If you thought that buying a new direct to home (DTH) connection would be simply about getting a basic set top box (STB) and watching TV, you would probably be right. But that would be a rather simple way of looking at things. An STB is that essential yet neglected piece of hardware that sits somewhere near your TV, gathering dust and not getting much attention either. Except that it sends the necessary signal to your TV so that you can watch TV channels. But the importance of the STB becomes even more apparent when you step into the market to buy a new DTH connection. Choosing the correct STB for your TV and viewing requirements is important. Tata Sky, India’s leading DTH operator at present offers four STB options to choose from. There is one for standard definition television, two options for HD TVs including with the personal video recorder feature as well as a future ready 4K box. Just recently, Tata Sky also reduced the prices of the HD and SD set top boxes, and expanded availability to offline retailers as well to make buying a new connection easier.
Tata Sky SD
Rs 1,399 onwards
This is the entry-spec STB that works for older televisions, including the CRT TVs from the years gone by. This will only support standard definition (SD) channels. Tata Sky is bundling multiple channel packages with the purchase of this STB. There are not many tricks up the sleeve of this Tata Sky SD STB. Essentially, you will only buy this box if your TV doesn’t have an HDMI port, a standard that TVs have had by default for quite a few years now.
Tata Sky HD
Rs 1,499 onwards
If you have an LCD or LED TV purchased in the past decade, chances are it will have an HDMI port for sure. In which case, you should be buying the Tata Sky HD STB. This supports a maximum resolution of 1080i with the 16:9 aspect ratio for high definition channels. In terms of the audio output, the Tata Sky HD box supports Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound formats—which is great if you have a home theater setup of a nice soundbar hooked up to your TV. Most HD channels support either sound format, which just makes for an enhanced viewing experience.
Tata Sky+ HD
In terms of the price, the Tata Sky HD+ sits at the top of the pack. This is essentially the personal video recorder (PVR) that lets you rewind, pause and record Live TV. With advancements to the low-noise block downconverter (LNB) mounted on the dish antenna installed in your balcony or rooftop, this STB requires just one wire to run between the dish and your HD+ box—in the previous generation, two wires were required if you wished to record one channel and watch another simultaneously. However, the new HD+ box lets you record programs on three channels at the same time, or record programs on two channels and watch a third channel at the same time. There is a 500GB hard drive, and you can set the series recording too—here, the box when left powered on or in stand-by mode will automatically record a new episode of your favourite TV show.
Tata Sky 4K
Tata Sky is still selling the 4K set top box, perhaps more in hope than expectation. Even though there are no 4K channels in India at the moment, one may hope there will be a few in the near future. This was launched a few years ago for some limited time broadcasts of sports events in 4K, but broadcasters have maintained silence on 4K broadcasting since. Nevertheless, this is the STB which has HDMI 2.0 and the True Colour feature, which no other STB has. Apart from that, there are no extra features which set this apart from the other Tata Sky STBs—perhaps video streaming apps letting you stream content in 4K could have added genuine value to the proposition—at the moment, it doesn’t.
Tata Sky Binge: The Mix of TV and Streaming
What is missing from Tata Sky’s arsenal of STBs right now is a truly smart box, one that can also bundle video streaming apps such as Netflix, Amazon Video, Hotstar etc.—incidentally, Airtel has one. This is where the Tata Sky Binge accessory, also called the Fire TV Stick – Tata Sky Edition, becomes relevant. You pay Rs 249 per month for the Binge service, and that includes premium subscriptions for Amazon Video, Hotstar, Sun NXT, Hungama Play and Eros Now apps. The cost advantage is very clear either way. For instance, the Hotstar Premium is priced at Rs 299 per month (or Rs 999 per year) and the Eros Now Premium costs Rs 99 per month or Rs 950 per year. These are just two examples, and this already feels like a steal deal. Incidentally, the Amazon Prime subscription is also bundled with the Tata Sky Binge for a period of three months, and you will be charged at Rs 129 per month post that if you wish to continue. If these are the video streaming apps that you regularly access, this could actually turn out to be quite cost effective. And since you will pay for all this via just one Tata Sky subscription, for your TV and Binge services, the convenience also cannot be ignored.
At present, Netflix, Voot and Zee5, for instance, are not available on Tata Sky Binge, so that is something you’ll have to consider. However, you can very much install these apps on the Amazon Fire TV Stick – Tata Sky Edition and sign in with their existing subscriptions to continue using these apps as well.
Multi TV: Each TV gets its own identity
Then there is the whole issue of the Multi TV connection, if you have more than one TV at home. Prior to the latest TRAI tariff guidelines which became applicable earlier this year, DTH companies offered significant discounts on the subscriptions of second or third STBs linked with the same subscription, based on the channel package selected for the first STB. Now however, things have changed owing to the new guidelines.
As part of the new multi-TV policy, Tata Sky subscribers get the flexibility of selecting different set of channels for each TVs at home. This is a big change from the policy that was in place thus far, that did not allow this flexibility for different STBs in the same household. Till now, subscribers who had multiple STBs registered under the same subscriber ID had to choose their preferred channels for the primary STB, and those same channels would also be available on the second, third (and so on) STBs. Usually, these multi-TV boxes were charged with some discounts. Tata Sky’s new policy means each STB can now also have its own specially curated channel subscription, with its own individual subscription charge, and will not necessarily be linked with the channel selection or the pricing of the primary STB.