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Dish Enhances, Super-Sizes Hopper HD-DVR Platform

Las Vegas – International CES – Arming itself for the ongoing battle for video subscribers and high end video “enthusiasts,” Dish Network used the annual gadgetfest here to unveil a wave of enhancements and additions to its Hopper-branded whole-home HD-DVR platform, including the SuperJoey, a device that enables Dish subs to record as many as eight shows as once when paired with the Hopper whole-home HD-DVR with Sling.

In that scenario, the baseline Hopper HD-DVR, which is equipped with three tuners, adds two more tuners from the SuperJoey. The combo can record up to eight shows at once so long as four include the major broadcast channels (ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS). Dish’s Primetime Anytime feature, which records the primetime hours of those broadcast channels, uses technology that ingests all four live broadcast TV feeds via a single tuner.

Without Primetime Anytime enabled, the Hopper/SuperJoey combo can record any five shows at the same time.

"Say good-bye to channel conflict," Dish CEO Joe Clayton said here at a press conference.

The device pairing gives Dish a new product to wield against competitors such as DirecTV, whose Genie whole-home DVR is capable of recording up to five programs at once, as can Comcast’s new HD-DVRs that are powered by the new X1 platform. Cablevision Systems’ recently upgraded, cloud-based, $12.95/month Multi-Room DVR currently beats them all with the ability to record up to ten shows at once.

Dish also introduced the Wireless Joey, a device that uses 802.11ac WiFi to deliver live and recorded video to IP-based devices connected to the customer’s home network.

Following Sunday’s announcement that Dish has developed a “Virtual Joey” application for newer model LG Electronics televisions that delivers the Hopper experience without a separate hardware device, Dish also revealed other versions of the Virtual Joey app that run on the Sony PlayStation 3 and the recently launched PlayStation 4.

On the second screen, the satellite giant said its Dish Anywhere app is now supports Kindle Fire devices, complementing the access it has already been providing on IOS and Android-powered tablets and smartphones. Dish Anywhere recently integrated Hopper Transfers, a component that lets users sideload recorded content to a mobile device, and supports the viewing of live and VOD content on the home network or when the user is on the go (via Sling).

Dish EVP and COO Dave Shull estimated that Dish subs watched 1.7 million minutes of video on the Dish Anywhere app last year. The bulk of that viewing was of live TV programming, he added.

Dish has not announced how many customers are using the Hopper HD-DVR, but about 6 million “screens” are powered by the platform, Shull said. “We want to make sure our customers can experience the Hopper anywhere in their home.”

Dish also introduced an upgraded version of the Dish Explorer app with voice-based search and control capabilities.

Vivek Khemka, SVP of product management, also revealed that a trio of third-party, second screen app developers – Thuuz , BuddyTV and Control 4 -- have been integrated under an open API project for the Dish Explorer app for tablets that the satellite TV company announced last June. Launched about a year ago, Dish Explorer serves as a fancy remote control and bakes in recommendation and social networking features.

Khemka also demonstrated a Thuuz app for Google Glass that was linked to the Hopper HD-DVR, allowing him to change channels directly via the emerging wearable computing platform.

Finally, Dish also announced that its customer acquisition partnership with Apple will continue this year, with new, qualified Dish/Hopper subscribers in line to receive an iPad Mini.

Dish SVP and chief marketing officer James Moorehead said the Apple tie-in has created a halo effect for Dish, citing research that 60% of consumers who took the offer last year had a more positive impression of the pay-TV company. On average, those customers told another five people about the iPad promotion, he said.