An iPad displays programs copied from a Dish Network Hopper DVR through… (Dish Network )
Satellite TV provider Dish Network is doubling down on its legally edgy bet on a powerful new digital video recorder.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday, Dish announced an updated Hopper DVR that not only can record a full week of prime-time programming from the four major broadcast networks, but also can stream shows to remote viewers through the Internet and transfer recordings to an iPad for viewing offline.
The company had already drawn lawsuits from those four networks, which claimed that the Hopper's automatic recording (dubbed "PrimeTime Anytime") and commercial-skipping capabilities ("AutoHop") infringed copyrights and violated the contracts they had signed with Dish. The second-generation model pokes another stick into that hornet's nest, although in a way calibrated to stay within the confines of copyright law.
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The original Hopper (unveiled at last year's CES) maximized TV viewers' ability to "time-shift" programming, essentially turning the four major networks' prime-time lineup into on-demand programming (albeit for a week at a time). The new version adds two "place-shifting" features. "Dish Anywhere" enables customers to connect remotely to their Hopper in order to stream live or recorded programs to a laptop or tablet computer. And the "Hopper Transfers" app enables them to shift recorded programs onto an iPad, effectively turning the tablet into a mobile companion for the DVR.
Dish customers already could access their Hopper remotely with the help of an external adapter made by Sling, a company that Dish bought in 2007. The new Hopper has the Sling technology built in. In fact, according to Vivek Khemka, Dish's vice president of product management, advancements in chip technology made it possible to integrate Sling's technology directly into the Hopper's main microprocessor.
Meanwhile, the proliferation of tablet computers has increased the demand for place-shifting, Khemka said. The initial audience for Sling was largely laptop-toting travelers eager to watch the sports and cable channels they subscribed to at home. Today, however, more than half the Sling usage is by customers in their own homes, Khemka said. "The reason is, people find places to watch TV that in the past they couldn’t because they just didn’t have it," he explained, such as the bathroom, the garage or the porch. And the more tablets there are in homes, the more that kind of usage will grow.
The integration of Sling into the Hopper means the device can now stream one channel over the Internet while a different channel is playing on the home TV -- something not possible with a separate Sling device. That also helps with in-home use.
It remains to be seen how the Hopper's new capabilities affect Dish's legal battles with Hollywood. The satellite service fended off one studio's bid for a temporary restraining order against the Hopper last year in Los Angeles, but faces a similar challenge from another studio in New York.
Hollywood and the consumer-electronics industry have long fought over the limits of consumers' rights to record and reuse TV programs, and unlike time-shifting gear, there's no definitive Supreme Court decision in favor of place-shifting devices. Khemka said Dish's Hopper Transfers app complies with the studios' restrictions on copying, which for certain shows means deleting the copy on a DVR when a new copy is made on an iPad. He also notes that the Hopper enables people to stream only one program to one screen at a time, which fits the U.S. Copyright Office's definition of a private use that doesn't violate public performance rights.
"Sling has been out in the market for over five years now, and we have been selling boxes that support the Sling technology for over two years," Khemka said. "We have not had any programmer issues on Sling."
But then, Sling has never been offered inside a Hopper before.
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Healey writes editorials for The Times. Follow him on Twitter @jcahealey