Each Hopper and Joey comes with a full-featured radio-frequency (RF) remote, and the Dish installers programmed them to operate my TVs. While I’m generally not a fan of included “all in one” remotes, Dish’s actually does a pretty decent job and had codes for basic control of my Kaleidescape system, two off-brand televisions (SunBrite and Humax), and my Marantz pre-pro. My biggest gripe about the remote is that it has no backlighting, and with more than 50 buttons, there are a lot of commands to execute solely by feel. Also, there is no way to change the input on a television — important if you want to, for instance, switch from watching satellite to a Blu-ray.
Since the remotes operate via RF, each remote is paired to a specific receiver, meaning you can’t just carry any remote into any room. Fortunately, both Hopper and Joey have “remote locate” buttons that allow you to find the remote paired to them. This is a super handy feature that we — surprisingly or sadly — used more than once to locate a missing wand. Also nice is that both Hopper and Joey can respond to infrared commands, meaning they can easily integrate with a third-party controller such as my Control4 system.
As for video performance, the first thing I noticed was that the Dish picture instantly looked noticeably better than my cable TV picture. Chalk it up to less compression, or a cleaner signal from the satellite, or better processing in the Hopper box, but images had less noise and more detail. Also gone was the occasional macro-blocking that tends to plague fast-moving scenes with my cable feed.
There are a few options that power users will appreciate. The Hopper offers picture-in-picture for multichannel viewing (not available on the Joeys). My wife loved the Multichannel Recall feature, which is like Previous Channel on steroids. When this feature is enabled, pressing the Previous button on the remote calls up a banner showing the last four channels viewed. This is convenient for keeping up with the thousands of design shows on TV.
Dish’s Whole-Home DVR feature, which makes any program you record available for viewing on any TV, is incredibly cool. I can’t tell you how liberating it was coming from my previous cable DVR system. Also cool is the ability it gives you to pause a program in one room and then finish it in another. We started Moneyball on HBO in the living room with the Hopper, and then retired in the bedroom with the Joey to finish it with a bottle of wine. Awesome! The Joey also offers full DVR functionality, including pause, rewind and fast forward (4-/15-/60-/300-times speeds), and skip forward and back.
To navigate the hundreds of channels available on Dish, you can arrange and browse the program guide in a variety of ways, including all channels, HD only, and four user-defined lists that are perfect for setting up different family members’ favorite channels. The guide holds 9 days’ worth of program info, which is slightly more than my cable box but less than the 2 weeks offered by some other DVRs like Microsoft’s Media Center.
Beyond the regular programming is a ton of on-demand and pay-per-view material. Dish supports 1080p and 3D on some movie purchases. It also includes a free trial for Blockbuster @Home, which gives you streaming access to thousands of free movies (broadband Internet connection required). There are also tons of onboard music channels from Sirius/XM.
I used the Sling Adapter to watch a few shows remotely, both on my iPad and on a PC. It worked without any hitches and seemed like a great way to take advantage of Dish programming while away from home. You can also use the mobile app to schedule recordings. (For more info on Dish’s Sling capability, check out our 2010 review of the company’s VIP922 Slingloaded DVR on our Web site.)
A big part of the Hopper story is its massive hard drive, three HD tuners, and PrimeTime Anytime (PTA) feature. I can’t tell you how often having only two tuners on my cable box has screwed me — usually on Sunday nights, when we want to watch multiple programs across a variety of channels. With PTA enabled, the Hopper automatically records every network TV show — ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox — every night from 8 to 11. With this feature enabled, you will always have a cornucopia of recorded programming to watch. Shows are kept for 8 days unless you tell Hopper to hold them longer. With PTA enabled, we were introduced to new shows that we would normally never watch. The only downside to this is that PTA commandeers one tuner, so you can only watch/ record two other channels during PTA hours. I love PTA, but if you don’t, you can easily turn it off.
Dish recently rolled out a new feature called AutoHop. When you watch recorded prime-time shows, this lets the system automatically skip over all the commercials. Blink! The ads are gone. It’s amazing. AutoHop is only available the day after a show originally airs, but for people who time-shift their viewing — and skip ads anyhow — it’s a godsend. It should come as no surprise that a bunch of major TV networks are suing Dish in an effort to squash Auto- Hop. At press-time, a New York federal judge had just given the TV networks a go-ahead to pursue their suit in the entertainment industry-friendly state of California. Stay tuned to our site for further updates.
Having dealt with the limitations of my cable company’s DVR for years, I found that living with the Hopper was like rediscovering how awesome DVR technology is all over again. It’s a really incredible piece of gear that does just about everything and — more important — does it well. For homes with lots of people, a second Hopper can double the number of tuners to six. Coupled with the PrimeTime Anytime feature, this should provide enough options for even the most voracious TV-viewing households. The amazing thing is that, with many qualifying packages from Dish, you can get this system installed for free! If you have been frustrated with your cable system lately, or just want to take your TV viewing to the next level, I highly recommend giving Dish’s new system a look.
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