Chang­ing the satel­lite game

Ev­ery­thing you wanted to know about new Mul­tiChoice de­coders but were afraid to ask

Finweek English Edition - - Communication & Technology - BENE­DICT KELLY benk@fin­

FOR THOSE AC­CUS­TOMED to the old way of con­nect­ing mul­ti­ple tele­vi­sions to a sin­gle de­coder, things are about to change – for the bet­ter. With the launch of its HD-PVR (high def­i­ni­tion-per­sonal video recorder) late last month Mul­tiChoice has fi­nally given many peo­ple the rea­son they’ve been wait­ing for to rush out and spend money they don’t have on a flat-screen TV they prob­a­bly don’t need.

What’s im­por­tant is that you can’t sim­ply buy the shiny new PVR and ex­pect ev­ery­thing to work ex­actly the same as it al­ways has. That’s be­cause Mul­tiChoice has made a num­ber of changes to the way cus­tomers con­nect more than one TV in a house­hold. This is how things are go­ing to work from now on: If you have a dual-view de­coder or a first gen­er­a­tion PVR, the ma­chine will con­tinue work­ing as usual for the fore­see­able fu­ture. How­ever, if you have been breath­lessly wait­ing for the HD-PVR then the bad news is that you can’t hook up two TVs to the new de­coder. The new PVR is strictly a view one chan­nel, record two chan­nels ma­chine. In or­der to watch DStv on more than one TV you need more than one de­coder. That gets rid of the an­noy­ing TV link sys­tem used in the dual view and first gen­er­a­tion PVR de­coders and in­stead cre­ates a sys­tem where the two de­coders talk to each other.

Let me ex­plain how dual-view used to work: You’d have two ca­bles com­ing into the back of your de­coder from the satel­lite dish. You’d then have two ca­bles com­ing out of the de­coder: one would run to your main TV and the sec­ond to the TV in your bed­room (or in my case the flat down­stairs). Be­fore the cable ran into the back of the sec- ond TV it would run through a lit­tle grey con­nec­tor that had an eye for the re­mote con­trol run­ning off it. Be­cause the ac­tual TV sig­nal was be­ing in­ter­preted by the de­coder next to the main TV, sig­nals from the re­mote con­trol had to be sent to that de­coder and that didn’t al­ways work the way it was sup­posed to.

The boffins at Mul­tiChoice say not only was that an­noy­ing for con­sumers, who had to go out and buy a sep­a­rate sys­tem for trans­mit­ting sig­nals from the re­mote to the de­coder, it also made their lives dif­fi­cult when it came to adding new fea­tures to the de­coders. Ap­par­ently, the soft­ware that made the dual-view sys­tem work was so com­pli­cated that they couldn’t change one thing with­out break­ing an­other.

So the new sys­tem works like this: You get your de­coder – the HD-PVR or the cheap R399 model 1100 de­coder – and you plug it into a split­ter, which is con­nected to your satel­lite dish. That goes next to your main TV. You then get a sec­ond de­coder – an­other HD-PVR, 1100 de­coder (or the old PVR with some new soft­ware in­stalled) – and run a cable from the split­ter down to the sec­ond TV. The main de­coder then sends a sig­nal – Mul­tiChoice likes to call it a “heart­beat” – down the cable to the sec­ond de­coder. That tells the de­coder it’s OK for it to give ac­cess to the DStv bou­quet. You can still view all the recorded con­tent on the PVR up­stairs on any of the TVs but HD will only be avail­able on an

HDTV di­rectly con­nected to the HD-PVR.

The one pleas­ant side ef­fect is that if you have a first gen­er­a­tion PVR and an HD-PVR you can ac­tu­ally hook up three TVs to the sys­tem, as the old dual-view sys­tem in the PVR will still be ac­tive. Sadly, you can’t do that with an old dual-view de­coder. Rather give it to your granny.

The new HD-PVR is a step up on the old one, of­fer­ing 150 hours of stan­dard def­i­ni­tion record­ing in­stead of the 80 hours on the old one. If you’re an HD junkie then you get 50 hours of record­ings. Con­sid­er­ing there will only be one HD chan­nel to start with, that shouldn’t be a prob­lem. There are con­nec­tors on the back of the de­coder for ex­ter­nal drives. Those aren’t ac­tive yet but the pos­si­bil­ity for ex­pand­ing your stor­age is there.

The HD con­tent will get sent to your TV via a HDMT (high-def­i­ni­tion me­dia in­ter­face) cable that al­lows the de­coder to check it’s in fact con­nected to a TV and not, for ex­am­ple, to a PC. Us­ing any other kind of con­nec­tor will cause the de­coder to only trans­mit stan­dard def­i­ni­tion pic­tures, even if you’re watch­ing the HD chan­nel.

The first chan­nel went live last week and will carry an HD Olympics chan­nel for the course of the Olympic games in China. Mul­tiChoice rushed the re­lease of its HD ser­vice to co­in­cide with the games.

As a re­sult there are some fea­tures – such as se­ries record­ing and closed cap­tion­ing – that will only be added later. Af­ter the Olympics, DStv will launch a chan­nel car­ry­ing a se­lec­tion of HD con­tent from other M-Net chan­nels.


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