscreen computers, tablets, and smartphones. Traditional grid view has been replaced by a much more visually rich, user-friendly interface, which even includes a floating arrow that lets you navigate to and select specific commands. When accessing On Demand or Blockbuster at Home, titles are laid out with poster art. Clicking on a title brings up a movie’s rating, with cast listings and plot summaries. The easy on the eyes appearance of the interface shouldn’t be taken as a clue that the functions of the Hopper are simplistic. To the contrary, the system offers some pretty complex functionalities, which can be tapped into for optimum personalization.
One such example is found in the TV Guide, which can be manipulated using both old fashioned and contemporary methods. Using the page up/down keys gives you the full range of available shows, but you can also apply certain filters to your search if you know what you’re looking for. This is accomplished through the Browse option, which lets you choose from various themes and sub-themes, including movie genres, programs by star rating, sporting events, news broadcasts, children’s programming, and so on. The TV Guide is also programmable, meaning that you can create individualized lists of favorites for quick access in the future.
Live TV Features
Live TV viewing is accentuated by a handful of cool features that go a long way in giving you control not only of what you watch, but how you watch it. Dish’s time shifting and TV pausing feature is no better or worse than those offered by competitors, but the stubborn types that have never paused live TV are in for a treat.
Without a doubt, the ability to pause a TV program has the most practical use. Using the DVR remote buttons, you can also skip backwards in 10-second increments if you want to see something again. It’s not perfect – for example, this feature doesn’t let you rewind any further than the point where you began watching, and you can’t skip ahead past commercials if you’re up to speed with the live broadcast (both limits are standard across all DVRs) – but it’s close enough to perfect to deliver a much needed next-generation dimension to watching live TV.
There’s also Picture In Picture (PIP), which can be turned on with a single button on the remote control. PIP lets you keep watching a particular show while you browse around to see if there’s anything better playing – and there always is, which is why PIP can be such a valuable feature to have. If you’re not so willing to choose one program over the other, you can change the settings on PIP to show both channels on split screen (great for channel surfing during commercials). For aspect ratio fanatics, the Format button on the remote control gives you a variety of different screen shape orientations to best suit what you’re watching.
The Hopper with Sling comes with a 2TB hard drive that’s big enough to store 500 hours of HD programming or 2000 hours of SD. To put that into perspective, you could feasibly save enough recordings on your Hopper drive to play them back continuously for almost three months before ever having to repeat yourself. Some entire TV networks don’t have that much variety. But the size of the hard drive isn’t all that’s impressive about the whole-home DVR system.
With whole-home DVR, you can literally start a movie in your living room, pause it, and resume from the same position in another room – or on a connected mobile device. DVR recordings can also be manipulated from any room in the house that has the Joey installed. Additionally, you can record up to three programs at the same time, and by using a feature called Prime Time Anytime you can effectively double that.
Prime Time Anytime
Prime Time Anytime is a unique experiment in the juggling act sometimes required with DVR programming. Setting your DVR to record Prime Time Anytime uses only one of your three available tuners, but captures every single prime time show that’s aired on ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC throughout the week. These shows remain available on your DVR for the next eight days. Since this feature takes up one of your three DVR tuners, it has to be enabled in the PTA settings menu.
Unfortunately, this advanced feature is not up to speed with the current state of primetime television. Cable favorites like Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Homeland are excluded, but I guess that’s why Dish offers additional recording tuners.
Needless to say, anytime you DVR a program that’s got commercials you have the option on playback to fast forward past unwanted ads, just as you have the option of pausing and rewinding as you desire. But there’s one feature included in the Dish Hopper that’s got some networks hopping mad – the ability to bypass commercials automatically. It’s called AutoHop, but don’t get too excited. This is a feature available only on programs featured through Prime Time Anytime and doesn’t apply to things you watch on non-network channels. There’s also one small catch – you can only “hop” past commercials on the day following the initial broadcast. AutoHop is activated in the Prime Time Anytime menu and has to be turned on prior to each viewing.
There’s no doubt it’s convenient, but it’s hardly worth the stink the networks have made about the feature (we’re looking at you, CBS).
Dish Anywhere and Hopper Transfers
Probably the most exciting feature to be included in the Hopper with Sling is called Dish Anywhere. This revolutionary capability enables anyone with a smart phone or tablet to watch their Dish channels remotely, from any location – and in HD. The application itself is free to download, and the only factor to look out for is data usage on your mobile device. But this is rendered a non-issue the moment you move into a Wi-Fi zone.
It’s basically the same technology TG fawned over in the Slingbox review (that’s why it’s the “Hopper with Sling”) built into the Dish unit. As with a Slingbox, Dish Anywhere not only lets you tune in to whatever’s playing live on your available channels, but it also gives you access to On Demand programming and any shows that you have recorded to your DVR. A full range of DVR functionality can be accessed through the application, including setting or canceling future recordings.
One feature that Dish has over the Slingbox is that iPad owners have the additional option of downloading a separate application from the Apple App Store called Hopper Transfers. This enables the transference of selected movies and TV shows from the DVR hard drive to the iPad so they can be watched even in the absence of an available internet connection. This is a feature that makes stand-along Slingbox owners very jealous, and for good reason.
In a unique merging of TV entertainment and computer functionality, the Hopper comes with a small handful of applications that make watching television a more social activity. Accessing the apps section of the system allows you to access your Facebook account and share what you’re watching. It also gives you access to Twitter streams about a selected show and lets you chime in with your very own Tweets. This is also where you’ll find the Pandora music listening app, localized weather reports on The Weather Channel’s app, and Game Finder – a must-see for sports fans who want to stay up on their favorite teams’ scores and get notified of games taking place on local channels.
The Hopper has to be connected to home internet for apps to work, which can be done through the built-in WiFi or hardwired via the aforementioned Ethernet or phone ports.
On Demand and Blockbuster at Home Programming
The Hopper with Sling includes an On Demand movie service that offers a wide variety of entertainment, much of which can be had for free. Movies and events via On Demand can be viewed in Standard Definition or High Definition. HD programming quality is comparable to that of BluRay. In addition to On Demand, Dish offers a $10 per month service called Blockbuster at Home which gives you access to more than 10,000 movies.