MultiChoice recently unveiled its new DStv Explora Ultra decoder – its first set-top box to feature built-in wireless Internet connectivity and support for third-party streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
Over its 25-year history, the company has launched numbers decoders that connect to an installed dish antenna to provide customers with access to its bouquet of satellite channels.
MultiChoice has its origins in pay-TV broadcaster M-Net, which was launched by major media conglomerate Naspers and other companies back in 1985.
After 10 years of successful business – which included the launch of SuperSport – the company divided its operations and formed MultiChoice to oversee subscriber management and signal distribution.
In the same year, the company launched DStv, one of the first satellite broadcasting services outside of the US. The use of this technology allowed the company to broadcast in even the most remote areas of South Africa.
Whereas M-Net only required its paying customers to have their decoder connected to a standard TV antenna, DStv customers had to get a satellite dish installed to receive the broadcasts, alongside a Digital Satellite Decoder (DSD).
We’ve taken a look at the flagship decoders DStv has offered to customers since that time, and how much they cost at launch, in cases where this information was available.
It should be noted that we did not include multiple versions of the same generation of decoder, which primarily carried the same features.
For example, manufacturers PACE and UEC each had their own iterations of the HD PVR – namely the 2P (2010) and 2U (2012) – both of which featured the exact same capabilities with slightly different designs and hardware.
1995 to 2005 – Single-view decoders
Between 1995 and 2005, MultiChoice offered basic single-view decoders that were released under various model numbers including the DSD 660, 720, 720i, 910, 933, and 990.
These allowed for connecting to the satellite service and displaying supported channels at standard definition (SD) resolution.
2003 – Dual View decoder
DStv’s first divergence from single-view set-top-boxes came with the dual-view decoder launched in 2003.
This allowed customers to watch two different channels on two TV sets using a single decoder.
Effectively, it had two single-view decoders built into one unit, which is connected to the first display.
An additional receiver then allows for receiving a signal from a second remote control.
2005 – SD PVR
The first DStv decoder with Personal Video Recording (PVR) capability was launched in 2005.
This was the first PVR in Africa, and MultiChoice claimed it was also the first dual-view capable PVR in the world.
The decoder allowed viewers to pause, rewind, and record live TV programming on DStv channels.
It allowed for up to 80 hours of standard-definition recordings on its hard drive, which users could view on a delay or at a later stage.
Fast-forwarding was also possible on delayed and recorded content.
Pausing was limited to two hours, and would only remain in effect until the user changed channels.
Users could watch TV on two channels and record on a third.
2008 – HD PVR – R2,499
MultiChoice launched 720p HD broadcasting in South Africa in July 2008, just in time for the Beijing Olympics.
To support these broadcasts, it also released its first HD PVR decoder – capable of recording and holding up to 50 hours of HD content, or 150 hours of SD material.
The original 4 tuner PACE model enabled recording two channels at once, while cheaper versions released in subsequent years limited recording to a single channel.
In 2011, DStv launched its BoxOffice movie rental and Catch Up services, which were available to Premium subscribers on both the SD and HD PVRs.
2013 – Explora – R2,499
The Explora decoder delivered a new HD user interface and host of new features to the DStv experience when it was launched in 2013.
This was the first DStv decoder to offer a USB port, allowing the user to connect a DStv Wi-Fi Connector to enable online connectivity for using Catch Up Plus and features such as remote recording.
Notably, it shipped with a 2TB hard drive for storing up to 220 hours of TV recordings.
It also offered five more BoxOffice movies than the HD PVR decoder and three-times more Catch Up content with series stacking and movies for the first time.
2016 – Explora 2 – R1,499
The Explora 2 provided improvements in broadcast compression technology, which MultiChoice said would help to reduce data charges on Catch Up services.
Because Catch Up meant less recording was required, DStv cut storage space on the decoder in half.
It also came with the new A7 remote, with features including motion-sensored back-lit buttons, visual feedback when a button is pressed, low battery detection, use as a universal remote, and a dedicated ShowMax button.
2019 – Explora 3 – R999
The third generation of Explora featured a smaller form factor without the usual front-panel display, and instead had an LED to indicate whether it is powered on.
It also does not have RF IN or RF OUT connectors, and cuts the previous two USB ports down to one, and does away with the fan used to cool the Explora and Explora 2.
2020 – Explora Ultra – R2,499
The Explora Ultra was first announced back in August 2020 and officially launched in November.
It features a range of improvements over its predecessor, including a built-in wireless receiver for connecting to the Internet via Wi-Fi.
It supports third-party video streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, as well as DStv Now and the full version of Showmax.
4K streaming will be available based on the individual suppliers of the content, but won’t be on offer via the satellite broadcasts.
Alongside its main HD decoders, DStv has also launched several other cheaper models without PVR capabilities.
This includes a number of single-view decoders like the HD Decoder 5 series, which was launched in 2014 at R499.
It was succeeded by the HD Decoder 6 in 2019, which started at a price of R399.
The company also previously offered mobile decoders for its now-defunct DStv Mobile service.
The initial Drifta modem launched in 2010 was capable of receiving DVB-H signal and transmitting it over a Wi-Fi network to a connected cellphone. It launched at a price of R599.
Its successor – the R399 Drifta USB thumb drive – was a more compact version that allowed users to plug directly into a PC and access DStv Mobile.
Released in 2012, the Walka added a 3.5-inch display with 320 x 240 resolution to offer a complete handheld TV experience.
It came with a recommended retail price of R649.
DStv shut down its Mobile TV service in 2018, so these two devices are no longer supported.