13 January 2012

Dish's Hopper - Some DVR Innovations

Dish Network announced a new DVR device and service that is is calling the "Hopper".
OK, so it doesn't look like much.

The story is in the Hopper's functionality. In addition to the usual DVR features, the Hopper provides a whole-home DVR service (how implemented?) and 3 tuners instead of the usual 2. It has a roomy 2TB hard drive, which it claims will hold up to 250 hours of HD programming. In contrast, my Time Warner Scientific Atlanta 8300HD has a 160GB hard drive, which is typically of an average cable HD DVR box in the field.

The truly innovative feature of the Hopper it is a hybrid of the home-based and network-based DVR. The network based DVR will automatically (or with a single election by the user?) record all of the prime time programs on the Big 4 networks and keep them available for a period of 8 days. Smartly, since the network viewing within 7 days has value to advertisers, after that point it still has value, but the networks do not get paid for it ("Live+7" is the metric).

Effectively this means that a user does not have to use any of his or her tuners to record network prime time shows, but can use all three to record basic and premium cable. How much of DVR recording is Big 4 prime time? In short, most of it. A Cabletelevision Advertising Board presentation, citing Nielsen, found that broadcast programs accounted for 66% of prime time playback of recorded programs).

The bigger hard drive increases the DVR's capacity. The network DVR of the broadcast prime time also effectively increases the DVR's capacity. On the plus side, the easy to understand DVR recording rule means that all you need to know is that it was a broadcast show. Whether that distinction is meaningful to younger people is a bit of an open question. In some ways the automatic broadcast prime recording increases the DVR's convenience.

In other ways, this is less convenient. No longer is your list of recorded shows "all wheat, no chaff", now your DVR will be filled with a bunch of things that you really don't want to see. Unless there are two lists, one of your recordings and one of the broadcast prime time recordings. That's no one's idea of user friendly. Additionally, the large size of the hard drive means that there are more things to wade through, even if they are of your own choosing. (It is unclear if there is any better search or filing system on this DVR. There is a "state of the art user interface, according to the somewhat-breathless Dish marketing materials.) It is difficult to navigate more choices without a keyboard (an anathema in the living room) or something truly creative like Apple's original iPod click wheel.

In some ways the Hopper might be developing the navigation problem of cable VOD compared to the DVR. Wading through a lot of stuff, most of which I DON'T want to see, is one of the two big VOD problems and generally not a DVR problem. (The other big VOD problem is not know whether the program you want is even available on VOD; the Hopper's simple recording rule does put a dent in that problem).

Dish also announced the companion to the Hopper box itself, oddly called the "Joey" which it bills as the smallest set-top box in the world offering full HD DVR functionality. (Translation: the Joey doesn't have a hard drive, but can access the hard drive on the main Hopper box). It, too, is not much of a looker.
The bottom line is that innovation in the DVR space is good for consumers and for that Dish Network deserves praise.


  1. Ha, function over form, right?? I think the Hopper is going to be great. DISH is not attempting to generate the same massive amount of VOD as Comcast, but this is certainly a nice balance of VOD and DVR. The Joey's are great in the sense that they each have access to the main DVR playlist, as you mentioned above. This may not seem such a monstrous leap forward, in terms of DVR technology, but if you've ever tried to manage recordings in a large family, with each person wanting to watch something different, you will understand this feature's relevance. The 2TB Hard Drive, and 750 MHZ processor also make it the most spacious DVR device yet, as well as the fastest. My DISH coworkers and I got to try this out at work last week, and it will be a big hit for quite a few families and individuals alike! I can't wait to get my hands on one.

  2. erock: Thank you for your comment and for identifying yourself as a Dish employee. I'm not sure the speed of the processor is that important to DVR end users, but most appreciate the extra space. If you could share something of how one navigates all of the recorded shows, that would be most appreciated. Screen shots would be even better. I do have one question for you: does Dish encourage you to comment on blog postings?

  3. Hey Peter, thanks for the prompt response. Sorry it's taken a few days to get back. I actually ran into one of your posts today concerning DISH and the "Astroturfing". Lol, I like that term. To answer your question, yes, DISH does encourage posting on blog sites. We feel that social media, and the ability to connect with different demographics in various ways is, and will be of vital importance in the coming years. This being said, I also completely understand your frustration with certain posts or responses which seem off topic. We do NOT encourage spam, flippant remarks or poorly-researched writings. One of DISH's key business rules is "Know your Business and Be prepared". I try to follow this rule, and although I am not an accomplished technophile yet, I certainly strive to be in-tune with current trends and the exciting world of Entertainment Technology. For the record, I live and work in Colorado, at DISH Headquarters, and although I would love to travel to India, I have not made the trip yet. To my knowledge there is no DISH Social Media team currently working in India, so I am curious as to how you got a UT from New Delhi. Can you give me any more information concerning these posts so that I might investigate further? This would be greatly appreciated, and I will do my best to get you some more info on the Hopper navigation options as soon as I have it :).

    P.S.: I have also spoken to my team, and you should not have to worry any further about DISH Network-related posts on your blog. Sorry for the inconvenience, and if you have any further questions or concerns with regard to DISH products, usage or upcoming releases, I'd be happy to correspond. Thanks again.