Did we give up on Live TV a bit too soon? As I have another tryst with the conventional linear TV as we knew it all those years while growing up and much after that as well, it is hard to shake off the feeling that maybe we jumped the gun on the cord cutting a bit too soon. Or maybe, that is exactly what the TV service providers needed to get the push towards smartness. I have been using the new Tata Sky Binge+ set top box (STB) over the past few days, and most certainly, it has been a rather interesting medley of Live linear television as well as the new age smartness those are the video streaming apps including Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, Sony Liv, Voot Select, Zee5 and more—all in one box, one interface and with one remote. Maybe you can have the best of both worlds. Just maybe, you don’t have to give up one for the other.
The Tata Sky Binge+ STB is priced at Rs 2,999. This is an Android TV based box, which means the underlying software is Google’s operating system for smart TVs and smart STBs. It is Android TV 9 at this time. Tata Sky has its own layers of content and interface on this, yet the foundations remain as you would expect them—access to Google Assistant, the Google Play Store for apps and the ability to cast content from your phone with built-in Chromecast. One of the layers is for Live TV and another one is for catch-up TV that allows you to access the content broadcast on channels over the past 7 days. Yes, the Tata Sky Binge+ box will access your home Wi-Fi for accessing the video streaming apps.
Mind you, for the box to work and also let you access video streaming apps, you will need to keep a Tata Sky subscription for Live TV channels active.
Let us talk about the most exciting aspect, that is the streaming apps first. Some preloaded on the Tata Sky Binge+ and with the ability to download more from the Play Store, you get access to the likes of Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, Voot Select, Sony Liv, Zee5, Voot Kids, Eros Now, Hungama Play, CuriosityStream, Voot Kids, YouTube, YouTube Kids and more. Pretty much every video streaming app that is available on the Play Store for Android TV, can be downloaded on the Tata Sky Binge+. Time to address the elephant in the room—Netflix is not a part of the Tata Sky Binge+ offerings at present and neither is it compatible with the box, which means you cannot download it from the Play Store. There is expectation that Netflix will be available soon, but we do not know when. Sideload, you might ask. I haven’t tried that, and neither will I advise you do that with the Tata Sky Binge+.
The additional thing to keep in mind with the Tata Sky Binge+ box is that you may optionally want to pay an additional fee of Rs 299 per month for something called the Tata Sky Binge service—this is what opens the gateway to streaming apps on the STB and also access to the past 7 days of shows on TV channels. At this time, Tata Sky Binge includes 6 months premium subscriptions for Disney+ Hotstar, Voot Select, Sony Liv, Zee5, Voot Kids, Eros Now, Hungama Play, Sun NXT, CuriosityStream, Shemaroo Me and Voot Kids and a three months subscription for Amazon Prime, which includes Amazon Prime Video. If you are to not opt for the Binge subscription pack of Rs 299 per month, you will be able to access all video streaming apps with your own subscriptions for each app. However, you won’t have access to the 7 days of older content on certain TV channels. This can all get a bit confusing for someone who wants to either buy the new Tata Sky Binge+ or upgrade from an existing Tata Sky STB to this one.
What the Tata Sky Binge+ doesn’t do is allow you to pause or record Live TV channels, the way the Tata Sky+ HD box does. That is because there is no additional hard drive in the Tata Sky Binge+ box to allow that. If you already have a Tata Sky+ HD box and are used to the convenience of pausing Live TV as you run off to answer the phone or the doorbell ring, that is something you won’t have with the Tata Sky Binge+. The other side of that coin is that Tata Sky+ HD doesn’t offer video streaming apps and is a pretty plain box instead.
The Tata Sky Binge+ box supports 4K resolution which means if you are plugging this into a 4K TV, content on streaming apps such as Amazon Prime Video will be available in 4K. When Netflix does land too, that’ll also get 4K streaming. At this time, other steaming apps including Disney+ Hotstar haven’t really developed a taste for 4K content on their platforms just yet, and they are limited to 1080p, which is Full HD. And neither are there any 4K channels on air on the Tata Sky Live TV platform.
The interface is quite slick and the overlay that Tata Sky have added to Android TV seems to just work very well. You have the Home with different tabs including Guide (which is for your Live TV listings), Binge that has all the content curations across streaming apps as well based on your subscriptions and the Apps tab that lists the video streaming apps downloaded and installed on the STB. You’ll love this if you like content recommendations as the method to discover new content—recently added, handpicked and more. At the same time, there don’t seem to be any customization options at all in terms of the layers of recommendations available on these screens—what you want to see, what you don’t want to see or priorities.
App performance is at par with pretty much any Android TV box you’d find around this price range, including the Xiaomi Mi Box 4K. The Tata Sky Binge+ has 2GB RAM and 8GB internal storage, which provides enough headroom for the apps to open seamlessly and without delay. I did not notice any stutter or any apps crashing, except Sony Liv once refusing to load—and I can safely point to that as an app specific issue.
The Tata Sky Binge+ box itself isn’t the prettiest looking. It may not really matter since it would probably be hidden away somewhere under the TV, but I would have expected something that would perhaps looks as pretty as the straight lines of the Tata Sky+ HD box. There is one wire coming into the Tata Sky Binge+ box from the dish antenna outside.
Live TV channel packages are something you need to select carefully, depending on what you watch. On the website or the Tata Sky Mobile app, you have three buckets to choose from—Tata Sky Packs, Broadcaster packs and individual channels, also known as ala-carte. These are all according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) tariff orders, which have been in place for a while now. While difficult to say how much it’ll cost you every month, because that will depend on the channels you watch, but you must mix and match carefully to get the best value out of the subscription. For once, it is a pleasure to return to the simpler days of simply pressing the channel up or channel down button to switch between different channels to view different football matches or the Formula 1 race—and not have to navigate through an app interface every time, which defeats the purpose of seamless channel surfing.
The remote is very well laid out and feels good to hold. It doesn’t look like the familiar Tata Sky STB remotes we have seen all this while, but even though it is a new design in many ways, it works well. Keys are laid out well, nicely marked out and you’ll get used to the placement soon enough as well. There is the Google Assistant key on the remote, but no shortcut keys for any video streaming apps such as YouTube or Google Play Movies.
The Last Word: Maybe This Is The Right Time To Get The Balance In Place
This was the need of the hour. A convergence between the Live TV channels that you may watch and the video streaming apps that you would have subscribed to. All those, well almost, in one interface is convenient. Even though a lot has been said about cord cutting and whatnot, Live TV is a habit that not many are able to shrug off. Particularly the slightly older age demographic. The Tata Sky Binge+ just works as the all-in-one solution for both. Mind you, Netflix is still not on board, but we shall live on hope.
As things stand, the Tata Sky Binge+ box is doing what it sets out to do in the first place. Which is allow you seamlessly surf TV channels like you used to do in the simpler times. And adds the video streaming apps as an unintrusive and easily accessible layer on that, all in one device with one remote. It really doesn’t get more convenient for homes that still prefer to have a DTH connection for Live TV channels, but also don’t want to miss out on the new-age goodness of video streaming apps including Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar.