Dish Network Hopper With Sling review

The Dish Network Hopper With Sling takes last year's already-powerful and flexible Hopper satellite box/DVR and adds invaluable place-shifting features—and it's free with a Dish Network satellite subscription.
Photo of Dish Network Hopper With Sling

Last year, when we tested Dish Network’s Hopper, we were so impressed by its top-notch interface, extensive storage, multiple tuners, and reasonable price that we crowned it our Editors’ Choice digital video recorder. This year, Dish Network takes the already-powerful, versatile Hopper and leaves it largely unchanged, with the exception of one key addition: Sling Media place-shifting. It’s like having a full-fledged Slingbox built into your satellite set-top box so you can watch TV whenever and wherever you want on a number of additional mobile devices. The Hopper still lacks video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, but considering that the box is free with a Dish subscription, it’s a very small price to pay for all the functionality you do get. It’s simply the best DVR available today.

What’s New, What’s Not
From the outside, the Hopper With Sling looks just like the old box, with the exception of a new logo on the front panel and different color scheme on the remote. These similarities extend to the insides of the Hopper as well, as it packs the same sprawling 2 terabytes of storage space, three tuners, and the ability to connect multiple Joeys, which are smaller satellite boxes that offer multi-room viewing. The on-screen interface is the same too. Where things get different: The Hopper With Sling sports a new Broadcom 7425 SOC with 2GB of RAM, more than twice as much as the Broadcom 7420 chip in the original Hopper, and you now get built-in Wi-Fi, but these are the only non-Sling upgrades you’ll notice. 

For a detailed look at the Hopper With Sling’s basic, non-place-shifting features, check out our full review of last year’s model. 

Dish Anywhere
When you load a Web browser or download the iOS Dish Anywhere app, the Hopper With Sling starts to really shine even when it’s not in the same room. This is where the DVR’s built-in Sling capabilities come in. Thanks to Sling Media’s technology, you can watch Dish Network television from anywhere on your iPad, iPhone, Android device, or Web browser. The effect is the same as using a dedicated Slingbox or the Dish Network Sling adapter with the company’s previous DVRs, except it’s integrated into the set-top box so you don’t have to set up infrared blasters or run cables among various devices. It’s all internal, and it’s much easier to get working; if the Hopper With Sling is connected to your local network and cable, you’re ready to “sling” media to your offsite computer or mobile devices.

While it uses the same SlingPlayer technology found in Sling Media’s apps, everything is handled through Dish Network’s interfaces, whether through the Dish Anywhere Web site or the Dish Anywhere iOS or Android apps. This is particularly nice, because the Dish apps are free, unlike the SlingPlayer apps. I loaded streaming television from the Hopper With Sling to my third-generation Apple iPad, my Samsung Galaxy S III, and to my Chrome Web browser on my computer with little issue. I even streamed television from the Hopper in the Lab to my iPad at home.

The Dish Anywhere site and apps are a combination of SlingPlayer and a cable or satellite provider’s on-demand and programming guide apps. You can access the program guide to see what’s on, set shows to record, and tune to live television on any channel. Program guide and remote DVR control has been a feature for many cable and satellite services for a few years, but the live TV is a new integrated feature, and it works great. I streamed live television from the Hopper With Sling to my various devices with a slight drop in picture quality (depending on the connection; the video stream is dependent on both the Hopper and the device or computer’s connection speeds). Because the Hopper With Sling has to change its tuner setting to the channel you want to watch and then stream the video to your computer or mobile device, it can take five to ten seconds to see the channel change, but it’s functional. The previous Hopper provided similar functionality, but it required the optional Sling Adapter. The Hopper With Sling lets you place-shift live TV out of the box.

Transfer Your DVR Shows to Your iPad for Offline Viewing
Besides watching live TV remotely, you can transfer recordings from your DVR to your iPad for watching offline through the free Hopper Transfers app. The app tells the Hopper With Sling to convert the shows you designate to a format you can watch on your iPad, and then copies them over. The convert/transfer process can take a long time depending on the quality of your connection. It took more than an hour to transfer a 30-minute episode of Scooby Doo in my tests, but if you set up a queue of videos overnight to catch up on the next day, it’s very handy. The transferred video quality can vary, though, and it won’t likely be as good as the native recording on the DVR itself. Also, you can only transfer a recording to your iPad once, presumably because of copy protection concerns. But despite these flaws, it’s still an excellent feature, and the best implementation we’ve seen. TiVo, for example, requires a $130 add-on box, TiVo Streamto gain this functionality. 

The Dish Network Hopper With Sling takes the excellent Hopper satellite set-top box and makes it even better by adding Sling Media-powered place-shifting and DVR transfers to your iPad. It packs a staggering array of features into a single box that comes free with a Dish Network subscription package, and lets you watch satellite TV programming at home or anywhere you have an Internet connection. It easily earns our enthusiastic recommendation.

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Specifications
Supported Video Formats 720p, 1080i
Networking Options 802.11n, Ethernet
Built-in TV Tuner Satellite
Audio Outputs Optical (Toslink), Coaxial, HDMI, Stereo RCA
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 2000 GB
Video Outputs Composite, Component, HDMI
Ports External SATA (eSATA), USB 2.0

Verdict
The Dish Network Hopper With Sling takes the already powerful and flexible Hopper satellite box/DVR and adds invaluable and built-in place-shifting features thanks to Sling.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc