Altech Node: we reveal all the details - TechCentral

Altech Node: we reveal all the details

Altech-Node-640

Technology group Altech, part of the JSE-listed Altron stable, on Thursday evening announced that it is making a big play into the video-on-demand (VOD) and home automation markets with a new, satellite-based home entertainment product called the Node that it hopes will become a significant new revenue stream for the group in coming years.

The Altech Node platform incorporates the second VOD service to be launched in South Africa in as many weeks. Unlike Times Media Group’s Vidi service, however, the Altech Node is a satellite-connected box that delivers “push VOD” content — much of it in full 1080p-resolution high definition — to subscribers.

Content is delivered over satellite, which subscribers can then watch “on demand” from the set-top box’s built-in 1TB hard disk drive.

Altech believes this is a better model than delivering content over the Internet in a country where the fixed-line broadband network remains relatively poorly developed and expensive. The service uses Intelsat-20, so DStv subscribers don’t have to install a new dish.

Sentech has been contracted as signal partner.

The Node was developed by the Durban-based Altech UEC, South Africa’s largest set-top box and decoder manufacturer. Subscriptions cost R299/month and there’s an upfront R3 499 fee for the set-top box, which includes installation of either a new dish or quad-LNB (low-noise block downconverter) on an existing DStv dish installation. A contract option is also available through Altech Autopage, the group’s cellular service provider, allowing consumers to amortise the upfront cost of the set-top box over a 24-month period.

The Node has accompanying Android and iOS apps that allow smartphones to be used to control it

The Node has accompanying Android and iOS apps to control it remotely

“The idea for the Node was incubated three years ago,” Altech CEO Craig Venter tells TechCentral. “We then invested 40 000 man hours on software development alone.”

Indeed, Altech roped in seven group companies into the Node’s development, which involved building the set-box, creating billing and customer relationship management platforms, establishing a call centre, and even building an online commerce payments platform.

“We own everything, not just the set-top box,” Venter says. “We have more than 40 patents across all the countries where we intend selling this product.”

In some markets, Altech intends making the Node available as a white-labelled solution, allowing other companies to brand it and market it. In South Africa, though, Altech is taking it directly to market.

The group expects to sign up tens of thousands of subscribers in a “very short space of time” and is targeting hundreds of thousands of subscribers in the longer term, according to Venter. “Initial indications are good. Retailers wouldn’t be placing orders unless they felt comfortable.”

Altech has reached agreements with a number of retailers and service providers for the commercial launch.

Dion, Game, Makro, Incredible Connection, OK Furniture, Hirsch’s Homestore, Jet Mart and Pick n Pay will all sell the Node and its associated home automation, security and other accessories.

Cell C has been chosen as the launch mobile network partner, though Venter says the company is open to discussions with MTN and Vodacom as well. The two larger mobile operators are known to have been considering VOD services of their own for some time, though neither has launched a commercial product.

Altech CEO Craig Venter

Altech CEO Craig Venter

For the Node launch, Altech has secured a range of content. This includes deals with four of the six major Hollywood studios — MGM, Disney, Universal and Sony.

It offers a mix of transactional and subscription-based VOD. For the R299 monthly fee, viewers get access to a catalogue of television series — shows such as Weeds and Mad Men — as well as older movies. It will also offer popular series from US cable provider HBO, though not at launch.

Its transactional VOD platform, which is similar to DStv’s BoxOffice service, offers the latest Hollywood movies just after they’ve come off the cinema circuit at a rental fee of R25  — R2 below BoxOffice. Older but popular movies will fetch R15 a piece. Viewers can rent movies for a period of 48 hours. There are more than 100 movies available to rent at any given time, with this catalogue set to be refreshed at a rate of 10 new titles a month.

On the subscription platform, 10-15% of the content will be refreshed each month, Altech says. The Node has 140 subscription movies and 200 series episodes at launch. There’s also children’s content, offering 150 episodes of material, as well as 150 episodes of documentaries. Sports content includes 80 episodes covering sporting codes such as cycling, golfing and extreme sports.

Most of the content — between 80% and 90% of it — is offered in 1080p resolution. The box supports the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) standard, meaning multiple compatible household devices — up to five — can be connected and used to watch content from the Node, delivered over Wi-Fi. Consumers can also watch or listen to their own media by plugging in an external hard drive or a flash drive, with a range of file formats supported.

Altron group executive for technology and strategy Willie Oosthuysen says that because the Node’s content is delivered via satellite, the group can afford to send large files to the set-top box without worrying that consumers will experience buffering or other problems typically associated with the delivery of streaming content over the Internet. “The files are huge. We deliver Blu-ray quality with no negative impact to the customer,” Oosthuysen says.

The content on the Node is protected using Microsoft PlayReady digital rights management technology. Altech has separated the encryption key from the content, so users must connect to a cloud service to unlock the programming they want to watch. The Node includes integrated Wi-Fi and 3G for Internet access and comes with a prepaid Sim card from Altech Autopage with R10 of airtime to allow users to register and begin their viewing experience.

One side of the dual-sided Node remote control features a full Qwerty keyboard

One side of the dual-sided Node remote control features a full Qwerty keyboard

Venter does not view the Node as a direct challenge to MultiChoice, which is an important customer of the group through Altech UEC. Although there is some overlap with MultiChoice’s BoxOffice offering, Venter says the Node does much more — including home security automation and Internet telephony — that isn’t core to broadcasters’ businesses. Indeed, Altech offered MultiChoice the option of partnering with it for the Node’s launch, but those talks didn’t lead anywhere, Venter says.

The Node also includes a bank-agnostic payments system, allowing people to use it to buy goods and services online securely. “We purchased [payments specialist]Eyenza two or three years ago specifically for this, to get the billing platform for Node,” Venter says.

Altech Card Solutions has provided a Postilion switch at the backend, too. “You can go online with your credit card or use the built-in digital wallet through the browser in the device,” he says.

“The commerce system in the box can be leveraged for many things. You can purchase pizza from Mr D at launch, or pay municipal accounts or traffic fines.” Spending limits can also be set, as, of course, can age restrictions for content.

The Node has four distinct virtual machines (VMs), one of which runs Android, meaning consumers can install a range of vetted applications, including Facebook and Twitter.

They can also download games.

The rear of the Altech Node shows its various ports

The rear of the Altech Node showing its various ports

Oosthuysen explains that separate VMs are needed because the studios don’t allow Android in the same VM as their encrypted content. “We had to firewall each of these separately,” he says. “One is secure content, one is the Android environment that runs the apps, then you have the environment for non-secure media, and there’s the value-added services area.”

Altech will offer a range of value-added products with the Node, which will be available through the same retail channels as the box itself.

These products are a high-end security camera and a lower-end security camera; motion sensors; a ZigBee smartplug, which is used, for example, to turn lights in the home on or off; a Node-branded USB flash drive (most flash drives up to 16GB in size are supported using the FAT-32 file format, while external hard drives of up 3TB can be used); a 3G antenna to boost cellular signal; a Wi-Fi range extender; and a voice-over-Internet protocol phone (supplied by Autopage).  — (c) 2014 NewsCentral Media

27 Comments

  1. Sounds awesome….just how upto date will what they have available be…no use paying to watch out of production series or outdated series though its a great start.

  2. SouthAfricanPatriot on

    Satellite makes sense, by far the most innovative and possibly smooth transmission. Good to know we can still make Patents, patents nowadays seems to be configuration of existing things in the ART, most important thing it seems is will a person who is skilled in the ART find your invention obvious or non obvious, I wonder what the patents is on though? Africa poses unique challenges thus I support patenting if and only if it will be used in commerce for real and immidiately, not Patent trolling, Doesn’t DSTV have Video On Demand Out of the Box or something like that? Anyways congrat!

  3. Does anyone else get the feeling that they’re trying to do too much with this device? I mean 4 VMs, really? They offer VOD, Android apps and games, a payment service, web browser, CCTV, home automation, and more. I foresee lots of bugs and issues with this system, and an unfriendly and complicated user interface. I hope it works well and I wish them luck, but the realist in me is highly sceptical.

  4. Greg Mahlknecht on

    It’ll probably have a rough start, but it’s great to see Altech return to form, this looks very impressive from a technical standpoint. I don’t think that they’re trying to do too much; consoles have morphed in to hubs for the living room, this takes the next logical step and makes it a hub for the house. R3500 is expensive for a STB, but it’s not too much for a well made, quiet, fully fledged PC with the kind of I/O this has. It might turn out to be a flop, but hats off for trying to get ahead of the global game.

  5. I fully agree. Its a great initiative and hats off to Altech for the innovation. But it seems like a technical team put together the product requirements. There’s just so many options – its hard to keep track off. Although MultiChoice is just breaking into this realm with the Explora, their approach has been far more cautious. I fear that this device will be relegated to the realm of MXit, XStreamer and WDLive.

  6. Thembeni Ndlovu on

    I really love these comments. I am almost choking in tears. Lets support South African business. Lurv it

  7. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    The only problem I foresee is with the selected retail channel distribution. This is the kind of product that would need a home demo for you to fully appreciate the entire package offering. I’ve sold AMX control systems before and always wished there could be something affordable that would fit into the average household and this product bodes well for the future home that will be having connected appliances.

    >>They offer VOD, Android apps and games, a payment service, web browser, CCTV, home automation, and more.

    And all from as little as R3,500 – What they need to do is stop pussyfooting around their key client and take the fight to them FULL ON!!

    Had this come around when I was 15years younger and making a living from selling 42′ Plasmas for 80K; in Tandberg video conferencing AMX controlled systems that cost a couple of bars… then I would’ve definitely dropped what I was doing and targeted every home with a DStv dish doing home demos and setting myself a goal of doing no less than 10 sales a week.

  8. Why would anyone in their right mind pay for yet another set-top box and also sign up for a monthly subscription when they can get streaming HD (now legally via Vidi) at a fraction of the cost?

    It’s also not truly VOD, as you need the device in order to use the service. I can watch Netflix, granting while using a VPN, from anywhere using any of my devices.

    This business model is doomed to fail.

  9. Looks Fantastic – well thought through and extensible with additional options. I hope the interface with all those VM’s isn’t going to be laggy as hell. Finally something credible and competitive to the DSTV Bloat machine – nice to see the price point but hope they will be expanding the SVOD catalogue a little more. Let DSTV continue to imitate a european Sky as they are trying – their CEO has as much vision as captain hook with two eye patches. This get my support!

  10. For VIDI and all we need to spend money for internet Data(each movie is more than in GB). because, node uses satellite. we no need to spend extra money for data.

  11. Node costs R299/month, on top of an initial fee of R3,499. Plus it appears you need an active 3G sim card for it to work, with brings with it additional costs that vary depending on if you’re going contract or prepaid.

    You can get an uncapped, 10mbps ADSL line and pay R150pm for Vidi and use it for months before you’ve even broken into Node’s initial setup cost.

    No thanks, pass.

  12. Greg Mahlknecht on

    It all depends on content. Directly comparing prices with no consideration to anything else is a fruitless exercise.

  13. Jonathan Meyer on

    I’ll agree with you on this, and that’s precisely the reason I’m sticking with Netflix over Vidi for now; purely a content availability decision.

  14. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    The BoxOffice service, where DStv Premium PVR subscribers can rent and view the latest blockbuster movies instantaneously, continues to grow with average monthly movie rentals of more than 400 000.

    Now add to that Android apps and games, a payment service, web browser, CCTV, VoiP and home automation plus many more possibilities… and;

    This business model is without a doubt filled with loads of potential.

    The experience of being able to consume VOD anywhere is really overrated as practically speaking there is only certain types of content that would be viable for consumption nomadic-ally or in-transit given the average person’s daily schedule and time availability.

    These guys obviously had the advantage of market feedback from their major clients and thought this out with considerable shrewdness to position the perfect offering to compete and with the right price tag for the target market.

    If I were VIDI and more especially DStv, I would also not be too impressed with them… but this works out great for the consumer though.

  15. Uncapped, 10mbps ADSL! Last time I checked, that was strictly a business connection type fee.

  16. Naicker Ashlyn on

    I am so proud to be part of this group. Trust me guys this is the new innovation and all was developed in South Africa. Well done to Altech.

  17. well done snatching many ideas through meeting small startups like myself and milking our ideas and booting us out of the loop soon after well done altech PROUDLY SOUTH AFRICAN METHOLOGY

  18. This is nothing but a cheap android Chinese set top box with a “nice cover” called node. I need to tear down this device.

  19. My Advice : WAIT. Don’t be an early adopter – let other people jump in, let them work out potential bugs… Then read the reviews online – after 3-6 months of success … consider a subscription.

  20. It’s too bad not many people heed good advice – The forums are usually awash with complaints and issues not even 2 weeks after something new debuts in South Africa.

  21. I think it is a good system, very ambitious. I read through the Specifications. Word of advice a open Data Contract especially with the Cell/Mobile service provider can really bankrupt a person. I ran up a R2400 data bill with Vodacom and had R50 soft lock. This happened in less than 30 minutes on the LTE bandwidth. Explanation from the network was that the soft lock does not kick in while the user is downloading. The movie was about 2.4GB that is R1 per mega byte.

    The introduction has led to DSTV to open Box office from the DSTV Compact package. That is good for competion and I guess more Revenue for DSTV. The other issue is will the Node connect seamlessly through the DSTV satellite dish: just through a LNB with more connections eg 4 Quattro LNB.

    In that case. Just to be pushy why did they not offer Free to air channels on the Device?

    That will truly make the Node a Must have.

    WARNING:Devices such as computers should be wi-fi Switched off or settings unchecked that they can update on a wi-fi network as the Home wi-fi will be depleted quickly.

    That is just my view.

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