A murky picture
High-definition TV is great to watch – if only it worked as advertised
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.