Let me just go ahead and be blunt about this right from the giddy-up: if you're not a Dish Network customer already and you're thinking of subscribing to the service simply because of all the touted 4K capabilities of the company's new Hopper 3 DVR, hold your horses for just a bit.
I'm not saying the Hopper 3 is a bad DVR by any means. Quite the contrary! The Hopper 3 is a significant technological leap over its popular predecessors. It still boasts amazing commercial-skipping capabilities for network TV shows. Its PrimeTime Anytime feature, which uses just one tuner to record all primetime content on the four major networks every night of the week, is still an incredible convenience. Thanks to hardware upgrades, the new Hopper 3 delivers all of the features that made its older siblings so popular and does so at breakneck speed. And I still think that, even ignoring considerations of hardware, Dish Network offers the best value in traditional subscription-based linear TV.
Still, if 4K content is motivating your purchasing decision right now, the Hopper 3 isn't quite the be-all and end-all of UHD content...but it definitely has the potential to become so in the coming months and years.
Let's back up a few months, though, to the CES press conference at which the Hopper 3 was announced. It was the talk of the show amongst the crowd I run with, and for good reason. The press conference came across like one of those Ron Popeil commercials, except for a product you definitely want. First, the Hopper 3 jumps from three tuners to 16. Say goodbye to recording conflicts for every family except maybe the Duggars.
But wait, there's more!
It boasts a newly redesigned user interface with comprehensive search capabilities that cover broadcast, on-demand, and Netflix all in one convenient list. That's exactly the sort of thing Dish has needed for a long time.
But wait, there's more!
It supports 4K on-demand video and 4K streaming from Netflix. What could be better? How about a new Sports Bar Mode feature that allows you to watch four mosaic HD channels at full resolution on your UHD TV, with future support for six 720p channels onscreen at once?
If all of the above doesn't get your tail wagging, you've probably given up on linear subscription-based TV altogether and have no desire to go back. But for the rest of us, that press conference was like a magical wonderland of promise, a hope for a better and brighter future with puppy snuggles and unicorn rides 24 hours a day.
But hey, let's not forget that, when Disneyland opened in 1955, the paint was still wet, and some of the rides didn't last through the first day. As such, don't consider this review-in-progress to be our last word on the new Dish Network Hopper 3; instead, consider it a snapshot of its first month in action, which will be updated as new features come online, and a few bugs are stamped out.
I'll admit it: after having been one of the first journalists to review the original Dish Hopper back in 2012 and having replaced it with the Hopper with Sling (now dubbed the Hopper 2) myself back in 2013, I was a bit disappointed to hear that Dish wouldn't allow me to handle the installation of its new Hopper 3 on my own. There's a reason for that, though. The new hardware requires some outside work, including a new hybrid LNB and hub, which must be installed by a Dish technician. Thankfully, my local tech allowed me to do all of the inside work myself--which wasn't much work at all, to be honest. My old Hopper with Sling slid right out of my rack and was immediately replaced with the new Hopper 3. I plugged in the Ethernet and HDMI cables, plus my external hard drive (with 1.5 terabytes' worth of recordings copied over from my old Hopper), and that was that.
Replacing the Joey in my bedroom required a little extra work. Just in case you're not familiar with Dish's product names, perhaps a bit of explanation is in order here. In Dish parlance, the Hopper is your main DVR and the brains of your entire Dish Network system. When you record a TV show, no matter which room you're standing in when you set the recording, it's the Hopper that does the work and the Hopper's two-terabyte hard drive onto which it's stored. It also houses all of your tuners; so, if you change channels in a second room, you're really changing channels on one of the Hopper's tuners.
The Joey is a whole-home DVR client: a small box that connects to the Hopper via MoCA (Multimedia over Coax) unless you opt for the wireless version, and effectively serves as a local video output and remote control input for additional rooms throughout the home. The reason the Joey installation required a little extra work in my case is that the updated Joey I received (not the 4K version, which I don't need in the bedroom) did require a different power cord than my original Joey, which necessitated a bit of digging behind heavy furniture.
With me working inside and my local Dish technician working outside, though, we were up and running in about 15 minutes. We then spent the rest of his visit going over the new features of the Hopper 3's streamlined remote control and user interface.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...