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Drifta way cool? Almost, as DStv comes to the phone



DStv Mobile is a step in the right direction when it comes to live TV on a phone. But after testing the DStv Drifta, SEAN BACHER feels that the company still has some work to do on content for mobile viewers.

In the past, being able to watch TV on the go was more of a gimmick than anything else. South Africa’s high bandwidth costs meant it was only affordable for a few and the wireless broadband speeds that were being offered by our service providers meant that those who could afford it didn’t really want to hassle with it.

It is for these reasons and more that I was rather dubious when I heard about DStv’s new mobile offering last month.
Yes, local bandwidth prices have dropped dramatically and yes, the speeds have increased somewhat. But we are still a while away from being able to stream live content to our mobile devices without having to worry about data costs.

However, when I dug a little deeper into the new mobile offering, I found my tune changing: DStv has realised that going the live TV data streaming route is still very costly and most likely a dealbreaker for customers. Enter the Drifta.

DStv’s mobile TV answer comes in the form of a mobile decoder no bigger than your average cell phone. It pairs up with either your iPad, iPhone, PC or Mac, ultimately converting your device into a mini television set. The best part is there are no data fees involved at all.

DStv has set up its own DVB-H network – that’s the standard for mobile broadcasting for which licenses have been issued in South Africa – and the Drifta decoder connects directly to it, decoding the broadcast signal much like your normal DStv decoder would.

Furthermore, should you have a DVB-H enabled cell phone or mobile device, there is no need for the Drifta at all – the phone receives the signals via a network layer that has no impact on your call or data charges.

We took the Drifta for a walk through the Gadget 5 Question User Test to see if we ended up with square eyes or entertainment bliss.

1. Is it ready to use?
When you unpack the Drifta, the first thing you will need to do is get the battery charged. It charges much like a cell phone, remove the battery cover, insert the battery and plug it in to either your USB port or an electrical outlet.

The time it takes for the battery to charge is also a great time to get the Drifta registered. Yes, much like you have to abide by RICA and register a new SIM card before it will connect to a cellular network, the decoder needs to be registered on DStv’s network before it will be able to pick up a signal.

This is where I ran into my first snag. Although you don’t have to be a DStv subscriber in order to use the Drifta, the call-centre agents first ask you for your current DStv subscription number, and it makes your life easier if you have one. At first I told them I was not a subscriber, but quickly realised that going this route would take some time, and so succumbed and gave my subscription number. Once registered, I was assured I would be able to operate my Drifta immediately.

Second snag. I tried for more than a day after registering the device but could not get the Drifta to pick up any signal whatsoever. After phoning again, I learned that DStv did have some issues with its DVB-H network. The agent assured me that my device would now work. Immediately after putting the phone down, I tried to connect again… and had the same problem.

All in all, it took around three days, trying on and off, to get connected.

2. Is it easy to use?
Once I had passed the initial teething problems of getting the decoder to pick up the signal, things ran well. I connected and was watching DStv on my notebook in just less than two minutes from booting up my machine.

The software included with the device is easy to install and dead easy to use. It includes an electronic TV guide option which changes as you change from channel to channel. It lets you quickly switch between a large a small window format, which is great for when you have other work to get on with and want to keep an eye on the cricket score.

The Drifta connects to your devices via USB, but in many cases where connecting this way is not an option, you can connect via WiFi. This does make things a lot easier, as you are not restrained by the cable and you’re guaranteed to pick up a much stronger signal.

The Drifta only connects with a PC, Apple, iPhone, iPad and iPod. However, the company has said that it will be releasing upgrades in the new-year that will allow it to connect to a host of other handsets. These may already be available for your device, so check at for the latest news.

3. Does it operate as advertised?
The Drifta is a great product for someone who wants to catch up on the news or watch the highlights of the latest rugby game, but beyond that you will need to be  a masochist or fairly creative in your viewing activities.

Ideally, it should be able to entertain your children in the car on the way down to Durban or Cape Town, and you should also be able to watch a full length video. But this is where it falls short.

DStv advertises the Drifta as having a battery life of up to three hours. But this is really a push. On a full battery charge I managed to watch at most two hours of live television on my notebook, after which I had to plug the decoder into my USB port for a trickle charge, or switch it off completely. My notebook’s battery life is a precious commodity when I am nowhere near a power outlet and so was a little disgruntled when I had to plug in the Drifta.

At the moment, DStv Mobile offers you a handful of channels, namely Africa Magic, Channel O, Trace TV, The eNews Channel, SuperSport Blitz, SuperSport 1, SuperSport 2, SuperSport 3 and Cartoon Network. Besides The eNews Channel, none of the others really float my boat. I would really have liked to have seen a movie channel in the mix, but with the scant battery life I can see why one was not included.

There are, however, rumours that DStv will be introducing additional channels to its ‘Mobile Bouquet’ next year.

4. Is it innovative?
DStv’s DVB-H network is definitely a step in the right direction. Furthermore, judging from the coverage map on the DStv Mobile website, the company has not taken any shortcuts, and is ensuring that the major centres of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Soweto, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Polokwane, Mbombela, Rustenburg, Bloemfontein and Durban are well covered.

The Drifta unit itself is small, lightweight and compact enough to carry around in your pocket. That alone gives it cool appeal that a desktop unit would not have.

5. Is it value for money?
This is where things get very interesting. The base price for the Drifta unit is R599 and you don’t have to pay any subscription costs, at least until 1 April 2011. Thereafter it will cost you around R36 per month. However, according to DStv, premium subscribers won’t pay anything to continue using DStv Mobile after this period.

This got me thinking: is this perhaps a means for DStv to justify its horrendous R600 plus subscription per month for premium subscribers? If so, I hope they add far more content to the package to make it more appealing to subscribers.

In conclusion
Overall, I was really impressed with the entire DStv Mobile package. It is relatively straightforward to set up, will offer everyone in the family some sort of entertainment value and can be used just about anywhere in South Africa.

From a price perspective, the unit doesn’t cost that much and the monthly subscription fees are negligible. The Drifta will make a really great Christmas present and DStv will probably introduce some more exciting channels next year to make the offering that more enticing.

– Follow Sean Bacher on Twitter on @seanbacher

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In theory that should work – I have seem many people use their LCDs or LEDs as large computer screens from demonstration purposes. However, I have not tried it myself, so cannot comment on the picture quality.

Best of luck and please do let me know how it works out.

Can this product run on a normal tv with usb? Will it produce a picture big wnough to fill a 20 inch lcd tv?

For some more pictures / screenshots and more of my own thoughts on the device your readers may want to take a look at my review over at j-j co za

The antenna didn’t really strike me as being flimsy; in fact I thought it would wear rather well due to it being so easily bent and then springing back into shape. I do however see your point as if you do bend it beyond its limits, it is sure to snap. Furthermore, the hinge that attaches the antenna to the Drifa is will wear out after a few months of use. Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention and thanks for your comments on the review.