After a string of campground reviews, I figured it was time to review a product. After all, we all love gadgets! Since installing our new Dish Network Wally receiver last week, I figured this would be a prime candidate since it deals with something everyone loves – TV!!
What is it?
The Wally is a satellite television receiver for Dish Network. It is the middle-man between the satellite antenna (the dish) and your television. It takes the signal received from the dish and makes it into the picture you see on the TV screen. That is its most basic function, but modern receivers often do much more. These duties can include providing on-demand content, DVR management, and a platform for other online, streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and others.
Why Dish Network?
There seems to be a divide in the RV’ing community: Dish Network vs DirecTV. I went with Dish initially because Lucky had a KVH dome satellite antenna mounted on the roof. This satellite antenna was capable of receiving Dish Network or DirecTV, BUT it can only receive high definition (HD) content from Dish. Due to the format or compression or some other technical term, a dome satellite antenna cannot receive HD content from DirecTV. For me, once you’ve gone HD, you can’t go back to standard definition – it just looks archaic. In addition to that reason, Dish is known to be more RV’er-friendly by allowing service to be paused and easily updating the service address so that local, network channels (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, etc) can be received. DirecTV definitely has some advantages over Dish (NFL Sunday Ticket being a big one), but no HD was a deal-breaker.
What are its advantages over its predecessors?
The Wally is definitely a new generation and a step forward for Dish Network, single-tuner, mobile-antenna compatible receivers. I owned the previous version; the VIP 211Z, and was happy for the most part. The VIP began power-cycling, on its own, quite frequently at the end, and this prompted the Wally replacement. The main upgrades to the Wally are it’s smaller and lighter size (it could be stuck to the back of a TV or a wall using Velcro, if you want), a radio frequency (RF) remote (versus infrared) and an updated user interface.
The RF remote can be especially nice for RV’ers since receivers are often hidden away and/or service more than one television. With RF, the controller can pass through walls and requires no direct line-of-sight, like an IR remote does. In application, this means I can change channels on the Wally, which is in the living room, while laying in bed or watching TV outside (all of my TV’s are serviced by a single receiver).
The updated user interface is a “nice to have” feature. The VIP interface was pretty basic and was not displayed in HD. It did not give any logos for the channels or shows, like the Wally does, and overall it looked dated. The Wally interface is based on the same platform as the modern, Dish, home receivers. It does display logos for each channel and many of the shows. It is in HD and overall offers more function.
Another upgrade to the Wally, which I haven’t used yet*, but it’s nice to know about, is the integration of streaming services. Netflix is the big one and Dish has done a great job of incorporating it into the guide and menus. For instance, when searching for a show, it not only tells you when that show will be on, and what channel, but it also lists which episodes are available on Netflix and allows you to access it directly from there. In order to access Netflix, or any other online content such as on-demand content, Game Finder, Pay-Per-View, etc, the Wally must be connected to your router via an ethernet connection. OR, a separate WiFi adapter, which plugs into a USB port on the back and picks up your broadcast WiFi signal, can be used. I should also mention that a separate Netflix subscription is required to use that service.
*UPDATE: I have now added the Dish WiFi adapter to my Wally and I really enjoy the convenience of having all the functionality from one unit – and remote. The WiFi adapter is a standard, relabeled Netgear WNDA3100V2. You can find the Netgear WNDA3100 at most electronics stores, but the current version is V3 – this WILL NOT WORK. The Wally will only recognize the V2, so it’s worth searching out the Dish version on Amazon or Camping World.
In addition to the WiFi adapter, Dish offers Bluetooth and over-the-air (OTA) adapters. The Bluetooth adapter allows the user to listen to the audio output through a Bluetooth headset (your TV may offer this functionality built-in as mine does). The OTA adapter allows you to hook your OTA antenna (like a bat-wing rooftop antenna) into the receiver and it will incorporate those channels into the guide. All the adapters are connected via USB to the back of the receiver. The Wally has two USB ports, so not all adapters can be used at one time. If the optional DVR service is used, it will occupy one of the two USB ports.
What other features does it have?
Even if they’re not new, the Wally definitely has other features worth mentioning:
- DVR: The Wally can be connected to an external hard drive of up to 2TB. The drive must have a separate power source and be USB connected. Dish charges a one-time fee of $40 for DVR service which stays with the account, even if you change receivers.
- Mobile antenna compatibility: The Wally is compatible with the various mobile antennas on the market (the Tailgater was the original). These satellite antennas are powered through the coaxial cable. This means they only require one cable for both signal transmission and power – super simple. This requires the receiver to be compatible so that it transmits the power to the dish and controls its movements. I replaced the original, rooftop KVH with a Winegard Playmaker (X1), along with a Winegard Pathway X2 for umbilical use when I have obstructions blocking the rooftop dish. Both of these antennas are powered by the receiver and I’m a huge fan of this technology.
- *UPDATE: The Dish Wally is now compatible with the Amazon Echo devices! This means you can ask Alexa to tune to stations, search for programming, control playback and more! I can report that after a rough, initial setup, it has worked really well. I thought it would be much more novelty at first, but it’s actually come in handy to ask for a station by name when I don’t know the channel number or search for shows without manually typing it in with the on-screen keyboard. This feature does require the Wally to be connected to the internet via ethernet or the optional WiFi adapter.
The Wally has identical connections as the VIP 211Z. These consist of the powered coaxial input coming from the satellite dish antenna, an ethernet connection, an HDMI output to run to your HD television, RCA SD video output, two USB ports and the 120VAC power adapter.
What are the downsides?
If I put myself in the shoes of a typical cable/satellite TV subscriber in a house, the biggest drawback is that the Wally only has one tuner. This means that only one live channel can be viewed at a time. This also means that if you are recording something, you cannot watch another live channel – but you can watch something you’ve previously recorded. As an RV’er who is used to having a single-tuner receiver, I can’t really think of any downsides.
What has my experience been?
Honestly, it’s been great! I had been watching the Wally for a bit and knew that it had a few software glitches when it first launched. For that reason and because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, I held off and continued to use my VIP 211Z. Once the VIP began to malfunction and it sounded like the Wally’s software glitches had been cleared up, I pulled the trigger. I was a bit worried because I had heard some reports of problems activating the Wally using a mobile antenna – and that’s all I have. To my delight, it went through the activation process very smoothly. This included directing the mobile antenna through a check switch (where it finds the three satellites), downloading a current software update and receiving the activation signal from Dish network. It booted up with my proper programming package and knew that I was authorized to have DVR service. Something I had prepared myself for did happen; it had to format my DVR hard drive. “Format” is another word for delete and start fresh. This meant that I lost all the shows I had recorded on my DVR previously – not great, but not the end of the world. I also had to reestablish my scheduled DVR recordings.
I was very happy to find out that the receiver does not need an internet connection in order to provide the channel and show logos. After a day or so, they all began populating in the guide, so that info must be sent down from the satellites. That, along with Netflix information, is data that I didn’t expect to receive without internet connectivity. Obviously, in order to watch the Netflix content I would need to put Wally online. I haven’t done this because my Samsung smart TV and an Amazon Fire TV both currently provide online content.
Overall, the guide is snappy, picture looks great, and it has needed (or performed on its own) ZERO reboots. This is one of those rare times when a product lived up to, and outperformed, my expectations.
What is this about software glitches?
Initially, it was reported that the Wally had an issue passing its check switch unless it could see all three satellites. Its predecessors would allow the user to select the option to watch TV with a limited channel lineup if it could not connect with all satellites. While I have not been in a position to try this, word is that an update did fix this bug. I can report that my unit did do a lengthy software update during activation, so there have been changes made since launch. *UPDATE: I have now used the Wally in a situation where I could only get reception from two of the three satellites and it worked perfectly, albeit with a limited channel lineup.
There were also reports that users had issues with the activation process hanging up if they tried to activate it using a mobile antenna (like what I have). I did not have this issue whatsoever. Would it have been faster on an actual mast-mounted dish? Maybe, but I have no complaints. I would estimate that it was 40 minutes from the time I opened the box until I was watching TV. Certainly if you do have issues activating this, or any other receiver, definitely try to locate an actual Dish Network dish and try again. Camping World is a good spot to do this since they have a demo unit inside the store that is run to a dish on the roof. Simply unplug their receiver and plug in yours. I activated my VIP 211Z right in the aisle of a CW when I was a new Dish customer.
Wrap it up, already!
Yep, it’s that time. Most of you may want to know what this little box will cost you. Well, it retails for $119, but if you’re reading this then I’m sure you’re internet savvy enough to find it for cheaper. It can easily be found on Amazon in the $80 range (virtually the same as the VIP 211Z) and possibly less expensive elsewhere. If you’re starting from scratch, you can pick up a bundle with a mobile antenna to save some money. My experience has been great and I’m willing to guess that yours will be too. If I can be of assistance in getting yours set up, answering any questions or maybe I left something out (or got it wrong), please contact me or drop a message below!
See you on the road!
Ryan, Kim and Jet