One of the longest awaited features of the Hopper is finally here and that is the release of the long awaited Digital Off Air Module or as we commonly call it the the OTA Module!
DISH Network chose a number of SatelliteGuys members to help test the OTA Module over the past few months and I was one of the lucky SatelliteGuys members to be included in the tests. The OTA Module arrived in a tiny box and did not contain anything but the module itself and the USB Cable to plug it into the Hopper. We did not receive any instruction manual, but it turns out we didn't need one.
Before I install it I deleted all the channels on my 1 year old 50 Inch Panasonic 3D Television. It was hooked up to my Antenna I have on the roof then I did a scan of all digital channels. When the scan was complete it was picking up 30 digital stations.
I then took the antenna coax from the back of the TV and hooked it up to the USB Tuner Module and then plugged it into the front USB port on my Hopper. Instantly it recognized the module and told me that it would need to reboot.
I let it reboot and then once it rebooted I was back to watching television. There was no mention on the screen of the OTA tuner. To setup the OTA its in a strange place, to get to the OTA settings you need to go into MENU, then SETTINGS, then DIAGNOSTICS then finally OVER THE AIR LOCALS.
After finding the setup for the OTA module in the settings I set it up. And setup was like any other DISH OTA tuner... simple.
I let it scan and was happy as it also found 30 channels, meaning this thing has a decent tuner.
After my first time setting it up I watched a few different channels. You can see the signal strength of each channel by pressing the info bottom on the remote. For all the channels I watched it worked good and locked on quick to the channels. Only on one station did I see some occasional pink pixelation. The signal level for this channel was 75 but it was also very windy outside at the time and this channel is the most distant channel that I can receive.
I was worried as after about 45 minutes of my first time using it I was just seeing the station call letters in my guide and no actually show data for the OTA channels. I had to go do some running around when I came back three hours later I was happy to see that most of the stations had guide data.
I learned that the guide data will fill in and was happy to see listings for channels like THECOOLTV, Antenna TV and THIS!
However it should be noted that Guide Data for the OTA channels is spotty at best. For example, as run down of the channels I can receive, the local CBS has a total of 4 channels, there is guide data for the first 3 but no data for the 4th channel, my local ABC station has Bounce TV as one of its sub channels, there is no listings but then the word "Bounc" in the guide, I get no guide listings for any of the Springfield, Mass channels, instead I just see the channel call letters listed in the guide, the only exception to this is the Springfield PBS which has no guide data for the main channel, but full guide info for it's 3 sub channels. The opposite is true for our local Connecticut PBS which has listings for the main channel but no listings for the sub channels. It is unfortunate that the tuner does not read the PSIP guide data from the channels for which DISH has no guide data for.
For the Hopper to work best for these channels it will need guide data... or manual timers. And luckily DISH is already working on adding manual timers to the Hopper and Joey. It was announced here on SatelliteGuys that a future software update would add manual timers on the Hopper system. Once manual timers are in place this will be an excellent system, and quite honestly what we have today is really usable.
I am happy to report that the OTA module can be viewed on the Joeys, however since the module is single tuner you can only tune to one OTA channel at a time on the entire system. Since I did not have two OTA modules I am unable to tell you if having an OTA module on each Hopper will work or not, but I can only guess that it will work fine. I do plan on ordering an OTA module for the second Hopper as soon as they are available on MyDISH.COM and I will be happy to report my findings when I have a second OTA module to test with.
While without complete guide data and manual timers might sound like a shortfall to some, I got to admit I was pleasantly surprised and happy with the performance of the module over the few months I was able to test it. All the shows I wanted to record had guide data and I enjoyed coming home and finding that the Hopper recorded the Monkees off of Antenna TV and the 80's on 8 off of THECOOLTV.
The tuners performance was very good for me, however I should note where I live 90% of the channels I receive come in at 100% for me. So dropouts and pixelation was rare for me. The only time I had issues was watching a fringe distant station. While the tuner in the module is very good, it is not a miracle maker able to fill in the missing data when the signal is low. Digital TV works differently then Analog, in the old days if you could get an analog signal you could watch it even if the signal was weak, but you would get ghosting, and noise on the screen, but with digital its not like that you either lock on the signal or you don't. This is a limitation of the digital technology and is not an issue with the Hopper tuner.
If you have been waiting to add OTA to your Hopper then I highly recommend that once the modules are available online that you order one! At $30 its a great buy and I think it is safe for me to say that the OTA Module is the missing link many of us have been waiting for!
When you get your OTA module please share your experience and thoughts on the OTA tuner here at SatelliteGuys!
Our thanks to the folks at DISH for making this First Look possible!