Dish Network Corp. revealed a set-top box called "Hopper" last year, named for its ability to send the TV signal "hopping" from room to room, covering all the TVs in the house. This year, it's upgrading the Hopper so that it follows you wherever you go — even outside the house.
The new all-in-one digital video recorder and set-top box, revealed Monday at a press conference ahead of the International CES trade show in Las Vegas, is adorned with the same kangaroo logo and can transfer recorded TV shows or movies to an iPad for viewing any time.
Dish is the first cable or satellite company to offer such a feature. It may raise eyebrows in Hollywood and among the TV networks that supply the satellite broadcaster with programming because it could dig into the extra revenue they get from sales of content for offline viewing through iTunes. Dish is already fighting suits from Fox and NBC over the automatic ad-skipping feature it introduced with the first Hopper.
Legally speaking, "to say you're in novel territory is probably an understatement," said Scott Flick, an intellectual-property lawyer at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman in Washington.
However, legal challenges to the transfer feature could be stymied by the fact that the stored movies and shows are under the control of the viewer the whole time, Flick said. In other words, the system is not much different from a VCR that lets a consumer tape a show and then bring the tape along for viewing elsewhere.
"We always stand with the consumer. That means sometimes we'll have lawsuits," Dish CEO Joe Clayton said in an interview ahead of the show.
The transfer of stored content only works in the home, with an iPad connected via Wi-Fi to the same Internet router as the Hopper. Dish is planning to bring the feature to other devices as well.
The new Hopper can also transmit live TV programming to iPads, iPhones, Android phones and computers, even outside the home. That's because the new box integrates, for the first time, technology from Sling Media, a company Dish's sister company Echostar Corp. bought in 2007. The Slingbox, a separate device, hooks up to a satellite or cable set-top box and "slings" the live signal out over the Internet, to the owner's PCs and mobile devices.
Competing cable companies are also rushing to extend their services to smartphones and tablets, to stay relevant as consumers spend more time on small screens. In parallel, networks like HBO are creating their own apps for online viewing.
Dish, which is based in Englewood, Colo., said the new Hopper will be available later this year. As usual, the box will be free to Dish subscribers who sign a two-year contract.