The capacity of today's hard drives is so enormous, the average consumer might have a tough time figuring out what to do with it. Dish Network has an idea: How about giving TV viewers the chance to watch every prime-time program on the four major networks that they missed in the last week?
The satellite operator, which is the third-largest pay-TV provider in the United States, announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday that its new Hopper digital video recorder will have an extra tuner dedicated to capturing all the prime-time programs broadcast by ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. It also will have a 2-Terabyte hard drive, giving it enough room to hold on to all those recordings for eight days -- along with hundreds of hours of movies and shows chosen by each Hopper's owner.
It's a gimmick, sure, but a potentially useful one -- both for Dish and for its customers. Dish rival Time Warner Cable offers a "look back" service that enables subscribers to watch a broad range of prime-time programming from the previous three days, although the recordings are stored at the cable company's central office, not in subscribers' homes. Unlike a digital video recorder, however, the service doesn't let viewers fast-forward through commercials, which is one of the most appealing features of a DVR like the Hopper.
In addition, the Hopper helps close the gap between the time a show is broadcast and when it becomes available online through Hulu and other authorized sites. Networks routinely hold programs back until the day after they're broadcast; Fox delays them for eight days, although Dish subscribers can get those programs within a day. With a Hopper, there is no waiting.
The ultra-roomy hard drive also enables Dish to store a large supply of movies and shows for on-demand viewing, albeit not to the extent that cable operators can. On-demand service has long been cable's big advantage over satellite; cable is a two-way network that can send programming on request to individual homes, but satellite is a one-way system that broadcasts programming to entire regions.
Satellite operators have tried to overcome that technological disadvantage by teaming up with broadband providers to offer on-demand services through the Internet, and by caching programs on their subscribers' DVRs that can be unlocked for viewing on demand. The larger the capacity of the DVR, the larger the library of programs that can be cached.
The Hopper is designed to feed smaller set-top boxes, called Joeys, in other rooms of the home. According to Dish, a home equipped with a Hopper and three Joeys can watch four different recorded shows simultaneously.
-- Jon Healey
Image: A Hopper digital video recorder. Credit: Dish Network