This post is adapted from one that first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News
by Larry Magid
I don’t watch a lot of TV but, when I do watch a show, I like the option of watching it from different rooms in my house. If I’m in the mood to relax with a movie or a TV drama, I’ll watch it on the big screen in our living room. If I want to catch the news before going to bed, I’ll watch it from the bedroom set. There’s a screen in the kitchen I can use to catch a morning show while making coffee and we now have a TV in the exercise room to take my mind off the otherwise boring act of peddling the indoor bicycle.
All cable and satellite providers offer the ability to serve multiple TVs, but traditionally that required having a set top box on each set. That isn’t such a big deal if you just want to watch live TV, but we live in the “Tivo” era where many of us record our favorite shows to a digital video recorder (DVR) so we can watch them later and, of course, skip over the commercials
Comcast, DirectTV and Dish Network are among the providers that offer systems that let you access a single DVR from multiple TVs. I haven’t tried Comcast or DirectTV’s services, but Dish Network loaned me a system that allows me watch live TV or recorded programs stored on a single DVR from up to four sets around the house.
The centerpiece of the Dish system is called the Hopper, which is a satellite receiver and video recorder that’s connected to the dish on the roof and the TV in our living room. It comes with a 2 TB hard drive which, according to Disk Network, is enough to store up to 2,000 hours of recorded programs. Although Internet connectivity isn’t required for regular TV, it can connect to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet to make it possible to order and stream on demand programming and — via an add-on device called a Slingbox — watch recorded or live programs from an Internet connected PC or mobile device anywhere in the world.
The Slingbox gives you access to your own receiver, but you can also watch some programing, including HBO,- from Dish’s website or mobile app. Content providers, including CNN and HBO, require you to login through your cable or satellite provider to validate that you’re a subscriber before you can access their content.
As with all cable and satellite services, the cost depends on what package of programming you order. Packages that include a free Hopper start at $24.99. One option to consider is ordering an inexpensive package for basic programming and cable channels and using Netflix, Hulu or Amazon to stream additional content.
You can program the Dish receiver to record up to three shows at once but it also has a “PrimeTime Anytime” feature that automatically records the prime time programming ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox and stores it for up to eight days. You can also record up to two other programs while using this service.
There are two reasons for the name Hopper. One is that it lets the signal “hop” from room to room and, for some shows, it lets users “hop” over commercials. That commercial-skipping feature prompted CBS, Fox and NBC to file separate lawsuits charging Dish with copyright infringement by encouraging users to skip the very commercials that help pay for the programming (disclosure: I serve as a parttime on-air technology analyst for CBS News).
While Dish Networks and the TV networks fight it out over commercials, they all have a bigger problem. Growing numbers of people are “cutting the cord,” and not watching cable, satellite or over the air programming but using Internet services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon video to watch their shows. Traditional TV is still the best way to get access to live news and sports programming but that too is likely to change over time.