Yesterday evening Multichoice unveiled the new DStv Explora and I was lucky enough to get the chance to take it out for a spin at the event.
The new ‘DStv Central’ interface is the hub through which all content will be pushed to viewers. The user interface features large icons reminiscent of the more modern interfaces of streaming services like Netflix or Hulu instead of the uninspired, tedious lists of programming found on current decoders.
According to Multichoice CTO Gerdus van Eeden, the newest content will be immediately visible to a user entering into DStv Central so as to constantly keep the front page looking fresh. DStv Central is accessed with the blue button in the center of the new simplified remote control. The new interface separates browsing through content on the Catch Up and Box Office services from recorded programming, while still allowing all of the content to be searched in the search tab. Speaking of the search tab, it allows you to search through the next 8 days of content to set up recording schedules.
My efforts to ‘break’ the interface and find a flaw in the system all failed at the launch event. I tried changing content on the fly, going from watching live TV to recorded shows, back to the menu and into the News24 app and back to watching a trailer for a Box Office title, all of which was done with minimal lag.
This is most likely because all of the content is waiting to be accessed on the Explora without having to be streamed over an internet connection like most services. One of the other considerations was that the newly set up Exploras were, well, new, and did not have to contend with the fragmentation that would happen through regular use. Also, what was there had been written to the areas of the hard drive with the highest read/write speeds, naturally resulting in good performance.
It will be interesting to see how the Explora performs over time and under load, as well as when its drive is close to being full and has written and deleted several hundred shows, which should – in theory – cause file fragmentation and increase the seek time for playback. On the other hand, Multichoice has stressed that the software on the Exploras is still in beta testing and may undergo performance tweaks before the launch in 2 weeks time, so these may be moot points.
The Explora is fitted with a 2TB hard drive, which is four times the storage of the HD PVR it replaces. This allows up to 220 hours of recording along with 30 Box Office titles to be available at any time. DStv’s Catch Up feature has also been increased to the last four episodes of a show. allowing viewers who started watching late even more of an opportunity to catch up on their backlog.
First impressions of the system are that it has brought a lot more to the table than any previous decoder from Multichoice, but of course whether it will stand up to the competition from set-top-boxes, the vast amount of content available directly from the internet itself and IP video streaming services is yet to be seen.