DStv Now customers have complained of low-quality video when streaming popular sports fixtures, such as South Africa’s games in the Rugby World Cup.
Low-bandwidth streams generally result in a pixelated and blurry image which can stutter intermittently if your connection is particularly bad.
Viewers of online content will be no stranger to this phenomenon, but it can usually be resolved by fixing any issues which are affecting the Internet connection, and it is usually prevalent across all websites and services.
However, a number of users have complained about low-quality DStv Now streams being pervasive despite having a high amount of available bandwidth and being able to stream from other platforms flawlessly.
DStv published a statement to address these concerns, explaining why viewers’ streams were sometimes blurry and pixelated.
Bandwidth and congestion
Streaming services test the speed of the viewer’s internet connection constantly and send higher- or lower-resolution packets based on this information.
If your Internet connection is fast and has low latency, you should be able to stream in the highest resolution possible, while slow or congested connections will deliver bad-quality streams that may occasionally buffer.
It is also possible that viewers can have a fast and reliable connection but still encounter video quality problems when a popular broadcast starts, such as a World Cup game where the Springboks are playing.
“We plan ahead for big games and make sure we’ve got enough capacity, so [our service] isn’t likely to be the cause,” DStv said. “The simplest explanation for video quality falling during high demand times is congestion downstream from our servers, and there could be a number of factors causing that.”
“An example of how congestion affects someone connecting via mobile is that lots of people are accessing the same mobile base station at the same time (e.g. as the game starts) and because the base station has limited capacity, the quality of the mobile connection drops,” DStv said.
This means that while DStv Now might have enough capacity, your local exchange or base station might be congested due to the number of people who are watching the game in your area.
Live is difficult
DStv also noted that broadcasting live content is far more difficult than simply streaming pre-recorded content to customers.
This is why YouTube, Netflix, and other services might look great, while the quality of DStv Now looks worse.
“In the case of live content, we’re taking the stream from Japan and distributing it in South Africa without the same ability to pre-load it as close as possible to the customer, so any bottlenecks downstream from our servers can have an impact on video quality,” DStv said.
“The other obvious difference is with YouTube or Showmax or Netflix, people aren’t all watching exactly the same thing at the same time – which presents a whole bunch of technical challenges.”
The company added that if improving the reliability of the live streaming service was simply a matter of increasing capacity, it would have done so long ago.
DStv added that viewers can test whether a streaming quality issue is related to their connection by temporarily switching to a mobile data connection to check if the quality changes.
“Obviously the other connection may also be congested but certainly if the quality improves you’ll have an indication that it may be worth speaking to the ISP or changing to another ISP,” DStv said.
DStv Now experienced various outages during the first few World Cup games where South Africa played, attributing the downtime to a large influx of viewers, as well as verification delays.