10 March 2011

DSTV Drifta

"... If you want rugby, then the Drifta will cost you the same price for a year as the DSTV bouquet will cost for a month. Think about that!"

UPDATE June 2012: I've added a dedicated DStv Drifta page for future DStv Drifta information. Find it here or click up top.

[ UPDATE April 2011: J-J.co.za has set up an unofficial yet very comprehensive Drifta FAQ here. Highly recommended! ]

[ UPDATE 31 March 2011: THREE new channels announced for DSTV Drifta! Read about it here. ]

[ UPDATE: the cost per month as at March 2011 is R40pm INCLUDING the insurance if you don't piggy-back an existing DSTV subscription ]

By now most of us living in South Africa have heard of the DSTV mobile solution called the Drifta. It's touted to be a DStv Mobile Decoder and all it really is is a tiny DVB-H receiver. At first I thought it was a cheap gimmick: a tiny device with a tiny screen, but when I learnt that it actually doesn't have a screen at all and instead connects to your iOS devices or your PC / laptop, it caught my attention.

I've since read a few local reviews and snatched one up for a birthday present because on the surface it sounds like it can do the job I'm looking for. If you're interested in finding out whether it really is worth it, read on!

  1. First Impression
    The first thing you'll notice with the Drifta is just how TINY this device is. At least, I expected something a bit bigger, but it's really not much bigger than a credit card or a tiny cellphone. Check this image out to show how it compares in size to a standard Microsoft Wheel Mouse Optical, with antenna extended.
    Size comparison
    Speaking of the antenna, it also shows up the tacky Chinese / South African build quality - there's a flimsy flap you have to twist to insert the mini-USB cable (for data connection to PC, and also for USB charging) and it's only going to be a matter of time before it breaks off! The loss of the flap won't affect the performance but what is alarming is the design of the antenna - it's a telescopic antenna that is "top-heavy" - in other words, instead of extending from the base upwards, it extends from the end downwards, leaving a skimpy 1mm diameter rod sticking out of the Drifta and then doubling in diameter for each of the three segments leading out. If you aren't careful, this little metal pin will break off, and you'll pretty much lose your signal reception and the Drifta.

  2. Features
    The DSTV Drifta boasts the ability to receive a small group of channels and can stream the signal via WIFI or USB to a compatible device (at the time of writing, any iOS device like iPad, iPhone, or iPod, or a PC / laptop with USB ... and I think the new DVB-H capable cellphones will be included soon).

    When loaded up (via the included software or on you iOS device) you can live-view one of the channels, check out a list of what's showing on the channels currently, as well as a Schedule of what's to come so you can plan your viewing.

  3. Channels
    The Drifta currently allows you to view the following channels (the ones in Bold are REALLY AWESOME):
    1. Africa Magic
    2. Channel O
    3. TRACE Urban
    4. eNews 24
    5. SuperSport Blitz
    6. SuperSport 1
    7. SuperSport 2
    8. SuperSport 3
    9. SuperSport 6
    10. Cartoon Network
    11. CNNi (* new channel as at April 2011 *)
    12. Sony Max (* new channel as at April 2011 *)
    13. E! Entertainment (* new channel as at April 2011 *)
      A screenshot of what the software in action.
      View original size to see the actual screen size!
  4. Set up
    Out of the box you can be up and running within minutes. You need to phone Multichoice (AKA "Monochoice") and give them the serial number at the back of the Drifta and then the DSTV account details you want to marry the Drifta to. Once that's done, you can get cracking (although the manual recommends charging the Drifta for one hour before first use) with the software installation and then you're done. No reboot required, which is really handy.

    Just be 100% sure of your coverage reception before going out and buying one of these; I made sure of the reception so it was literally a case of opening the box, phoning Multichoice, linking the account, extending the antenna, installing the software, plugging in the Drifta, and Robert was my uncle.

  5. On-Hand Impressions
    The initial installation and set up is an absolute breeze and it only takes a few seconds (around eight) to pick up a channel for viewing. Audio is clear and the picture is acceptable. I must admit that despite the reviews I had read previously, I was still disappointed with the picture. I knew to expect 320x240 but I thought it would be similar to the SupertSport LIVE streaming feed, but it's not. It's a bit worse. Having said that, despite the poorer picture quality, it's still adequate for watching on your desktop, but you can't fullscreen the feed so you will have to tolerate a tiny window (which obviously looks relatively larger when on a lower resolution screen). I was hoping I could full screen it and then do a TV-out at home to get a decent feed but no go; it's a small window and you just have to accept it. Not a tragedy if you're running dual-screen: just set the window to be ALWAYS ON TOP and make it the "larger" option (which is essentially a digital zoom, so it makes a slightly bigger window but the pixels [AKA "blocks"] are enlarged). I think there is a patch out there somewhere that lets you change the picture size, but I can't find it any more ;(

    Viewable, but not ideal resolution...
    GO Zimbabwe :)
    The benefits of this feed over the LIVE streaming feed is obviously that it's not restricted by bandwidth: it's a live signal so you'll get as good as you can expect whereas the online feed can be hampered by bandwidth glitches caused by a myriad of things (including your PC deciding to run a system update or check your email while you're trying to stream).

  6. CostI purchased mine on special from GAME discount stores for R569.99 (special ends March 13 2011) and the usual price is R599.99 from most major retail stores, like kalahari.net, GAME, and so on.

    [ Update April 2011 - these guys seem to be going for less than R500 sometimes at HIFI Corporation. Just snatch up a flyer and show GAME and they'll better the price ]

    The introductory offer of "free" reception ended at the beginning of March 2011, so now you are expected to pay for the monthly service, but I haven't been able to confirm how much this is - I think I read somewhere it's around R30 per month. If you have a DSTV Lite or DSTV Premium account then you can tie in the Drifta to that account and you won't pay for the reception until March 2012.

    [ Update: although I cannot yet confirm this, it would appear to be "free for life" on DSTV Premium and the March 2012 deadline only affects DSTV Lite subscribers that registered prior to April 2011 ]

    In other words, if you have someone willing to register the Drifta on their account, you can get all of those channels for FREE until next year!

    I would also encourage you to consider the R5 per month insurance which covers you for theft, any device damage (like that pesky antenna) and so on. I asked the MULTICHOICE agent on the phone how the warranty works and she suspects it's a one year warranty but isn't sure if it covers the antenna (that's a handy agent isn't it?). If you get the GAME discounted price you save R30 which basically means you can pay for your first six months insurance :)

    [ UPDATE: R40pm for brand new subscribers, including insurance ]

  7. LIVE streaming (supersport.com/live) vs. Drifta
    To enjoy LIVE streaming you are going to need decent bandwidth. The LIVE streaming also requires a DSTV Premium account to marry it with the online account but again you can probably find someone willing to piggy-back for you. The advantage of LIVE streaming is the fullscreen capability so you can actually do it on your laptop and output to a TV for pretty decent quality. I also think it's default to the widescreen feed so you see more of the field (I'm only talking about sport feeds here). The disadvantage is that you can end up chewing up your precious bandwidth and I doubt your workplace will appreciate that.

    The Drifta comes into its own if you have a lot of friends without DSTV or broadband - you can still organise a weekend away or a get-together and bring along your Drifta so you can at least watch the match (even though it's kinda tiny). I have no shame in doing this since I would rather watch the game on a small screen than not at all. Likewise, the audio would usually suffice as a radio broadcast on its own, but when it's complemented with the small video feed it works out nicely.

    Obviously the LIVE streaming is only for sport so if you want the Cartoon Network etc. on mobile then the Drifta is your only option at the moment.

  8. Conclusion
    I think to get SuperSport access pretty much anywhere in the metropolitan areas for essentially (if you can piggy back a full account) R50 per month is a really good deal. If you are a big sports fan then this is definitely a good deal. The Drifta is really convenient and can even be played on your iOS device (but then it's a choice of WIFI for internet or WIFI for the Drifta).

    R50 per month for me is a good price, because you can't get a cheap DSTV bouquet that includes the important sports channels anywhere else. If you want rugby, then the Drifta will cost you the same price for a year as the DSTV bouquet will cost for a month. Think about that!
Links to other people's opinions on the DRIFTA:

A few more pictures (view full size to get the actual size and a good impression of picture quality):

Enlarged size

Standard size
Enlarged size
Enlarged size


Hokemon said...

Kinda makes you wish you had an iPhone, doens't it?

Rich E said...

Shot Bryan.
Very helpful ... went out that afternoon to purchase one ... decided to do so at the start of the Sharks match ... managed to get the second half of the match on my laptop at home ... very easy set up! Hope that the patch helps to extend the screen a little ... quite small ... but I can now honestly say that I am largely ready for the REAL world Cup of the year to start. Bring it on!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks - you give all the info that I failed to find on the DSTV website. I want to get a Drifta but I hate supporting the arogant MultiChoice monopoly.

SFCable said...

Thank you...

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