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Dish expands Hopper's reach beyond your living room

LAS VEGAS—Your living room appears to be the next battlefront where companies will fight for your hearts, minds, and eyeballs. And Dish Network is gearing up to capture its share.

At CES, the satellite TV company announced a slew of add-ons to its Hopper digital video recorder aimed at letting you watch shows throughout your home, on the go, or using devices made by other manufacturers. If the multichannel universe has made your DVR recording schedule more crowded than the CES showfloor, Dish has you covered there too, with an additional set-top box that expands the Hopper’s recording power.

It’s all part of what Dish CEO Joe Clayton billed as “part three of our Dish transformation” as the company looks to expand its reach beyond your TV set. Rather than view Hopper as a mere set-top box, the company sees its product as the centerpiece you’ll connect to with other devices, be it TVs, gaming consoles, or mobile gear when you’re looking to be entertained.

dish joe clayton ces mascots use me Photo: Philip Michaels

Dish CEO Joe Clayton is flanked by some of his top executives at CES on Monday.

“It’s the digital entertainment hub of your home,” Dave Shull, Dish’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer told reports at Monday’s press event.

Take the focal point of Monday’s briefing—a set-top add-on called the Super Joey that brings two more network tuners to the three tuners that already come with Dish’s Hopper. That’s an improvement over the original Joey add-on, which merely let you watch what the Hopper had already recorded. Dish says that a Super Joey paired with a Hopper lets you record up to eight shows at once—an unfathomable number to me, but probably a welcome addition in extended households where parents and kids have very different ideas of what constitutes entertainment.

dish superjoey

Super Joey from Dish gives subscribers two more tuners, letting them record up to eight programs at once with the company’s Hopper DVR.

Another addition to the Joey lineup, Wireless Joey, opens up installation options for Hopper add-ons. Combining an access point and a set-top box, the Wireless Joey offering lets you stream content to your home where you don’t have—or want—cables.

dish wireless joey

A Wireless Joey access point can serve up to two clients.

Wireless Joey uses its own 802.11ac Wi-Fi network to beam content from a Hopper. That prevents the wireless stream from interfering with other wireless devices you may have in your house, Dish executives said.

Dish also wants to reach other devices, striking deals with Sony and LG to get Joey apps on products from those companies. Both Sony’s PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 will get what Dish calls a Virtual Joey, an app that mimics the experience you’d get on a hardware-based Joey. The partnership marks a big opportunity for Dish, Shull says, making the company’s services potentially available to 80 million or so PlayStation consoles. Smart TVs from LG will also get a Virtual Joey app.

Dish’s efforts to stake out a claim beyond your home have been led by its Dish Anywhere mobile app, available for both iOS and Android. Soon, Kindle Fire will be added to the mix, as Dish announced its app would soon be available for Amazon's tablet. Dish Anywhere lets Hopper owners access recorded programs from their mobile device, which they can then view even without benefit of an Internet connection.

iPad users weren’t completely left out of Monday’s avalanche of Dish announcements. The company plans to add a voice search feature to its Dish Explorer second-screen app, searching for programs with voice commands instead of taps. Saying “Show me movies with Angelina Jolie,” for example, will turn up a list of available titles; you can further refine that search by saying something along the lines of “Show me movies without Brad Pitt” If you’d prefer not to entertain the possibility of watching Mr. and Mrs. Smith. (There’s no word on whether that feature was designed specifically for Jennifer Aniston, but I have my suspicions.) Dish also plans to expand its marketing efforts with Apple, offering a free iPad mini to customers who sign up for its service; previously, Dish dangled an iPad 2 as an enticement for new subscribers.

It’s an extensive array of announcements that certainly signal Dish’s hope to have Hooper standout from other set-top boxes as the master and commander of your living room. And Clayton hinted that his company’s ambitions may not stop there, raising the specter of adding home automation features down the road.

Until then, Dish customers will have to satisfy themselves with the products promised at this year’s CES. The Super Joey and Virtual Joey offerings will arrive between now and March, as will the Kindle Fire version of Dish anywhere. Wireless Joey arrives later in the spring.

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