About a month ago, if you’ll remember, the very fabric of the Internet journalism game was rent asunder when CNET’s parent company, CBS, refused to let it write about the Dish Hopper with Slingbox, a DVR with a system to view your shows remotely built in. More important, however, is the Hopper’s ability to “hop” past commercials in prime-time TV a few days after the show aired, allowing you to, say, blow past the commercials in Modern Family while managing a two-handed bong. It is, as they say, indistinguishable from magic.
I had a bit of time with the Hopper and I’m pleased to report that it is, in fact, one of the best DVRs you can get and arguably the best television provider DVRs I’ve used, barring my experience with TiVo-enabled devices. Here’s my take.
The Hopper is focused around the DVR and Guide menus. The interface is fast and processing time when you select a movie to record or prepare a scheduled recording time is snappy – even faster than the original Hopper. The unit has Wi-Fi built in as well as a 1.3GHz processor, which makes network features like the Blockbuster and on-demand video apps much faster.
The device also has a 2 terabyte hard drive, apparently the largest in the pay-TV industry, and thanks to Primetime Anytime, Dish’s prime-time recording service, you can easily grab all prime time content and still have plenty of room for movies and recorded TV. Playback is equally smooth and, in urban Brooklyn, Dish has only “gone down” once during a brief period during Hurricane Sandy.
What’s really interesting, however, is the Dish Anywhere feature. This allows you to view your content on almost any device, including Android and iOS. You can prepare content for mobile when you select it for recording. This is a 1-to-1 process (an hour of video takes an hour to process) but you can then transfer that video over to your device using an iPad-only app called Hopper Transfers. This allows for offline viewing.
In short, then, all of these features turn the traditional Dish DVR into a more computer/mobile centered device. Without saying much of anything out loud, CBS’s reaction to this product speaks volumes. For example, if you were a fan of Game Of Thrones and wanted to watch it on the go, you could easily use this to watch recorded episodes in your hotel room or offline on the plane. While this is nothing new – Slingbox users and pirates have been doing this for years – in the sclerotic pay-TV industry this is akin to witchcraft.
Was this device worth all the fuss and attention thrown at it? Sure. It disrupts the broadcast model considerably by essentially picking out all the good stuff on major primetime networks and serving it up to viewers on a silver platter. CBS is worried that people who watch CBS will use the Hopper’s commercial hopping feature to blow past ads for McDonald’s and Ford (they definitely will) yet they don’t realize that this process, thanks to the DVR, is already out of their hands. If Dish’s commercial skipping didn’t exist, I’d just blow past the commercials anyway. There’s literally no way for them to stop it.
The best feature of this DVR isn’t the clock speed or huge hard drive. It’s that the clock speed is being used to power a very powerful web-based interface with the user. While the Hopper’s guide looks primitive in the browser, it is immensely useful. Playback is rock solid on a good network connection and the ability to use Primetime Anywhere to catch up on shows you may have missed while traveling is amazing. In short, this thing did deserve best of CES and CBS was stupid to try to hush up CNET. They may not like the product, but it’s about to eat their lunch and it’s better to get behind the marauding technology than be bowled over in front of it.
The current generation of TV watchers understands devices like Slingbox implicitly and appreciates commercial-skipping. While the networks can’t be faulted for hoping that a few people will accidentally not skip through a peanut butter commercial, the possibility of that happening is slim to none. They can keep people from skipping commercials by producing content that is so compelling that you have to watch it “live.” That’s the bottom line.
To attack this box for doing what humans do naturally is silly at best and destructive at worst. In the end, all the legal futzing in the world won’t change the fact that the way we use our televisions has changed drastically.