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Review: Dish Network's Hopper With Sling Is the One to Beat
The latest Dish DVR offers integrated Sling functionality and wireless iPad transfers. After thorough testing, we call it a winner.

Dish Network’s Hopper with Sling is a nice piece of hardware engineering that eliminates the Sling appliance that used to sit atop the Hopper receiver. The software side is much more impressive, however, debuting the ability to download programs stored on your DVR to your iPad for unconnected viewing. It’s the final, essential component to the TV Everywhere concept and Dish delivers it masterfully.

First some background. As you probably know, Dish is a direct broadcast satellite provider. In 2012, the company shipped the Hopper, a DVR with three tuners that can record up to six programs simultaneously, two that you select and four as part of the Prime Time Anytime feature, which records Fox, ABC, CBS, and NBC prime time programming and stores them for a configurable time period. To supply TVs in other rooms, Dish offers the Joey, a much smaller receiver that can access live programming and recorded shows from the Hopper. 

TV Everywhere is the concept that once you pay for your content at home, either via a cable or satellite provider, you should be able to watch it everywhere. In the past, Dish supplied this with the external Sling device, which connected to the Hopper and could transmit live and recorded programs to remote personal computers and iOS and Android mobile devices. On computers, you watch in a browser, with free Android and iOS apps like the Dish Anywhere iPad app shown below. As you can see, not only can you access live and recorded programming, you can also schedule recordings or otherwise edit your DVR settings.

Dish Anywhere, which allows you to access your Hopper to watch live or recorded programming.

To access your Hopper to watch these programs, however, you had to be connected to the Internet. Now, with the integrated Hopper with Sling receiver, you can download programs from your DVR onto an iPad for offline viewing, with Android tablet support promised but no firm dates provided.

To access this feature, you download a free app called Dish Hopper With Sling Transfers. After syncing the program with your Hopper, you can access the Hopper’s DVR, and select any recorded shows for download. Hopper has to transcode the file before transferring it to your iPad, which takes slightly longer than real time, so a 30-minute program will take between 35 and 40 minutes. However, for shows manually recorded on the DVR (as opposed to Prime Time Anytime shows), you can elect to create a copy for downloading after recording, which should help avoid any pre-trip encoding logjams.

Transferring the Masters Tournament to an iPod (after conversion).

Once the show is fully transcoded, it automatically transfers to your iPad via Wi-Fi, where it appears in a separate My Videos folder in the same Dish Hopper with Sling Transfers program. Double-click the video and you can watch it with simple media player-like controls. On my first generation iPad, which has a display resolution of 1024x768, display quality was quite good, though the acid test would be playback on the much higher resolution iPad 3, which has a resolution of 2048x1536. 

In my household, the ability to transfer shows to unconnected iPads will be essential during our periodic road trips, which were otherwise filled with content purchased from iTunes or Amazon. The biggest downside is the minimal device support: at least for the time being, if you don’t own an iPad you’re out of luck. 

In terms of pricing, the Hopper with Sling is free to new customers, though you’ll pay $7 per month for each Joey and $10 per month for the DVR. Obviously, the programming fee will vary by package. For existing subscribers, Dish has not announced upgrade pricing for the new hardware, but is encouraging subscribers to call 800-333-3474 and talk to a rep.

Dish: The Joy of Ownership

Having owned the Hopper and two Joeys for about a year now, it’s a good time to reflect back on the experience. Hopper’s highest profile feature is AutoHop, which skips over commercials during playback of shows recorded on the DVR, and has been the subject of multiple lawsuits between Dish and several networks. The feature is great when you use it, but has one very frustrating limitation; it only works on shows recorded via PrimeTime Anytime, which means ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. If you want to watch Sports Center or Game of Thrones without having to manually skip commercials, you’re out of luck. The whole home DVR, which lets you start playback in one room and resume at the same spot in another, occasionally comes in handy, though is not as unique as AutoHop. 

One clear differentiator about Dish is an almost maniacal focus on service. You can book appointments for the morning or afternoon, so you don’t have to block out an entire day for a service call. The techs call a designated number about an hour before their arrival, so if you have to get home to meet them, you can.

Before entering your home, techs don plastic shoe covers like those worn in operating rooms to limit the dirt tracked in your home, and clean the surface of all TVs that they work on or near. The techs fully explain the operation of the hardware and associated software and leave well-written Quick Start guides that contain the URL addresses for more complete documentation. After each service call, you’re invited to participate in a 60-second phone survey, ensuring that any bad experiences are quickly identified.

I’ve used Dish for about five years now, so I don’t recall the quality of service of the cable service that we pulled because they were slow to move to HD. However, it’s almost inconceivable that any competitor could outperform Dish in terms of customer service. Coupled with generally high quality video, extensive entertainment packages, and online and offline TV Everywhere viewing, Dish offers an exceptionally powerful product offering. 

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