A murky pic­ture

High-def­i­ni­tion TV is great to watch – if only it worked as ad­ver­tised

Finweek English Edition - - Communication & Technology - Frik Els

IF YOU, like your re­porter, is a tele­vi­sion and tech­nol­ogy ad­dict then you prob­a­bly al­ready own the new high-def­i­ni­tion per­sonal video recorder (HD PVR) from Mul­ti­Choice. And you’re prob­a­bly tear­ing out your hair by now, like your re­porter.

Pay-TV op­er­a­tor Mul­ti­Choice (JSE-listed Naspers owns Mul­ti­Choice and Fin­week) still en­joys a mo­nop­oly in the South African mar­ket thanks to a slow start from ri­vals such as Telkom Me­dia (Telkom is looking for some­one to buy out the ven­ture) and On Dig­i­tal Me­dia (tar­get­ing the low end of the mar­ket) and rushed the HD PVR out in time for the Bei­jing Olympics. Though some soft­ware and other bugs were to be ex­pected, a month later glitches and user frus­tra­tion con­tinue to pile up.

In­stal­la­tion, par­tic­u­larly if you own an ex­ist­ing stan­dard def­i­ni­tion PVR and you want to in­te­grate them, is a com­plex op­er­a­tion. Your re­porter strug­gled for more than a week and three dif­fer­ent vis­its by ac­cred­ited in­stall­ers be­fore he was able to record pro­grammes. Tip: make sure ev­ery last de­tail and func­tion of the DStv ser­vice and the PVRs are checked be­fore al­low­ing in­stall­ers to leave your premises.

To be able to con­tinue us­ing your SD PVR or Du­alview de­coder, Mul­ti­Choice has come up with a tech­nol­ogy called XtraView. The only thing is, XtraView isn’t ready to be im­ple­mented and in­stead the com­pany is em­ploy­ing a work­around. You’re billed for both the SD and HD PVR ser­vice and then one is re­versed. That so­lu­tion works fine. You now have the abil­ity to record three dif­fer­ent pro­grammes (one on the SD and two on the HD) and watch three (two on the SD and one on the HD) all at the same time.

All that comes at no ex­tra monthly cost, ex­cept for R2 500 up­front for the HD de­coder it­self. What’s more, the HD PVR has dou­ble the record­ing ca­pac­ity of the SD ver­sion and PVR also comes with a chan­nel favourite set­ting so you don’t have to surf the many chan­nels you’re never likely to watch.

TV nir­vana, right? Not quite. Not yet, any­way: the HD PVR is still in dire need of bug fixes. Here’s a par­tial list of them, in no par­tic­u­lar or­der of their ca­pac­ity to in­duce user frus­tra­tion: • When the unit goes into standby it won’t wake up un­less you re­boot by pulling the plug. You can get around that by set­ting the HD PVR to never go into standby – but that will shorten its life­span. The very handy 10 sec­ond rewind skip func­tion doesn’t work on the HD PVR and the fast for­ward and rewind func­tions work a bit like that on a VCR (re­mem­ber can record 50 hours of HD con­tent. No more delet­ing shows be­fore you get the chance to watch them (or much less of it, any­way) and no more record­ing con­flicts.

Just as it’s im­pos­si­ble to go back to “nor­mal” TV once you’ve got satel­lite or re­vert to stan­dard pay-TV once you’ve worked a PVR, it’s im­pos­si­ble to en­joy stan­dard-def­i­ni­tion TV as much once you’ve seen the im­age qual­ity of HD. It’s much bet­ter than DVD and in wide-screen for­mat.

At last, those of us who bought an HD LCD or Plasma in ad­vance can re­ally get the most out of it. And the sug­gested con­nec­tion be­tween de­coder and your TV – called HDMI – ac­tu­ally also im­proves the qual­ity of SD broad­cast and is ca­pa­ble of sur­round sound. The HD those?): un­less you have great thumb tim­ing it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to find the spot you’re looking for. The elec­tronic pro­gramme guide (EPG) – a source of ir­ri­ta­tion for as long as DStv has been avail­able – has gone from worse to worser. To miss­ing or no in­for­ma­tion and in­cor­rect sched­ul­ing (thought you recorded Late Night with Co­nan O’Brian; you get Asia Busi­ness Re­port in­stead) have been added as a new bug. It takes tens of very long sec­onds to up­date it­self: sched­ul­ing your week’s view­ing is now a teeth-grinder. And that’s if in the end it’s recorded at all. The abil­ity to record a whole se­ries is still not pos­si­ble and set­ting time-based record­ings isn’t just a schlep but comes with its own bugs. There’s no search func­tion on the EPG. • The buf­fer that makes it pos­si­ble to pause and rewind live TV is emp­tied ev­ery time you switch chan­nels. Don’t think of quickly see­ing what’s on else­where when you’re in the mid­dle of watch­ing the Ry­der Cup, for ex­am­ple. De­spite the abil­ity to block pro­grammes with Parental Con­trol, some chan­nels are now only avail­able with a “Fam­ily” sound­track. Try watch­ing BBC En­ter­tain­ment late at night and fol­low a com­edy show with loud beeps ev­ery few min­utes without be­com­ing an­noyed. Au­dio is in­con­sis­tent across chan­nels. Your re­porter sug­gests hold­ing off on go­ing HD un­til the tech­nol­ogy is ready for prime time and more HD con­tent be­comes avail­able. An­other HD PVR with Du­alview will be avail­able from Al­tech’s UEC sub­sidiary be­fore year-end.

UEC has made mil­lions of de­coders for Mul­ti­Choice. Per­haps it will be the one to get. If you can’t wait use the HD PVR to watch the one HD chan­nel that’s avail­able and use the SD PVR for ev­ery­thing else.

DStv’s high­def­i­ni­tion PVR not ready for primetime.

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