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CES '16: Sling TV Gets a UI Overhaul, Dish Launches the Hopper 3

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Dish launched streaming television bundle Sling TV at CES last year, and while the service is attractive to cord-cutters, its interface isn't attractive to anyone. That will change soon, as Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch announced the service is getting a UI overhaul.

The new interface is far more intuitive, with a home row of icons along the top, a contextual list of channels below that (when needed), and then two larger rows of preview screens.

Besides offering better organization, the new UI is intended to work more intelligently with improved content discovery tools. The UI changes based on customer behavior, time of day, location, device used, and content popularity.  These personalization features go by the name MyTV. The improved UI will roll out to subscribers starting in the fist quarter of 2016.

(The other big minus to Sling TV is the lack of a cloud DVR. Alas, that hasn't changed.)

Sling TV announced only one change to its channel lineup: ESPN3 will be added to the Best of Live TV package sometime this quarter. Best of Live TV offers over 20 channels for $20 per month.

In the same press conference, Dish debuted the Hopper 3 DVR, which it says is seven times as powerful as the Hopper 2 thanks to its Broadcom BCM7445 chipset. Scrolling through a guide full of thousands of channels is now as fast as subscribers could want. The Hopper 3 includes 2TB of hard drive space, which is good for 500 hours of HD recordings. The DVR now includes a USB 3.0 port for expanding storage capacity. Its more powerful processor lets it deliver content to up to six of Dish's remote mini-receivers, called Joeys, at one time.

The Hopper 3 can record 16 shows at once. "Goodbye recording conflict," said Vivek Khemka, Dish's executive vice president and CTO, who joked that he couldn't think of 16 shows he wanted to record at one time.

The Hopper 2 and 3 are gaining a universal search and discovery feature that lets subscribers search across live, recorded, and on-demand content at once. Subscribers can opt to record all the movies starring a certain actor or all the games for a favorite team with one click. Netflix is the only on-demand streaming service included in the universal search. The Hopper 3 includes a YouTube app, a first for Dish.

Additionally, the Hopper 3 supports 4K content at up to 60fps, and supports H.265 video. While there isn't much 4K content around yet, Dish has made agreements with Netflix and Sony to provide UHD video to customers, some of which will be streamed and some delivered by satellite. To put 4K sets to use, Dish is introducing a multi-channel view that combines four HD channels on one screen. "This is like creating your own sports bar at home," Khemka said.

Finally, Dish introduced a new device called HopperGo, which lets customers transfer up to 100 hours or recordings and watch them on-the-go. The compact HopperGo comes with a four-hour battery life and creates its own Wi-Fi network. Customers can access HopperGo content from any device with a Dish app (which means it works with mobile devices, but not desktops or notebooks). It can stream to five devices at once.

The Hopper 3 will be available this month and will be free to qualified customers, although it will require a $15 monthly charge. The HopperGo will launch this spring, selling for a one-time $99 fee.

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