If you are a traditional broadcaster, you would have to face the fact that people are accessing content very differently than they did even a couple of years ago. Where content was previously only available on one medium, that has slowly shifted over to becoming available online as well – and there is no better example for that than entertainment.

The immediacy of online content has generated a host of providers that offer their services for a small fee, giving users the content that they want, when they want it, without being tied down to a set broadcasting schedule.

Altech launched its NODE offering today, which it bills as a “new complete entertainment and smart home experience”. To find out what we thought about NODE during a hands-on sessions, click here, but how does the service stack up against the likes of Netflix, South Africa’s newest video on demand service Vidi, and Dstv’s BoxOffice service?

Altech’s NODE

Altech’s NODE is a set-top box similar to a decoder, which plugs in straight to your television. While normal television channels can still be watched, NODE is accessed through switching the television to one of the HDMI ports, and controlled with a separate NODE remote control.

Node menu

The idea of NODE is to provide a home entertainment setup so that you can enjoy some of the latest movies and televisions shows for a small fee. Click on a film and you have the option of watching the trailer for more information, adding it to your favourites to watch later, or renting it straight away for R25. Latest releases are R25, but older titles are about R15. Subscriptions cost R299 per month and its R3 499 for the NODE box itself.

Film can be browsed and sorted by genre, such as comedy, horror, drama or romance, but the television show section works on a similar interface. But the biggest difference between films and TV shows are that TV episodes are free to watch whenever you want.

You can also search for shows and films, of course, and this is where Altech’s made a cunning and clever design choice. While the topside of the remote has all the usual buttons associated with a decoder, the other side houses a full alphabet of buttons so you can look for stuff without trying to cursor your way through spellings.

The NODE does make use of a 3G connection, LAN cable or WiFi to connect to the internet, but that is only to download the decryption key so that shows and films can be access. The content isn’t streamed to you, rather it’s downloaded to the internal hard drive through the NODE’s satellite connection (you will need a satellite dish to receive transmissions) where it sits until it’s decrypted. It’s a clever way around the bandwidth issue, although obviously means that there’s an upper limit to the size of the library available at any one time.

You can also use the built-in web browser, so you can surf the net from your couch.

But films and shows isn’t the only thing that you can do with NODE. Coming in the very near future, a payment function on the home page will allow you to access and pay your traffic fines, among other things. There is also an option to access the Smart Home app, which will give you access to all your connected home automation and surveillance devices – if you have them connected, or course.

There’s a ton of clever stuff going on and Altech’s execution is great – the tough part is going to be convincing people to shell out for the decoder itself. Having said that, the firm has already created a good triple play package for TV, phone and internet at R799 with MTN that includes the decoder fee. That’s getting tough to argue with.

Price: R299 per month for unlimted TV, R15-25 for films, R3 499 once-off charge for the decoder.

Contract: Monthly

Free trial for NODE: No (you need the decoder).

Amount of content: about 700 hours

DStv/BoxOffice

Digital Satellite Television, better known as DStv, has been a staple in South African households for many years. But as the technology age caught up with broadcasters, they too had to change their mindset and broadcasting methods.

BoxOffice

DStv started out as South Africa’s only digital satellite service, giving subscribers access to hundreds of television shows and films on a schedule time. Throughout the years, it has introduced the PVR and HD decoders, which lets you record shows for viewing later – a digital video recorder of sorts.

While there are a variety of channel bouquets are available, the premium service gives you at least four movies channels, a number of channels that showcase series and sitcoms, and a plethora of channels that host international programming, such as Discovery and National Geographic.

But one of the biggest attractions for DStv is its sports channels, with at least seven channels dedicated to almost every sport on the planet. The service, managed by parent company Multichoice, also drops in popups channels when major sporting events roll around, such as the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup.

When it comes to streaming, Multichoice started to offer BoxOffice a few years ago, which allows viewers to order films through their decoder to their televisions – and also works well as on desktop browsers. There is no cost to sign up for the service, but renting or downloading films do cost money. Plus, only subscribers to the higher value packages can use Box Office on their decoders.

All movies on the PVR cost R27 to rent for a 48 hour period, but you can pay less if you link your smartcard number to your online profile. There are two options available for users, BoxOffice Online, where you need an internet connection of at least 384kbps to view; and BoxOffice PVR, where films and content are delivered to you lounge through your PVR.

Price: R665 per month for Dstv, R27 for BoxOffice films

Contract: Monthly

Free trial for BoxOffice: No

Amount of content: 15 movies at a time, with titles refreshed as they become available.

 

VIDI

VIDI is South Africa’s newest player in the video on demand space, and aims to compete with Netflix by giving users access to a large amount of films and televisions shows instantly. Where Netflix is a flat fee of $8 (R88) a month, VIDI will set you back R150 a month for its content available through the subscription, while you can rent other films and shows on offer for R27 per item.

Vidi

The site works pretty much the same as what Netflix does (even its user interface  is remarkably similar). As you browse through the different sections and genres in search of something to watch. One of the biggest draw card of the service is that it is built by and for South Africans, and there’s no commercial breaks while viewing.

The exact number of movies and TV series available is unclear as yet, but VIDI explains that you can enjoy over 1 000 hours of content. While it might sound like a lot, it’s actually pales in comparison to the other offerings and there’s a distinct lack of up to the minute releases on the standard subscription service.

VIDI is available for most gadgets that have an internet connections, with mobile apps for Android handsets and iOS in the works. So it’s great if you want to watch some of the latest films while on the go. But if you want to watch something on your television, you will have to go through the process of connecting you gadget to your television through the use of cables – which can be a bit of a hassle.

But there is one thing that VIDI has going for it that Netflix does not yet have. On top of the all-you-can-eat archives, you can also rent new releases films for R15-R27 a pop. That’s relatively recent flicks like Need for Speed, Divergent, and 300: Rise of an Empire.

Depending on your internet connection, VIDI is capable of streaming in full HD, but you need to be aware of what that will do to your bandwidth usage, as an average length full HD film can be anywhere in the region of 2GB. So while it’s arguably the cheapest option, it could end up costing you more in the long run.

Price: R149 a month, R27 for some films

Contract: Monthly

Free trial: 30 days

Amount of content: About 1 000 hours

 

Netflix

From a South African perspective, the definitive US-based movie streaming on demand service isn’t actually available locally, as it sits behind a geo-wall which prevents access to anyone who doesn’t reside in its supported countries of operation. But there are a number of service on the internet which allows for Netflix access, making it available to South Africans. Basically, you’ll need subscribe to a VPN or SmartDNS service like Unotelly in order to mask your geographical location.

Whether that’s legal or not is debatable, although no-one’s yet been stopped from using these services in South Africa. Curiously, a local rival to Unotelly sprang up last week in the form of Axxess Global, but that was shut down within a day or so of operation without reason.

Netflix

The business model of Netflix is simple: provide a films on demand service for $8 (around R87) a month, where users can access around 10 000 films and somewhere in the order of 3 000 television shows. The exact numbers are a bit sketchy, as Netflix doesn’t ever reveal a full list and licensing deals mean titles come and go depending on how much they’re costing the firm and how popular they are.

The user interface of Netflix is rather easy: its broke down into different sections for easy browsing, and while the desktop version is slightly different to the mobile, Xbox and PlayStation ones, it work on the same principles.

But with thousands of shows on offer, it would be really difficult to sift through them all the find something to watch, and Netflix knows this. That is why they have set up a Taste Profile on its website when you sign up and create your own profile.

It’s basically a number of questions in which it tried to determine the genres, actors or specific films that you like. Your can even drill that down a bit further by rating as many films as you want. Using the ratings you gave, it will start to build up a profile of your tastes.

Once it knows that, it will display suggested titles in the section ‘Top Picks For ….’ And after you have watched some show, it will also start to suggest titles based on your viewing history. It’s an evolving thing, as it learns and adjusts to your individual tastes.

Price: R87 a month, plus R55+ a month for VPN/SmartDNS service. Total is approximately R142 a month

Contract: Monthly

Free trial: 7 days

Amount of content: Around 10 000 films and approx. 3 000 television shows

Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.