updated 07:30 pm EST, Fri January 13, 2012
Dish Hopper gets our run-through at CES
Dish Network had an unusually strong presence at CES this year and gave us time to try its new Hopper DVR system. The three-tuner box is one of the more aggressive recorders we've seen and can record as many as six shows at once through a unique trick: it loads the four major US TV networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) on one tuner during prime time hours. It's hard to tell if there's any compression artifacts from the recorded shows on those networks, but it looked good in the controlled conditions of the CES floor.
The interface may be a revolution of its own in making for one of the few bundled-with-service DVRs to have a simple interface. Navigating the top level categories as well as drilling down to individual shows is considerably simpler than it has been on many devices before.
We most like that Dish is making real use of online access and isn't just a vehicle for Dish and Blockbuster at Home streaming, although both fare well enough here. It can take in media from the local network and even has its own app platform; only the Weather Channel and a handful of others were on tap, but it's far more than other DVRs usually have.
Importantly, you don't need to have a Hopper for every node: you can have little mini hubs, appropriately called Joeys, that tap into the main Hopper. The core device has 2TB of storage, which is enough for about 250 hours and can easily handle most viewing that isn't completely archival.
Our only regret from the early look is that the hardware is, as you'd expect, tied to Dish. It's not as advanced as Google TV or Apple TV, but it's a definite step up.