Friday, June 2, 2017

StarSat finally launches its first PVR capable decoder in South Africa; here's all the details about StarSat's new Combo 3 decoder.

Pay-TV operator StarSat has finally launched its first personal video recorder (PVR) capable decoder in South Africa, making it possible for subscribers to digitally record programmes available on StarSat's TV channels for the first time.

The new StarSat decoder called the StarSat Combo 3 decoder, costs R399 and includes a satellite dish and free installation.

The black with orange trim decoder is similar to the black and lime green trim Combo HD decoder that StarSat's Chinese parent company StarTimes introduced elsewhere in Africa in late-2016, with only a different outer shell and the exact same remote control.

The StarSat Combo 3 decoder is so-called since it incorporates 3 abilities. Besides the ability to be used as a PVR if a subscriber attaches an external hard drive or big enough USB, it combines the features of digital terrestrial television (DTT) and digital satellite direct-to-home (DTH) technologies on the same decoder.

This enables StarSat subscribers to get access to subscription pay-TV channels like the various bouquets offered by StarSat, but also the free-to-air digital TV channel signals that might be available.

While South Africa is lagging far behind with the switch to DTT, a process known as digital migration, and with almost no DTT channels available, StarSat subscribers with the new decoder can now for instance pick up the SABC News (DStv 404) channel as well that so far has only been available to DStv satellite viewers.

While the SABC News channel is available exclusively to MultiChoice's DStv subscribers as part of a SABC channels deal, SABC News is already being broadcast as a digital terrestrial channel as well, with people who can receive it with a proper DTT set-top box (STB) able to decode the signal like the new StarSat decoder.

The RF In and RF Out feature also allows StarSat subscribers to connect more than one TV set to the Combo 3 decoder.

The new StarSat Combo 3 decoder has "only" 21 buttons, with users who can also customise menu transparency and has options to change the interface colour.

The new StarSat Combo 3 decoder is the third decoder for the company in South Africa. StarSat, formerly known as TopTV, launched in May 2010 and quickly promised the introduction of a PVR.

After initial promises that didn't come to fruition, TopTV multiple times over the past years promised the introduction of a PVR decoder to the market but it never materialised.

After the struggling On Digital Media (ODM) that entered business rescue got a cash bailout rescue from the Chinese pay-TV operator StarTimes and renamed TopTV to StarSat, StarTimes Media South Africa introduced a new white decoder in November 2013.

Use of this second, white decoder that was R599 but also without digital recording capability, became compulsory in 2016 for StarSat subscribers.

The new third decoder, the StarSat Combo 3, offers "a vastly improved viewing experience to our customers in high definition (HD)," says John Yan, StarSat CEO.

Asked why StarSat is now introducing a new decoder with a PVR ability, the pay-TV operator says it is "constantly striving to improve its service and commitment to the customer experience, with emphasis on providing the highest possible quality digital signal".

"The Combo 3 is capable of providing a full HD 1080p signal, thus ensuring that StarSat is able to deliver on this commitment to its customers".

Asked about the recording capacity and how many hours the StarSat Combo 3 decoder can record, the company says the decoder's recording functionality "is facilitated through any external USB storage device by the customer, either a flash drive or external hard drive, thus not limiting the customer to a set number of hours on an internal hard drive".

Asked what will happen to StarSat subscribers using the white decoder they were forced to upgrade to a year ago or lose their signal, the company says "the white decoder is still an active device and supported by StarSat."

StarSat gives subscribers the opportunity to upgrade. "Any customer wishing to upgrade to the Combo 3 decoder will be able to do so, at a cost of R299, through a StarSat customer experience centre in Gauteng, Durban or Cape Town, or directly through the StarSat customer service centre who will courier a decoder to the customer."

"Customers will also be able to upgrade their older decoders to the Combo 3 through the retail distribution channel in due course".

StarSat subscribers often complain that its electronic programme guide (EPG) is often wrong, out-of-sync with days and time, and some channels EPG grid empty. The EPG is however needed and used to enable PVR recordings.

StarSat was asked if EPG improvement is something it's looking at doing, and if so, what kind of improvements are being made.

"The software innovations in the Combo 3 decoder have facilitated a more responsive, easy-to-use, interactive remote control, as well as improving the accuracy of the EPG, thus facilitating the recording functionality in a simple or uncomplicated manner," says StarSat.

StarSat was asked how many new Combo 3 decoders have been manufactured so far and how much stock is being placed in South Africa in the first batch to market. "Stock of the Combo 3 is en-route to all StarSat retail partners, with sufficient quantities of decoders available to satisfy customers or market place demand," the company says.

StarSat was asked how long StarTimes has been working on the new StarSat Combo 3 decoder, where it's manufactured and what influenced the design and colour.

"The StarTimes headquarters is located in Beijing, China, and this is also the prime location of the group's R&D and manufacturing facilities," says StarSat that recently moved its South African headquarters from Woodmead to Midrand in Johannesburg.

"As a recognised technology provider, continually working on innovative products and services, StarTimes was motivated to deliver a decoder that was sleek and streamlined in design, with a touch of class, and believe that the Combo 3 delivers well on this brief".