Dish Network Hopper 3 Whole-Home UHD DVR Reviewed

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Dish Network Hopper 3 Whole-Home UHD DVR Reviewed

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Performance
You might imagine that was a short conversation, or one that I tolerated merely for the sake of getting the complete customer experience. You'd be wrong. As it turns out, the four years I've lived with the Hopper ecosystem actually put me at something of a disadvantage when it came to wrapping my mind around the new Hopper 3 user interface. I had to unlearn what I had learned.

My tech and I spent a good five minutes digging through the Hopper 3's Settings menu looking for the screen that would allow me to transfer all of my old recordings from my external hard drive--because that function was no longer located in the same place that it has been for years. Almost by accident, I found the screen I was looking for, and it wasn't under Settings. It was on the main DVR screen. Plain as day. A big, bold "Sources" folder that, once clicked, gave me direct access to all of the hours and hours of shows that I had archived and now wanted to move to their new permanent residence. Incidentally, restoring all of my saved recordings took much less time than did backing them up, thanks to the Hopper 3's USB 3.0 connectivity.

"That almost makes too much sense," my tech said. And those words stuck with me for the next few days as I learned to navigate the simpler, more streamlined, vastly more intuitive and responsive UI of the Hopper 3. Things aren't where they used to be; they're where they ought to be. That's mostly thanks to a new tabbed home screen that gives you easy access to not only apps (like Netflix) and features (like on-demand content) that you might be interested in, but also a handy Trending Now list (of shows that are popular at the moment), as well as series premieres you might be interested in, season premieres, and finales.

Dish-Hopper3-Sources.png

Searching for content is also vastly quicker and easier than ever before, despite the wealth of new content returned in searches. When you start typing in the search box, for example, a list along the side of the screen is populated with TV shows, movies, sporting events, and even people whose names match the letters you've typed so far. Best of all, your searches are no longer limited to results that are available in the current content guide or on-demand listings. There's a new option labeled "Record When Available" that allows you to set timers for shows or movies that might not be returning to air for months yet. And when you're browsing the episode list for a show of interest, it contains not only episodes that are stored on your hard drive and yet to air, but also on-demand offerings and episodes available via Netflix.

Dish-Universal-Search.pngAll of this is pretty huge if you've been frustrated by the Hopper's search capabilities in the past. While it may not quite be up to the quality of TiVo's search capabilities (for example, when I still had cable, my old TiVo would record any shows about Corvettes, even if they didn't have the word "Corvette" in the title, which is something the Hopper 3 can't do), it's getting close enough for hand grenades and horseshoes.

That same integration of broadcast, on-demand, and streaming sources comes in handy when you're watching shows, as well. After watching an episode of a series, a screen pops up that shows the next episodes to be watched. My wife and I tend to save up shows and binge watch them, which can cause problems when we don't realize that a show didn't record until weeks or months after it's aired. Such was the case with a recent marathon of Marvel's Agent Carter, an episode of which we lost due to severe weather and a power outage. (As an aside here, I should note that, in the four years we've had Dish Network, we've only lost our satellite signal perhaps half a dozen times, which is a far better track record than we ever had with cable--and a counterpoint to the perceived notion that Dish loses its signal every time the wind picks up. We now joke that, if our satellite signal goes out, it's probably time to get in the hallway anyway.)

Getting back to that marathon of Agent Carter: as we were sitting down to watch, I noticed that episode three of the second season was missing from our list of recorded shows (shows that had been recorded on our old Hopper with Sling). When episode two ended, though, a direct link to the on-demand download of episode three popped up right in the center of the screen.

Likewise, due to scheduling conflicts, we also recently noticed that a couple of old episodes of Brain Games from three seasons ago (yep, we're show hoarders) were missing from the DVR. As was the case with Agent Carter, we got a pop-up notification that our missing episodes were available, not via on-demand but on Netflix, and pressing that button took us directly to the stream of that episode.

One new function of the Hopper 3 that wasn't available at release but has been recently added via an update is the Sports Bar Mode, or Multi-View Picture-in-Picture, which allows you to fill a UHD TV screen with four 1080p high-definition channels (if you have a 1080p TV, you'll get four 540p windows). Unfortunately, this featured launched with some kinks, which caused the screen to go black when trying to access it, requiring a power cycle to get the image and sound again. A recent firmware update nipped this in the bud, though, and Multi-View Picture-in-Picture now works perfectly and intuitively. The scaling of the four separate channels is spot on, and switching between audio streams for each active channel is as simple as moving the cursor around the screen. 

Dish-Sports-Bar-Mode2.png

The Downside
If there's one major shortcoming of the new Hopper 3's search capabilities, it's that searching for the minuscule amount of 4K content available at the moment is a bit like trying to find Waldo in one of those cross-eyed Magic Eye books. There simply isn't much of it, and there's no category I could find to narrow the search. I found a handful of on-demand selections from Sony Pictures, including the 2015 film Chappie, which is available to rent for 24 hours at $7.99. The film played at 3,840 x 2160p/24, with eight-bit color and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio at 48-kHz/16-bit, and it's worth noting that it didn't require HDCP 2.2, since it played just fine through my Emotiva XMC-1 (which won't be fully HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 compliant until sometime this summer). The video looked pretty fantastic, to be blunt about it--on par with 4K streams from Netflix, just without the buffering issues or occasional drop in quality due to bandwidth issues, since it was coming over the satellite, not my network.

It's also worth noting that the new Hopper Remote with Voice, which should simplify the searching process even more (assuming its voice recognition is up to snuff), still isn't available to Dish subscribers. For the time being, we're left with a remote control that's much simpler than the Hopper remotes of old (as it should be, given that the UI is so much more streamlined). If you use an advanced control system such as Control4, as do I, the old Hopper IP driver still works perfectly well with the Hopper 3, and it even gives you access to buttons that are gone on the new remote: the red, green, yellow, and blue buttons, for example, which provide direct access to things like your tuner list, Closed Captions, settings, and apps.

As for the few remaining glitches and grumbles, I think chances are pretty good that many of them will be stamped out by the time this review posts. I feel confident in saying that because Dish is making constant updates to the Hopper 3, and bugs of this nature are disappearing at a rapid rate. One particularly frustrating bug that has recently been addressed caused all recorded shows to appear as having already been watched by default, which meant an extra couple of button presses to start a show from the beginning.

Comparison and Competition
The most obvious competitor to Dish Network's Hopper 3 is DirecTV's Genie whole-home DVR platform. Hardware differences are only one thing to weigh when considering which (if either) of the major satellite providers you opt for, but there are some differences to be pointed out. The Genie does look rather limited as compared with the Hopper 3 in a number of key areas, including the fact that DirecTV's offering features half of the hard-drive space, less than a third the number of tuners, no PrimeTime Anytime feature (which records all four major networks automatically during evening hours and stores the shows for eight days, unless you choose to save them to your hard drive automatically or manually), and no automatic commercial-skip feature for primetime network content.

The Genie does offer one feature that the Hopper 3 lacks, though: Program Suggestions, which recommends shows for you based on your viewing habits. Dish has a Recommendations feature, but it's not influenced by your personal preferences. DirecTV's system also has a slight edge in that it supports a maximum of eight TVs; however, it only allows for five simultaneous streams at a time, whereas the Hopper 3 allows you to watch seven TVs at once.

If you're not a satellite subscriber, TiVo's Bolt is probably the Hopper 3's closest competitor. It also features 4K support (presently in the form of 4K YouTube and Netflix), along with TiVo's unparalleled search and recommendation capabilities, as well as seamless integration of streaming services. It does max out at 1 TB of internal disc space, though, compared with the Hopper 3's 2 TB, and it features only four tuners, compared with the Hopper 3's 16.

Conclusion
For what it's worth, my daughter recently asked me if I really needed a DVR with 16 tuners, and the simple answer to that question is no, no I don't. Then again, I only have a two-room Hopper system. Since upgrading to the Hopper 3, there have been evenings where the missus and I tied up a grand total of eight tuners (and that's given the fact that PrimeTime Anytime, which records four stations at once, hogs only one tuner). Is that out of the ordinary? Of course it is. But at least with the Hopper 3, we don't have to worry about scheduling conflicts. Like, ever.

What about the other concerns? The general lack of 4K content at this point? Features like the YouTube app and voice search that haven't debuted yet? Quite frankly, the weight that you place on these bugs and missing features is yours to determine. If you're considering a switch to Dish Network from another provider, you'll have to weigh them individually.

But if you're already a Dish customer and you're on the fence about upgrading to the Hopper 3, go ahead and hop down from that fence. There's simply no reason to wait. The bugs that exist are, as I said, being addressed more quickly than I would have expected, the features that are missing aren't available on any previous iteration of the Hopper anyhow, and the vast advancements in terms of speed, responsiveness, and functionality (especially in the search and playback departments) make the Hopper 3 such a monumental leap over its forebears that Dish could have almost gotten away with pulling a Microsoft and calling the thing the Hopper 4. 

Additional Resources
• Check out our Satellite Receiver, Cable Box, and HD DVR category page to read similar reviews.
• Visit the Dish Network website for more product information.
Dish Network Introduces 4K-Friendly Hopper 3 DVR at HomeTheaterReview.com.

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HTR Product Rating for Dish Network Hopper 3 Whole-Home UHD DVR

Criteria Rating

Performance

4

Value

5

Overall

4.5

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