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DStv Explora Setup and review


Here in South Africa, one doesn’t have too many options when it comes to TV channels. The public broadcaster has 3 free to air channels, while a fourth free to air, e-tv, is a private business. On the pay TV side of things, there is either DStv, or StarSat (previously known as Top TV,) both of which are satellite broadcasters.

We’ve had DStv since 2008, when we purchased at that time, the top of the line SD PVR decoder. The device could display 2 different TV channels at the same time, while also recording a 3rd channel in the background. The resolution was standard definition, which wasn’t a problem when all the TV’s in the house were small CRT based things. However, since I got the large TV in the lounge a few years ago, putting up with SD quality on that screen has been slowly driving me nuts. Throw in the at times instability of the PVR and I found myself itching to upgrade.

DStv introduced some HD decoders a few years back, but apart from one device that offered the same features as the SD decoder, they were limited to 1 view, 1 record. Throw in the fact that these decoders were even more unstable and I decided to wait a little longer.

Last weekend, I finally ended up purchasing the new DStv Explora. The Explora is a new and modern HD decoder, although still sadly limited to 1 view, 1 record. The interface on the decoder is a lot more modern than any other decoder DStv has ever produced, and it has a 2TB hard drive inside, which ensures much more space for recordings. With the SD decoder I found myself often butting up against the recording limit.

The Explora is securely packaged in the box, wrapped in a nice layer of bubble wrap. The device isn’t too heavy, but feels solidly built despite being mainly plastic. There were no creaks or other defects out the box. Unfortunately for whatever reason, the power supply has now migrated from being internal to being a power brick. I suppose it makes sense that if there is a power surge or something, it’s much easier to replace a power brick than the whole decoder. Still, power bricks are often unsightly and contribute to cabling clutter.

The old SD decoder is quite noisy, with a very distinct fan drone emanating from the machine at all times. The Explora is a lot quiter, and seems to run cooler as well, despite it’s vastly upgraded internals. Hard drive noise is also far less evident, thanks to modern drives which are a lot quieter than the 250GB model in the SD decoder.

I chose to install the Explora myself, without making use of an installer. There was no need to pay someone to do the job, since we already have a large enough dish and have a twin cable feed coming in from the dish. From there, the process is simple:

  • Screw cables from the dish into the top inputs on the included multi-switch.
  • Connect one output cable on the side of the multi-switch to the Explora.
  • Connect two cables from the bottom of the multi-switch into the inputs of the existing SD decoder.
  • Use a F connector splitter to split the feed from the RF output of the SD decoder. One cable goes to the RF input port of the Explora, the other cable runs to the secondary TV that was always hooked up.
  • Use HDMI cable to hook up Explora to my amp, which in turn feeds the TV.
  • The reason to interconnect the 2 decoders is to enable DStv’s Extraview feature. With this feature enabled, you are able to use 2 interlinked decoders on the same subscription for a nominal amount every month. With my particular setup, we can theoretically watch 3 completely separate TV channels, whilst recording 2 different programs at once.

The installation really isn’t difficult if you already have a previous DStv in your house and it meets the requirements for the Explora. The rest is just an exercise in patience as you connect multiple cables. Depending if you are making use of Extraview to interlink 2 decoders or not, you may need to purchase 3 extra co-axial cables and a F connector splitter.

So far, so good. The Explora has been running a week with no problems that I’ve detected. Most of the channels are still SD resolution, but they are being upscaled better than the old SD decoder could ever do. HD content on the other hand looks lovely, if not quite Blu-ray lovely. Still makes a huge difference in things like live sport though.

Overall, the Explora is a worthwhile upgrade. From any SD decoder it’s a big leap, while the increased space and stability puts it above the older HD decoders. Time will ultimately tell how stable the Explora will be, but I am strangely optimistic the device will hold up well over the coming years. Although the device is quite pricey, it has been on special a few times already.

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