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CES 2014: Dish pushes home copying envelope -- again

For the third year in a row, Dish Network announced at the Consumer Electronics Show a product that gives TV viewers yet more control over the shows that are beamed into their homes. This time, though, the company isn't likely to draw a lawsuit from the major TV networks.

The product in question is the Super Joey, a set top box that works in conjunction with Dish's Hopper digital video recorder. Think of the Hopper as the living room's set top and the Super Joey as an extension for the bedroom or the kitchen. The original Joey, which Dish introduced alongside the Hopper in 2012, had no tuners, which meant that it could display only what the Hopper had recorded or was tuning in. The Super Joey has two tuners of its own, expanding a viewer's options.

In particular, the extra tuners mean that Dish's 14 million subscribers will be able to record eight programs simultaneously, including the entire prime-time broadcast lineups of CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox. Considering that most viewers get all their TV shows from seven or eight channels (albeit not the same seven or eight), that means the combination of Hopper and Super Joey would let many Dish users wean themselves completely off live TV -- and the commercials that sustain it. Dish encourages that shift by enabling people to set the Hopper to skip the ads in the recorded prime-time broadcasts automatically on playback.

Throw in the Sling and Dish Anywhere features that Dish has been steadily adding to the Hopper, enabling subscribers to watch shows through the Internet or transfer them to Apple and Android devices, and the result is precious close to an anything, anywhere, anytime TV experience.

Of course, Dish is just one of many forces pushing TV viewers away from live, commercial-supported telecasts. Nielsen reported in September that while half of U.S. households use a DVR, 60% have a set-top-box that can tune in video on demand. That includes "smart" TVs and Blu-ray disc players as well as Internet-to-TV adapters from the likes of Roku. The same report shows, however, that live TV is still the dominant format by far -- on average, viewers watch 10 times as much live TV as recorded programming.

Nevertheless, the major TV networks have objected strenuously to Dish's efforts to encourage wholesale TV recording, ad-skipping and place-shifting. They sued Dish in 2012 and again last year, claiming that the Hopper's "Primetime Anytime" (a feature that automatically records all the prime-time programming of the four major broadcast networks), "Auto Hop" (the ability to skip commercials automatically when playing back Primetime Anytime recordings) and Sling features violate their copyrights or contracts. Federal courts have refused to halt sales of the Hopper, but the lawsuits are still pending.

The Super Joey probably won't make the networks feel any warmer and fuzzier about Dish, but at least it doesn't break any new legal ground. Instead, it just expands viewers' ability to record the TV shows that are beamed into their homes, which the Supreme Court deemed a fair use of copyrighted works in the landmark Sony Betamax case.

Dish announced two other Joeys at CES designed to make their service easier and cheaper for people with multiple TVs. The Wireless Joeys use a new, higher capacity version of WiFi to stream programs wirelessly from a Hopper. And the Virtual Joeys are apps built into selected TVs and game consoles that let them connect to a Hopper through a home network, eliminating the need for a second set-top. The first Virtual Joeys will be in selected LG Smart TVs, including the 2013 and 2014 models, and Sony's Playstation 3 and 4, Dish said.

One other enhancement announced Monday: the company will be releasing a version of Dish Anywhere, the app that enables people to transfer programs from a Hopper to a portable device, for the Kindle in the first quarter of this year.

Jon Healey writes editorials for The Times. Follow him on Twitter @jcahealey and Google+

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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