While ultra HD TVs are pouring out of factories, ultra HD content is trickling out to meet them. Satellite TV provider Dish joined the trickle today with an upgrade to its Hopper DVR service and a new version of its Joey set-top box that can provide on-demand 4K titles. The service and device will be available this summer, and Dish told me the new Joey will probably have a rental fee similar to the $7 per month of current-generation boxes.
This isn't 4K broadcast TV yet. That may come later this year from rival DirecTV, which has been launching new satellites able to beam down ultra high-def programs (what few there are). Dish is instead offering a 4K download service. You order shows in 4K, and Dish beams them to the hard drive on the Hopper satellite receiver/DVR. (Dish already does this with HD videos.) The Hopper can't play the videos directly, but it can send them to the new 4K Ultra HD Joey, which decodes them to play on pretty much any 4K TV (as long as it supports an HDMI 2.0 connection and HDCP 2.2 content protection). The box supports the HEVC/H.265 compression that's becoming a standard for ultra HD TV, at 60fps and an impressive 10-bit color depth.
MORE: What is 4K Ultra HD TV?
Vivek Khemka, Dish's SVP for product management, told me that the company isn't offering live 4K content yet because there simply isn't any. In fact, there's not a lot available for download either. Case in point: Dish still hasn't announced who will be providing its 4K content or how many titles it will have at launch or after it fully ramps up.
Meanwhile, what about the streaming 4K available from sites such as Amazon and Netflix? The Joey could handle those streams as well, said Dish CEO Joe Clayton. "It's not a technical limitation," Clayton said in a meeting before CES. "This is more of a business model discussion."
To urbanites with 25Mbps broadband, Dish's service may not sound so exciting up against what they can get from streaming sites already and from downloads to hard drive players such as Sony's pricey $700 FMP-X10 (which shows Sony Pictures' movies and TV shows). But satellite TV is often the best option for people out in the countryside who may not be able to get decent Internet service. Beaming down ultra HD shows over satellite could be a boon for early adopters who live nearly off the grid.
The new Joey has a few other features beyond 4K. It's about half the thickness of its predecessor — in part so it can squeeze behind wall-mounted TVs. It also comes with a minimalist, touchpad-equipped remote in place of the current 53-button behemoth Dish provides. (Dish subscribers who don't get the new Joey can buy just the remote for $20.)
Even people with older Joey's will also get access to the Vevo music-video streaming site. All Joeys will also get access to online music streaming services Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn (with others possibly coming later). They will be able to beam and synchronize music around the house, a la Sonos and its many copycats.