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Drifta USB misses the slipstream

After watching DStv Mobile with Multichoice’s new Drifta, SEAN BACHER finds that a lower price does not make up for the absence of WiFi.

A few weeks ago Multichoice announced an upgrade to its mobile decoder, the Drifta.

The new device, the Drifta USB, looks pretty much like a USB memory stick and operates like one, drawing its power off the USB port. Other than that, it works the same way as the older Drifta, picking up its signal from Multichoice’s DVB-H network. However, it does not support WiFi because, according to the company, they want to keep the price as low as possible.

We put the Drifta USB through the Gadget 5 Question User Test and see how well it fairs against its older brother.

1. Is it ready to use?

Out of the box, you need to install the software included with the Drifta USB. Then you pull the antennae out of the bottom of the unit and plug it into any available USB port. A green light starts flashing, which means it is searching for a signal. It glows a steady green when it has logged itself onto the mobile network.

If the light turns red, it means the Drifta can’t find a signal and you should move your computer to another area or extend the Drifta’s range with the included USB extension cable.

When you have a steady green light, launch the application and you are ready to watch DStv Mobile.

2. Is it easy to use?

The installation process is foolproof, and there are no difficult settings. It is simply a matter of double-clicking the setup file and waiting for the installation process to complete.

Using the device is even easier. Unlike the older Drifta, this one has no buttons. Plug it in and wait for it to pick up a signal.

Multichoice has also made the software interface as user-friendly as possible. Once launched, you are presented with a list of available channels or a mini TV guide. From here you have the option to view a certain channel’s program line-up or you can jump straight in and begin watching a channel.

Because the Drifta uses DVB-H technology, a broadcast rather than data standard, there are no data charges. It is similar to the way your normal DStv service works – content is streamed to your device via satellite. The DVB-H technology allows data to be streamed in exactly the same way, but in a mobile format, meaning that you will receive your picture at a resolution of 320X240 pixels.

3. Does it operate as advertised?

Being able to watch TV while on the move does mean it is mobile. I did however run into a few snags when I was in areas where there was limited or no DVB-H coverage. In these cases, the picture would freeze and I would have to re-launch the application to carry on watching TV. However, Multichoice has said that it is in the process of extending its DVB-H coverage (Click here to view DStv’s current DVB-H coverage map).

Furthermore, I found I had some spots in my home where there was little or no signal at all. This was not a problem with the original Drifta as I could leave it in an area with good coverage and connect to it via WiFi through my PC, iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. The Drifta USB only allows you to connect to it via USB, which I found limiting at times.

4. Is it innovative?

The technology the Drifta USB uses is a few months old. The way it connects to your PC is not new and Multichoice still has not released software for the Apple operating system. The Drifta scores very poorly here. However, its easy-to-use software and quick and painless installation do score it a few bonus points.

5. Is it value for money?

If you are a Dstv Premium subscriber you will not pay any monthly subscription fee: you only need to buy the Drifta USB for around R400.

If you are not a Premium subscriber, you pay R400 for the device and a monthly subscription fee of R36. It is not a bad fee for the 14 mobile channels currently available. It is certainly worth it if you are a sports fanatic, as four of these channels are sports related.

In conclusion

It’s easy to use, relatively cheap and reliable ‚ all good points. The USB Drifta is also cheaper than the original unit, due to the lack of WiFi.

However, a saving of R200 is not that much, and I have a feeling that the lack of WiFi will come back and bite many people in the future. Just about every notebook available has WiFi connectivity, so why would you want to limit yourself for the cost of a night watching rugby in a pub?

Follow Sean Bacher on Twitter on @seanbacher

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