Changing the satellite game
Everything you wanted to know about new MultiChoice decoders but were afraid to ask
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.