All About HD DTH - The Contenders

So we’ve taken you through the various aspects of today’s HD DTH market in the country. Now meet the top contenders in the industry.

TATA Sky HD
One of the first DTH service providers, Tata Sky has been known for its DTH service for a few years now. Presently, the company broadcasts only two infotainment channels and one pay-perview channel in HD, but promises many more in the near future. The set-top box is compact and looks elegant compared to its bulky, non-HD sibling. Its little IR remote control is highly responsive, rugged and ergonomically designed with a very firm grip. It features average-sized buttons and a good layout, which makes all the functions very easy to locate and access without too much trouble. The HD STB performs at par with others in terms of video quality.

The user interface is very simple and easy to navigate, and the color scheme is soothing and very readable. Finding your favorite program through the guide and setting up favorites and schedules is also very simple. The UI is translucent and covers just a quarter of the screen area. The company logo is translucent enough too and almost blends in to with background video. Even though Tata Sky supplies upgraded firmware on the HD STBs, the company has not yet managed to increase the number of favorite channels, which still stands at a low 20. Another downside is that unlike the competition, the remote is not universal.

It takes an average of two seconds to change between channels. The overall sensitivity of the remote and the navigation speed of the interface have helped Tata Sky’s STB earn the highest score when compared to the competition. New customers can enjoy a low price with two months' free subscription to the HD channels. Existing subscribers can upgrade, but do not get any buy-back for their old hardware.
Verdict - The performance and usability are outstanding.
For - Great ergonomics, simple and speedy user interface, easy to operate.
Against - Only 20 favorite channels, no universal remote.

Dish TruHD

The term TruHD seems a little misleading even though it delivers video broadcast resolutions similar to other HD DTH providers. The only added advantage Dish TV has over the others is the additional HD channels it offers: Zee TV HD and Zee Cinema HD. The set-top box has a diamond-finish glossy front panel, which scores a tad low on aesthetics. The hardware is similar to what is provided by other services, but this one has its share of pros and cons. On the plus side, the rear panel sports an optical S/PDIF port, which can deliver higher quality audio with minimal distortion. But the front control panel sports only power and channel up/down buttons, due to which using or setting-up the STB without the remote control is next to impossible.

The remote control is pretty large and not very well designed; the number keys are on the top, making it a little awkward when changing channels directly using the channel numbers. However, the remote control sensitivity is good and it features a few functions that other STB remote controls don’t: the sleep timer, language and account hotkeys are very convenient. Similar to that of Tata Sky, the user interface is simple and easy to navigate through. The favorite channels are easy to set up and you can set as many as you like. The information bar has a blue background with white text, making it easily legible.

The startup time of the STB is quite long, taking almost 68 seconds to power up. And the ergonomically deficient remote and control panel make things a bit sluggish. Evaluating the overall features, performance and ergonomics, his one comes in second place in the Value rankings.
Verdict - Dish TruHD is also a good choice as the company currently offers the largest number of HD channels.
For - Optical audio out, more HD channels, sleep timer.
Against - Poorly designed remote control, prone to scratches, deficient control panel on the STB.
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Reliance BIG TV HD DVR
Reliance is the first and only service provider to offer a combined HD and DVR product with the ability to record and pause live HD broadcasts. The STB is all-black and has a matte finish, which is resistant to scratches and dust. The box is bulky, thanks to the internal 160 GB hard drive, which can hold up to 200 hours of recorded video or 30 minutes of paused live TV. Sadly, the drive can't be upgraded and videos can't be transferred to another device.

The IR remote control is fully functional and universal, but is very large. Though the layout is good, the remote can be quite confusing for first-time users. It can be programmed to operate the STB, a television or a DVD player with just the press of a button. Though the STB features five categories of favorites (each can be given a custom name) with unlimited channels in each, the remote doesn't have the ‘Favorites’ button! The user interface is informative and easy to follow, but very sluggish and it takes a lot of time to search for features and channels. With the interface being so slow, if you accidentally press an interactive service button, getting back to your TV show can take 30 seconds or more. We also found that the opaque information bar takes up almost half the screen and completely obstructs the video. Only National Geographic HD, is currently offered, but more are promised soon.

The unit takes nearly a minute to power up when off and 16 seconds to resume from standby. Finally, the hard drive is always spinning, which wastes power and heats up quite a bit.
Verdict - If you are specifically looking for recording and pausing live HD TV, this is the only choice right now. For everything else, other providers offer better services.
For - HD recording, universal remote, unlimited favorites, affordable pricing.
Against - Very sluggish interface, intrusive menu, information bar and company logo.

Airtel Digital TV (HD)
Apart from the bezel, the Airtel set-top box is identical to the Tata Sky STB. A closer look reveals that the OEM manufacturer for both companies is the same, with just the user interface software being different. The Airtel STB is elegant and features a semi-programmable remote control; you can only control your television set using its five programmable buttons. The remote is sleek and comfortable, but not scratch-resistant. The buttons are large enough, but a few important ones such as Mute, Info and Guide, are uncomfortably out of reach.

The user interface is slightly sluggish, but the remote control’s sensitivity is good. The user interface is neatly designed, with certain functions popping up in the corner rather than taking you to a different new screen. Airtel offers a very good application called Widgets, which runs on screen with constant live updates such as world time, market tickers, news feeds and sports highlights without disturbing the live TV. When you switch off the STB and power it back on, it goes to the channel you were last watching. Airtel is the only service to offer this feature. There are a few irritations though. While watching TV, a program information bar automatically pops up at the beginning of every new program and after three quarters of the program.

There are four favorite categories with a maximum of 15 channels each, giving you a total of 60 programmable favorites. Only an HDMI cable comes bundled, unlike other providers who also bundle composite and component video cables. If your TV does not feature an HDMI port, you would need to purchase the cables separately. Airtel also offers the best buyback offer for existing customers.
Verdict - A few niggles aside, our overall experience with Airtel HD DTH was pleasant.
For - Good user interface, semi-programmable remote control.
Against - Irritating info bar pop-ups, composite/component cables not bundled, few PPV channels.

The Bottom Line
Here’s the spec sheet of the four big competitors in the HD DTH market at the moment. You can see for yourself we have a winner all the little details that make up each box and its service provisions. We’ve picked the winner based on the overall performance after testing all four and of course on the content and features that the service comes with as a whole. We’d recommend using this service if you’re thinking of going HD.

We’d also like to invite all you readers to share your experiences with your services. It’ll help gain a better understanding of the current market, what’s out there and who’s doing better than the others from your opinions.


Published Date: Sep 30, 2010 01:38 pm | Updated Date: Sep 30, 2010 01:38 pm