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HD PVR not all that positive

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The beginning of the 2008 Beijing Olympics marked the announcement of DSTV’s high definition personal video recorder (HD PVR). At this point SEAN BACHER was given one to review and although initially impressed, has found quite a few hiccoughs since.
The idea of having a PVR is really great, no need to rewind and fast-forward through those archaic VHS cassettes and no more sitting for hours trying to get the cassette out of the machine because the tape has knotted itself around every conceivable component in the machine. With a PVR, you just hit the record button and let the hard drive take over.

DSTV’s HD PVR takes it one step further. With this PVR, much like the SD PVR, you simply scroll through the built in TV guide until you find the programme you want to record and hit the record button. When that program is about to start, the PVR automatically records it. Dead easy. What’s more, the HD PVR allows you record two programs whilst watching a third – all at the same time. However, not all is rosy with the PVR as you only start to see after months of use.

The first problem I noticed was when an approved MultiChoice installation team came to install my PVR. Now, because you can record two channels and watch a third, it means that you have to have four Low Noise Block (LNB) cables running to your PVR. Not really a bother if you have your TV backing onto an outside wall. However, if your TV is in the middle of your house, be prepared for endless cables running all over the show. Admittedly, there are splitters that allow only two LNB cables to run from the dish to behind your TV, from there they are doubled to connect to the four LNB connectors at the back of the PVR.

A bigger problem is if you live in a complex – as a friend of mine learned the hard way. He heard all the wonderful benefits of having a PVR and trotted off to his local retailer and splashed out his hard earned cash for the unit. Thinking this was great, he arrived home, phoned an accredited MultiChoice team to come and install it, only to be told when they got there that his complex’s dish does not support a PVR. Basically, according to MultiChoice’s website, ‘Support for Multi Unit Dwelling installations is not currently available.’ In layman’s terms, this means if you live in a complex and share a dish – forget the PVR idea. This was found in the FAQ section of their site and it took me some time to find it. Now, surely with a lot of DSTV subscribers living in complexes, this should be blatantly advertised along with the fact that you can record two channels and watch a third?

The problems don’t end there however. If you are one of the lucky few to have your own dish and the installation goes well, then you will soon start seeing a few problems with the software. These problems are not immediately apparent, but will present themselves at the most inopportune of times. For instance, the HD PVR’s interactive menu – the one that comes up when you hit the OK button – is measly when compared to the menu available on standard decoders. This I don’t understand. A PVR costs much more than a standard decoder, yet there is less functionality – makes no sense to me.

I have also noticed that when recording some programmes the PVR stops recording before some of them are actually finished. This is especially evident when you record on non-DSTV channels – such as SABC and the like. Do you know how infuriating it is to be watching a 120 minute movie only for it to come to an abrupt halt at the 110th minute?

Another problem I have found, and this you will only notice after months of use, is the speed. When the PVR has no recordings on it, it works at a suitable rate – it could be quicker, but I think that is just me nit-picking. However, the more recordings you have on the PVR the slower it gets! Once you hit the 75% of your hard drive usage mark you are going to want to hurl the remote through the nearest window out of pure frustration. The problem with the speed is that it is also intermittent. Some nights you will sit in front of your TV and command the PVR, waiting mere milliseconds for the PVR to react, other nights you will sit and wait for up to fifteen seconds for the thing to realise you have told it to do something. At this point it will run through a bunch of other commands you have subsequently ordered it to do as you thought the delay may have been the decoder freezing – this also happens every now and then.

Finally, the HD PVR does not support video on demand, whereas the SD PVR does. This brings me back to my original argument – we are paying premium prices so why are we not getting the premium services? (According to DSTV’s website, there are plans to impliment this.)

With all this in mind, I must say that MultuChoice is doing something to justify our premium costs. Just last year they introduced two new HD channels – Discovery HD and an additional SuperSport HD channel which brings the total up to three HD channels – which I still don’t think warrants an HD PVR, but at least they are getting there.

I sincerely hope that DSTV jacks itself up and starts finding ways of fixing the above mentioned problems – and not by introducing a new, faster PVR that requires us to go out and buy, but instead fine tunes the one that many of us already have in our homes. According to the website, many of the issues are being worked on, but when they will be resolved is anyone’s guess.

I suggest that those of you who have not yet got an HD PVR and want to get one, should visit DSTV’s website and do the research before you spend the money. The FAQ page is especially useful as it will tell you exactly what you can and can’t do with the unit.

Visit the FAQ page at http://www.dstv.com/dstvsa/content/en/hd_faqs

Differences between an SD PVR and an HD PVR as per DSTV’s website:

SD PVR
HD PVR
View and record SD content
View and record SD and HD content
View 2, record 1 channel simultaneously
View 1, record 2 channels simultaneously
Record up to 80 hour of SD programming
Record up to 150 hours of SD programming (if recording only HD content, you can record up to 50 hours)
Pause Live TV for up to 2 hours
Pause Live TV for up to 2 hours
Rewind Live TV up to 2 hours
Rewind Live TV up to 2 hours or up to previous channel change
The buffer is cleared when you view a recording
The buffer is not cleared when you view a recording
i-Plate displays information for the next 3 programmes
i-Plate displays information for the next 24 hours of programming
Slow Motion playback
Slow Motion playback
Full TV Guide (including searches)
Personalised TV Guide (no searches)
No Favourite Channels functionality
Full Favourite Channels functionality
Trip over unwanted or unavailable channels when channel surfing
Create your own personalised bouquet with only your favourite channels
DStv on Demand (VOD) – launched 1 August
Not available (1)
Subtitles
Subtitles not available at launch (2)
Full interactive services (example : SuperSport Active, News24, Weather24) on TV1
SuperSport Active available now. Other interactive services will follow soon(3)
Multi Unit Dwelling installation support
NO support for Multi Unit Dwelling installations (2)
NO SaTCR (satellite channel router) support
SaTCR (satellite channel router) support
2 LNB inputs
4 LNB inputs

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