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Super Joey Makes Dish Hopper a TV Junkie's Delight

Super Joey Makes Dish Hopper a TV Junkie's Delight

With eight tuners, a full day's worth of content can be recorded in just a single prime time block. Picture quality across eight recordings was fine. I was worried that as I recorded more, the quality would suffer, but that wasn't the case. In side-by-side comparisons with content recorded on the cable box, I sometimes reached for the wrong remote, as I couldn't tell which source I was watching.

By Peter Suciu
03/14/14 12:02 PM PT

How do you make Dish Network's Hopper HD-DVR system even better? That's easy -- you supersize it.

Introduced earlier this year at CES, Super Joey has officially arrived, and for TV fans it more than lives up to its "super" moniker. Utilizing the same Hopper and Sling technology as previous versions, it now increases the recording power.

Super Joey

The Joey units, basically room extenders to the Dish set-top box, allow viewers to watch live or recorded TV around the house. The catch was Dish could only -- yes only -- allow viewers to record or view six programs at the same time.

That might not seem like a problem, but it could become one if users opted to use the PrimeTime Anytime functionality every night. This feature automatically records the prime time content from ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

As I noted in my original review of the Dish Hopper with Sling, PrimeTime Anytime was enough to make TV junkies jump -- or hop -- for joy. With PrimeTime Anytime, there are no show subscriptions to manage, and should you hear good things about that new drama you skipped the night before you are covered -- as long as it aired on one of the aforementioned nets.

Hopper to It

The downside to PrimeTime Anytime is that it eats up four of the six tuners in the set-top box. That suddenly robust looking "six" recording options dwindles to two, and that could be a problem if you want to watch something different on more than two TVs.

Of course, if you agree with former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Netwon N. Minow that the networks are a "vast wasteland," than you'd still have six tuners to record exactly what you want. However, as network TV does have a lot to offer, it isn't hard to see why this feature usually should be kept on, just in case.

The other benefit it provides is that by recording everything on, say, NBC you need not worry about the final seconds of a program being cut off if it runs long -- you've recorded the full evening.

If you're one of those who just has to have it all, you can make the hop to Super Joey and not worry so much.

This new version is much more than just a room extender. It actually looks a whole lot like the primary set-top box, and for good reason. Super Joey is powered by the same 1305-MHz, 3000 DMIPS Broadcom BCM7346 processor as the original HD DVR system. It also features remote finder functionality, and supports MoCA and Ethernet connectivity.

More importantly, it adds two tuners to the Hopper's already plentiful six. This now brings the recording options to eight programs.

Choice Device

It isn't hard to see why Super Joey received the CES 2014 Editor's Choice Award. In hands-on tests, it works great -- and truthfully, there is little to criticize about it. It certainly could add to "show discovery" as viewers won't have to make hard choices about recording A or B -- or in this case, A or H. If there is a downside, it could be that harsh realization that you're watching too much TV -- or you can't find to time to watch what you're recording.

That actually is an important point to note. With eight tuners, a full day's worth of content can be recorded in just a single prime time -- 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. -- block. In other words Super Joey, along with the Hopper's 2,000 hours of storage capacity, could create a situation of TV hoarding -- especially of prime time network programs.

In my tests, picture quality across eight recordings was fine. I was worried that as I recorded more, the quality would suffer, but that wasn't the case. Each program looked simply fine. In side-by-side comparisons with content recorded on the cable box, the quality was so close that at times, I reached for the wrong remote, as I couldn't recall which source I was watching.

This could be as big a game changer for viewing habits as the DVR was when it first came out in 2000.

Dish and the Networks

If there is one reason to be dubious of the future of Dish's Hopper with Sling -- and with it Joey and Super Joey -- it is the fact that several networks are suing Dish over the Hopper feature. Part of the PrimeTime Anytime recording feature is that it provides users with the option to automatically skip commercials. It is the commercials, after all, that deliver profits to the networks.

ABC parent Disney earlier this month settled its Hopper dispute with Dish, with the latter promising to suspend the AutoHop ad-skipping feature on Disney shows for three days after they originally aired.

This resolution meant that Dish would retain access to Disney channels, including ABC and ESPN, and gain the right to stream video live and on demand as part of an Internet-delivered TV service.

Other Improvements

While Super Joey is the latest major enhancement to the Dish HD DVR system, it is just the latest in a series of offerings that continue to make this one super system indeed.

Users still can log on to Dishanywhere.com and stream content from the DVR at home to a computer, tablet or other mobile device. Beginning this month, the functionality also was added to the Kindle Fire HDX tablet.

Content can be viewed "live" as it is being recorded, or accessed much like any other recorded on-demand offering. The quality often is dependent on the speed of the local Internet -- and in the past year, I have found it to range from seamless to unwatchable.

If the bandwidth isn't available for streaming, caching can help -- but only to a point. Ironically, it is in hotels in cities like Las Vegas -- where the speed really must be throttled -- where this is more of a problem. Many airports, including McCarran in Las Vegas, now have reliable WiFi that continues to make Dish a welcome friend for weary road warriors.

Because content is being accessed from a user's DVR, there is no "international locations" issue. While traveling in Europe, I've found that accessing programming from the networks directly -- say, to watch The Simpsons from Fox.com while waiting in Frankfurt, Germany -- isn't possible. This isn't the case with Dish, which just lets me stream the show from the Hopper sitting in my house.

Of course, without WiFi, none of the content from those eight tuners can readily be accessed while I'm on the go. However, Dish last year introduced Hopper Transfers to the Apple iPad, which allows users to download recordings from the DVR to the tablet. This allows for offline viewing of recordings, say, on an airplane.

It's been a long time coming -- at least, if you're a TV junkie -- but this functionality has finally arrived on Android devices as well as the iPhone. With Hopper Transfers users now can record a show at home -- and as long as you are on the same network, you can download it to your device.

The downside, at least as I've experienced it, is that I can't actually record a program at home on the DVR and transfer it while I'm at a hotel or airport. Perhaps there will be some flexibility in the future, but even as it stands, it is a great way to take TV shows on the go.

With eight tuners, you really do need to make the time to watch it all somehow!


Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and fitness-related trends for more than a decade. His work has appeared in more than three dozen publications, and he is the co-author of Careers in the Computer Game Industry (Career in the New Economy series), a career guide aimed at high school students from Rosen Publishing. You can connect with Peter on Google+.


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