DISH Network’s recently announced Hopper whole-home DVR, and the Joey companion units, are now available to customers. The Hopper is a unique design with three tuners, but with a trick up its sleeve which allows it to record six programs during prime time. But it isn’t really a six-tuner DVR. Let me quote myself from my previous post, with a little trimming:
Three tuners, but it can record up to six HD channels at once? What kind of dark voodoo is this? Well, note the asterisk: “*DURING PRIMETIME HOURS”. And now note this from the quote above “ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC”. How it manages this trick is actually pretty simple, but requires a little explanation.
I’ll oversimplify a bit, but for analog broadcast TV you have one channel per frequency. A tuner did just that – it tuned a given frequency and therefore a program. But with digital content frequencies and channels have a more nebulous relationship. A single frequency block may contain several digital channels all multiplexed, or MUXed, together. And this is precisely how satellite works. They can’t use a dedicated transponder and frequency for each channel, rather channels are MUXed together. So ‘tuning’ a single channel is actually a multi-step process.
First the tuner tunes the desired frequency and this allows the unit to receive the data stream that is the MUX. Normally the next step is that the signal is de-MUXed and the desired channel is extracted, with the other data being discarded. This one channel is then saved to the drive as a recording. Can you see where I’m going?
Since DISH controls everything end to end, what they’ve done is place ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC in one MUX. And instead of de-MUXing the data as it is received they’re saving the entire MUX to the drive, all four channels. Then it is de-MUXed at playback time, not record time. That’s how it can record up to six channels with three tuners. You have one tuner recording the MUX, for four channels, and two tuners each recording a single channel.
But this is limited. As the page states, they do this during prime time hours only. And recording four channels takes up four times the space, even if you’re never going to watch all four channels. The Hopper has a 2TB drive, but only half is available for user recordings – up to 250 hours. The other half is used to store these PrimeTime Anytime MUX recordings, as well as pre-cached OnDemand content pushed the the box. And you can’t record up to six programs you select, you can only record up to three individual programs. Or two programs while the third tuner is occupied recording this MUX.
So you can record any three channels or the four-channel prime time MUX of the major networks and any two other channels – which is how they get six total. And it only does this during prime time, 8-11pm Eastern, so you won’t be doing this for day time programming, etc.
In addition to this PrimeTime AnyTime feature, the Hopper also supports TV Anywhere place shifting with the Sling Adapter add-on.
Last week DISH launched a new YouTube channel and they’ve gone on a tear uploading videos – most of which have to do with the Hopper. They do provide some useful product info:
They even have a couple of TV spots for it, though I’m not really sure if I should be amused or offended seeing as I currently live in central MA and my wife is from South Boston. And no, she does not have this accent:
They’ve even uploaded videos from the launch at CES: