Regular Life

Regular Life

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. – Robert Frost

DishNetwork Getting More Like Cable Companies

We have been very happy with our DishNetwork service for all the 10-plus years we have been customers.

For the first time, they are moving toward a system that’s eerily similar to that used by cable companies. By that, I mean that with the new Hopper and Joey system, they require not only a receiver for your main television (the Hopper), but also additional units (Joeys) attached to any television you wish to use with the system. Dish always has charged a monthly for the main package and the receiver, but now there’s a new wrinkle.

While there are pros and cons of staying with the old system, versus going with the new, I’m starting to wish I had kept our previous receiver rather than upgrading to the new Hopper system — for now.

Quick Tip:
If you are a DishNetwork dual-tuner DVR user who has not yet “upgraded” to the Hopper, and storage space is your primary concern, consider buying an external hard drive for your existing DVR and being happy with what you have. It will save you money after the initial fee of adding a hard drive.

Now, to the full story, for the “why” of it all.

In our ViP 722 DVR receiver, we had the usual two satellite tuners. We could record two different channels at once, while watching a previously recorded selection at the same time. Or we could watch one channel and record another, simultaneously, while also watching a recorded selection. It was very slick and smooth.

We were able to attach an additional television merely by running a coaxial cable to it and tuning it to a pre-set channel. We also could watch programs recorded on either tuner 1 or tuner 2. We could use the remote control for tuner 2 from any room in the house. We were able to add a VCR to that setup and, if we wanted, record whatever came to that second TV (live broadcast or a recording).

The only drawback was that we had to watch the second television in standard definition, but if we chose we could watch HD content letterboxed to keep from missing part of the image. Also, we could watch any of our recordings, whether in HD or standard. Our only HDTV was in the living room, so standard was fine everywhere else.

The bonus to this setup was that I installed a splitter on the line running to the second television, thereby expanding our viewing versatility to a third television in our guest room/computer room. Of course, that meant that the two additional TV’s could not watch independently of one another, but that never caused a problem. Was I in violation of some DishNetwork policy when I installed that splitter? Possibly. We were using it no differently than if I just moved the cable back and forth each time I wanted to watch TV in one of the additional rooms, so I had little moral hesitation.

We also attached an old-fashioned rabbit-ears antenna to the ViP722 DVR, which allowed us to receive and record crystal-clear, HD-quality broadcasts from thin air. That added the capability of recording a three channels at the same time, and at no extra charge besides what I already paid ($5/month) to receive local channels.

Ultimately, the HD content we had recorded proved too storage-hungry for the meager hard drive in the ViP722. I found myself recording the standard definition versions of our channels so that we wouldn’t max out the storage. We also started finding ourselves wishing we had HDTV in the master bedroom — for the few times we wanted to watch television immediately after our young son had gone to bed. Our home is fairly small, so living room sounds easily carry down the short hallway to his room.

Letterboxed though it was, such an image looked kind of small on an old 27-inch screen. It looked especially tiny on the 13-inch screen I watched in the computer room.

Considering all of that, I took the plunge and ordered DishNetwork’s new receiver, the Hopper. It quadrupled our DVR storage space, and any additional sets would enjoy HD signal. The Hopper, however, didn’t provide all of that by itself. Alone, it allowed television viewing in only one room. Like the cable companies, DishNetwork now required an additional device and monthly fee for every television added. I could not add one TV and split the signal this time, because instead of passing just a standard TV signal down the coaxial cable, the Hopper sent data that had to be received by something more advanced than a television.

That new device is called a Joey. While its capabilities are impressive, it is helpless without the Hopper.

So now, when I’m doing work in the computer room, my only television viewing option is a DVD. Plus, the added bonus of using rabbit-ears to pull in HD signal over the airwaves now requires an adapter I must purchase from DishNetwork.

Another gotcha was the desire to upgrade the master bedroom television now that it could get HD signal. So, I found a good deal on a 21-inch LCD HDTV from Vizio. This was motivated, too, by my wife’s desire to rid our bedroom of the old, hulking, convex screen TV.

Looking back, I probably would have preferred staying with what we had and invested in a large external hard drive to attach to the ViP722 DVR. It would have saved us more than a few dollars. Instead, I got the Hopper and its behemoth hard drive and the $7/month charge for the master bedroom Joey. I also might soon end up coughing up $7 more per month to get a Joey in the computer room.

The devilish detail there? I can either pay $95 upfront for the installation of the Joey, or agree to pay for a protection plan for at least four months. That would bring my total up to $14/month for four months, dropping back to the regular $7/month rate for the Joey. So, instead of nearly $100 for the installation, I’d pay $28 — if I remembered to cancel the protection plan. I failed to remember it after the first Joey, and my wife pays the bills. She just figured it was part of the deal, so it wasn’t until nearly a year later that I noticed and dropped it.

This is EXACTLY what DishNetwork and all companies with similar “protection” plans are hoping.

While I still believe DishNetwork offers the best value and the best DVR, bar none, I am wary that with their popularity they are now becoming too much like the cable companies they originally set out to replace.