Over the last few months the conversation about Digital Migration in Kenya has been unavoidable. This is in tandem with the global analogue to digital migration date of June 2015 and Kenya among others set an early date to get things set. Now Startimes Media is one of the Digital TV providers and they have both PayTV and Free To Air capabilities. They have two Set Top Boxes they in use and on sale to consumers in Kenya. These are the fully PayTV option DVB-T2 Set Top Box and the second one that has both PayTV and Free To Air Options, also DVB-T2.
Now I have used the latter for two months and counting, and I have an opinion on how the Set Top Box is like.
Startimes DVB-T2 Free To Air Set Top Box Overview
The Set Top Box is priced at Kshs 5000 and this includes 1 month of the Unique Bouquet valued at Kshs 2000. So this basically is you paying Kshs 3000 for the box and 2000 bob for the Unique package to ensure you know what the best inside feels like. You then have an option to either opt for free of pay for the bouquets which start at Kshs 500.
When the one month runs out you get access to Free to Air channels, that comprise of both Digital TV and Digital Radio, these total to over 30 channels. During set up, you will have an option to use the short aerial that you will find in the box or for special cases get an external aerial to get a better signals for places with a weak one. My set-up was mostly okay with the short indoor aerial.
Set up is mostly DIY, but if you need the guys at Startimes can send a technician to both advise or assist you in set up. The FTA Set Top Box is only available in one colour, black. The remote accompanying is also black while the front has the standard buttons and nitties. There is a LED indicator that shows connection status and channel numbers. The slot for the Smart Card is hidden under a cover, a convenient idea I think. You know, if you have small brothers they won’t be removing it to play with it.
And now to the inner detail
So what metrics would you judge performance of this Set Top Box and the service behind it?
The signal is quite good, atleast for my location as I didn’t need to get an external aerial while there is no interruption from rain as you would expect with Satellite signs. It being terrestrial poses that advantage in that there is no interference by rain or clouds like Satellite, as long as you have clear line of sight you are good. Of course where you need clear line of sight is where Satellite gets a comeback.
Sound is generally good though not high quality. One problem the Set Top Box has is the inability to have the same sound level across the channels as you will find one channel with sound high and another low. Now try to imagine what this means in a quiet neighbourhood and you switch channels. Not all is lost though as the Set Top Box is embedded with software downloader, thus making is have support for Over The Air (OTA) software updates. Software upgrades are possible and are done remotely, no need for internet access.
There is another plus though, in the Set Top Box features where program memory comes in handy and the decoder will store favourite volume setting, this is over and above channel list and channel list order. This is also useful incase power goes off, this is saved in memory.
Free To Air Channels
The packaging of this Set Top Box is that you are able to pick to either go Free To Air from the second month or PayTV when you want. Comes in handy as you may find cash constraints in one month and the other comes in with blessings, so you can go with the times. The first month of purchase comes with the best you can get off the box, Unique package, then once this ends you go down to FTA.
There is some 30 channels, both radio and TV. You get access to all the SIGNET Free to air channels plus other random ones.
User Interface/ Experience
StarTimes have their user interface on their box, not to say that it’s the best out there but there are some things that are done quite well, others are lacking. For example, programming is noticeably lacking on much needed program info that guides someone when making viewer choices. The UI also looks cheap when it comes to graphics, I mean, a TV is visual, get some good looking graphics and icons while at it.
I have no complaints on the programming as StarTimes has quite a well balanced payTV programming, and comes quite strongly against fellow Terrestrial provider GoTV.
Startimes Set Top Box does come with handy features like Electronic Program Guide that provides the ability to select favourite channels for quick viewing. It also has support for 4 languages in the region, these being English, French, Portuguese and our own Swahili.
The Set Top Box does provide feedback mechanisms like watch rating to allow users rate the programs they view, though I wouldn’t know if any program ever went out as a result of user feedback.
Overall I think this is a solid proposition one ought to consider as their fallback for a Digital Migration solution. There’s a few days before decisions are made about Nairobi and environs, so if that time comes, I’d recommend the FTA StarTimes Set Top Box as a really good option, having used both GoTV and StarTimes. The box does has several hits and misses, though the misses are something that can be fixed with a software upgrade.