ALSO READ: MultiChoice unveils its DStv Explora as the satellite pay-TV platform's brand-new, next generation HD PVR with a lot more content.
What are the basic specs, how is the DStv Explora the best new decoder of MultiChoice and representing the new next generation of what MultiChoice is bringing to market?
Gerdus van Eeden: The big feature with the DStv Explora is that it's got a 2 TB hard drive. That is four times the size compared to the current PVR that's available in the market. It has a dedicated tuner that's dedicated to pumping the DStv Catch Up and BoxOffice and TV guide data into the DStv Explora decoder.
On the current PVR the second tuner shared. So if you set a lot of your own recordings, that tuner is not free to pump the Catch Up and BoxOffice assets. Now it's a dedicated tuner and the second tuner is free for only your recordings. The first tuner is for what you're viewing. So you can expect a lot more reliability around getting your BoxOffice and Catch Up assets into the box.
The operating system is Linux. It Linux with essentially Java applications on top of it. The development for the application, that which the viewer is interacting with, that has been done by us here in South Africa.
That's a big departure from the past. In the past we've outsourced development of that to overseas entities. We've decided for the time to market and the sake of absolute control to take it into our own hands. So we're in control of a lot more of the development process. It's very much a South African product. The DStv Explora is assembled in East London.
With a mix of standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) recordings - most people use a mix of SD and HD recordings - we're talking about 220 hours of recording. It is more than twice the capacity of the current DStv decoder.
What's the price and when will it be available?
Gerdus van Eeden: It's manufactured by Pace. We contracted Pace. Pace is also one of the suppliers of our current PVRs. It will retail for R2499. We think it's a great price considering the fantastic specs on this decoder. It will be available from 15 August in retail.
With the roll out of the new HD channels on DStv and the launch of the new satellite last year I figured that MultiChoice must be hard at work on the development of an upgraded and more powerful HD PVR and now its the DStv Explora. When did you start development and how long have you've been working on the DStv Explora?
Gerdus van Eeden: Since this is a brand-new platform it's been a long development. The current PVR we can bring them out within a year because its basically the same platform which we just port to new hardware. But this is a brand-new platform from a hardware perspective and from a software perspective.
So it's been in the making for about two years. To be quite honest with you, initially when we conceived it, it was primarily a decoder or a PVR giving you internet connectivity. Two, three years ago we were hopeful that the South African broadband market from a fixed line perspective would become more mature. But it hasn't.
So we have actually changed tact about 18 months ago where we said okay, we have to deprioritise the internet connectivity a bit because you can make a big fanfare about it, but just about nobody will be able to use it out of the box. With the DStv Explora we will have to have this interim step of big video-on-demand (VOD) pumped in via satellite in order to give the DStv subscriber the experience. So we changed tact as well a bit through that two year period.
All of the DStv decoders, if you look at them, look quite different. The DStv Explora design and look physically is again a departure for MultiChoice. Why always these big changes?
Gerdus van Eeden: There's a good reason for it. In the past we've left it to our suppliers to bring a design to us and we've selected between a couple of designs. We didn't have this mindset of creating a design language.
With the DStv Explora this is completely different. We own the trademarks and that design. And when we bring a new PVR to the market it will follow that same design language. So the DStv Explora is the start of that era now.
Because I was surprised when I found out that oh MultiChoice will now give a name. And then I thought, oh will subscribers in future see a DStv Explora 2.0 for instance? And would it also be, or is it premature to say, that there will only be one name? Or might there be different product lines of DStv decoders from now on, all with different names? And why did you decide to name it?
Gerdus van Eeden: You will see there is a commonality between our devices. Think of the Walka with the "a" at the end. Think of the Drifta with the "a" at the end. So the Explora falls within that new scheme of naming of devices. And sure, there will be down the line - hopefully not to soon - more. For now for the future Explora will be the name used for our PVR product.
So there will be variations of the name, maybe Explora version 2 or whatever but essentially it will from now on always be Explora down the line.
How will the search functionality on the DStv Explora be better? Two weeks ago I watched on YouTube when Comcast in the United States unveiled their latest PVR.
They reiterated that that is what subscribers struggle with the most: finding the content and knowing where it is, and knowing what there is and being exposed to the choices and having it easily accessible.
And no pay-TV player is really there yet. But I suppose the DStv Explora is evolving in terms of search functionality as well for the South African sphere.
Gerdus van Eeden: We've recognised that with all this additional content on the hard drive and available to you, you can easily simply get content buried. People simply don't discover that content and it's content which they would have watched. You will see now in terms of the interface with BoxOffice and Catch Up that we've reverted to a much more graphic interface.
We're using the poster art for BoxOffice and for the series and for the sport. It's much more identifiable. When you see the graphics it helps to pull you in. That's the one thing. We've really expanded the search in a big way.
You're obviously aware that the current decoder has limited search functionalities. There's a hotlink button on the remote for search. You press that button and you go straight to the search area. Now in that search area we've expanded it big time. There's what we call advance searches that we've precooked for you.
So for example: You want to know what movies are on now, on all the channels on DStv, and you want to know for the next 2 hours. And there's one item that you select, "Movies on Now" and "Movies Next".
It will search across all the properties, not only the 8 day guide. Up until now we've only searched the 8 day guide. Now not only the 8 day guide but we search through BoxOffice, we search through Catch Up. And we search your Playlist.
So if you've happened to have recorded something a month ago and you've forgotten about it, it will show up in your search. Now you have this list of results across all these properties. Now we have a filtering function. As the search completes you just press left and right to select the filtering categories like "action" or "drama" for example.
I think DStv subscribers will really like this new feature and we've worked really long and hard to make it easy to use. We've included theme search which is included in the current decoder. There is text search, there's advanced search where you can really say only search in BoxOffice or only search in Catch Up. I don't think a lot of people will use it, but for those people who really want to do a pinsharp search, that is there.
The second thing is "Other Airings". That is something that people have really asked for and we've given it to them now with Explora. On any live event you bring up the i-plate and you press OK. You will now see a little menu associated with that - set a recording, set a reminder. You select that and it shows you now immediately when that particular event is showing again.
If you look globally also in decoder sales one of the things where pay-TV operators in terms of marketing tries to one up each other is saying 'You can record 4 things at the same time', 'With us you can record 5 things at the same time'. I always wonder why we don't see that kind of progression in South Africa. Is it because the technology becomes too expensive for the price point or because not enough people want it?
Gerdus van Eeden: Typically those systems are what they these days call "home gateways", so they would put in -especially the cable operators in the States but even the satellite operators like DirecTV - where they would supply a very big box with many tuners and lots of resources and then they would have thin clients hanging from that and it then shares these.
Unfortunately our market dynamics - if we would do that - it would make the price point for our entry PVR way too expensive. And that's the entry point [a decoder], you have to have this thing before you can do anything else, You know, we've looked at it, we've crunched the numbers, everything. It's just too expensive for our market.
So we've gone for the ExtraView route where if you want a secondary recording facility you buy the hardware, you link it in, you pay the additional monthly fee - which is not a double subscription - and you have a secondary recording facility.
We're also planning with this a second generation ExtraView version which will mean that you will be able to share content in HD between boxes, but that's in the future, that's coming.
People often ask me do i watch on fast forward with two or with three green arrows. How is fast forward and slow motion going to be different?
You activate these differently. There is a brand-new remote control. It doesn't have the colour buttons anymore and we've removed Shift. People told us they don't like the Shift and too fiddly. We've added these additional hopping buttons.
Slow motion for example is activated by pressing the Play button in for 2 seconds. Then you're in slow motion mode. Then you use the normal forward and rewind buttons to go through the different levels. It's all there but works slightly differently - and in our minds much better.
You will also find that with Explora the interface is very responsive. On current decoders as you crunch through the catalogue you will see a 5 to 10 second delay. Now you will see it's instantaneous.
You press that hotlink button for Catch Up and it's there. You press the hotlink button for BoxOffice and it's there.
When the HD PVR was launched in 2008 just before the Olympics it was a bit buggey.
I think MultiChoice felt to push it to market to not lose out on Olympic viewing and rushed the product as part of a marketing strategy.
Can you assure people that they don't have to be scared to go and buy this new generation DStv Explora? That MultiChoice isn't bringing the Explora to market now because you're forced?
Gerdus van Eeden: We absolutely did not force this launch. We're launching the Explora because the product is ready to launch.