Altech Node hands-on

Altech has officially launched Node, a “smart home” product that offers a subscription-based satellite push video-on-demand (VOD) service.

In its marketing material, Altech splits the Node’s feature-set into three broad categories, namely: “Smart TV”, “Smart Entertainment”, and “Smart Home”.

Smart Home encompasses the Node’s home automation features, which includes support for accessories such as internal and external surveillance cameras, motion sensors, antennas, Wi-Fi boosters, and a voice over IP phone.

A “smart plug” will also be available which Altech promises will allow users to control electricity supply to appliances.

Altech supplied us with a Node to test, and while we were able to put the Smart TV and entertainment parts of the device through its paces, we did not have any accessories with which to test its Smart Home feature-set.

Our hands-on will, therefore, focus on the VOD features offered by Node.

Initial setup

Altech Node press shot — back
Altech Node

The Node costs R3,499 once-off and, for its launch, will include a free dish and installation.

If you already have a dish pointed at Intelsat–20 (the same satellite used by DStv) installation is as easy as connecting one of the cables from your dish to the Node and powering it up.

That said, the installer who came out to my house went through a few more steps to verify that my dish was still correctly aligned and that the Node was receiving signal from the satellite.

He also explained that it would be possible to run both DStv and Node from a single dish, provided you have a quad LNB.

Once the Node is wired up and connected to the Internet (using either its built-in Wi-Fi, 3G, or Ethernet interfaces), you are prompted to sign up for a Node account.

This is a fairly typical procedure, though, for some reason, password length is limited to 8 characters.

At this point I was interrupted for a critical software update, which the Node warned me could take up to 30 minutes to complete.

I walked away and returned to find the Node had rebooted automatically (as promised) and required that I log in with my newly created Node account.

After logging in, yet another critical software update started.

A spokesperson for Altech said that Nodes bought at retail would probably not require so much updating when they are first powered up, as they will be running newer software than our test boxes shipped with.

When the Node is fully updated and logged in, you can set up your subscription. For this you will need a credit card, or you can use Altech’s Eyenza mobile wallet.

Remote control

Altech Node remote control
Altech Node remote control

Throughout the setup and registration process you will have been grateful for the Node’s remote control which features a full QWERTY keyboard on the back, in addition to the more typical button layout on the front.

It’s not as comfortable to type on as a PC or smartphone keyboard, but it’s much easier to type your login details, Wi-Fi password, and billing information than it would have been using just a directional pad and on-screen keyboard.

Speaking of smartphone keyboards, there is also an Android app for the Node in Google Play.

It searches for and automatically connects to the Node on your Wi-Fi network, and lets you control it from your smartphone. You can also type using your phone’s keyboard and send the text to the Node via the app.

Push VOD

With the Node set up and your subscription activated you can finally start watching the content Altech has on offer.

But not right away, it turns out.

Those familiar with DStv’s decoder-based on-demand video services will know that it can take some time for the content to become available on the decoder.

This is because it is being pushed out by the satellite in a certain order, and you can’t watch something until it has been broadcast to your box.

It’s not a big deal, but you will have to wait a few hours before a significant amount of content has been pushed to the Node, and it could take quite a while before you have access to Altech’s whole library.

By way of example: our Node has been active since 9 September 2014, and as at 18 September the first episode of Stargate Atlantis season 1 has yet to become available, even though most of the rest of the episodes are downloaded.

Altech Node remote app
Altech Node remote app

Navigating around, and watching some videos

Finally, your Node has been set up and some content has been pushed to the device. From here, watching something is relatively quick and easy.

Among the TV shows on offer are Mad Men, Weeds, The Dresden Files, and Stargate Atlantis. A large collection of movies is also on offer, ranging from superhero films such as the X-Men series and Captain America, to The Other Woman, Bicentennial Man, and Things to do in Denver when you’re dead.

You choose what you want to watch, confirm payment if it is a movie not included with your subscription, and it begins playing within seconds.

If you don’t have an Internet connection for whatever reason, the Node presents an error message when you try to watch something and lets you go into the menus to change the networking settings.

Scrolling through the content available is a little tedious as the interface isn’t quite as snappy as other media streaming applications.

Keep in mind that you’re navigating around with nothing but directional keys, so you can’t swipe to scroll as you might do on a smartphone or tablet, or use the scroll wheel on a mouse as you might on a PC.

A great addition to Node would be the ability to navigate through available content on your smartphone instead of having to use the somewhat clunky interface built for TVs.

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Altech Node hands-on