Dish's biggest news here at CES is unquestionably its newly announced internet TV service, Sling Television. But there's pretty great news for Dish's paying satellite subscribers, too: 4K is coming. You'll need a new set-top box to play ultra high-def video: the Ultra HD Joey will be released this summer. Dish will offer 4K content through a video-on-demand deal with an as-yet unnamed partner. Movies and shows will be downloaded over satellite to the hard drive of the main Hopper in your home and transmitted to the Joey over a MOCA connection. Since 4K downloads can take some time (even with compression), the Hopper will automatically cache new titles you might want to watch.
Video on demand is your only option for 4K content
Dish claims Ultra HD Joey is the first set-top box in the industry to support full 4K content and insists now's the right time to take the big step — even if on-demand is your only real option for programming. "We had a conversation about this a year ago," said Vivek Khemka, Dish's senior VP of product management, during a recent media gathering. "The standards had not been finalized, HEVC was not standardized, the chipsets were not available, content was not available, and screens were pretty expensive." But now it's 2015, and things are different according to Dish. "All of that's changed in the last year or so," said Vivek. The Ultra HD Joey supports HEVC compression, HDMI 2.0, and HDCP 2.0 — the established standards for 4K. Dish's new box won't cost anything extra; current Hopper customers can choose to replace an existing box in their home upon launch. "You can unplug your current Joey, plug this in its place, and it will work," Vivek said.
Since Dish expects its 4K Joey to eventually become the one most users opt for, it's adding some exclusive features like picture-in-picture, Bluetooth audio streaming (so you can listen to shows with headphones), and a processor that's around three times faster. Along with the new box, Dish is also introducing a refreshed, sleeker guide and a new voice search remote with a touchpad that can display a numerical keypad when necessary (i.e. when you're entering a parental controls password or manually changing channels). It will become the standard companion to all of the company's set-top boxes, though a more traditional remote will also remain available to customers who prefer it.
Dish is also making a play to grab some potential Sonos customers. It's launching a whole-home music service that's powered by the set-top boxes already in your home. Whereas buying a Sonos setup can set you back several hundred dollars or more, Dish thinks it's got an advantage since no extra hardware is required. "We're already connected to your AV receiver and soundbar," said Khemka. An upcoming Dish Music app (free for all customers) will essentially act similar to Sonos' controller software. Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn Radio are Dish's initial partners. The company obviously hopes to add more partners to that list in the future, but it's not hinting at what's to come.