New Delhi: Watching television these days comes with its share of complications. It is no longer simply about calling up the neighbourhood cable operator and getting a connection. For one, there are at least three different access technologies: cable and satellite, and its high-end version, the conditional access system (CAS); direct-to-home (DTH); and Internet protocol television (IPTV).
Companies offering each of the services make diverse claims about the benefits consumers can tap by signing on. Each claims its platform uses technology that is better than what others do. Between CAS, DTH, and now IPTV, there are enough claims going around to make your head spin. Then there are hefty initial deposits, a deterrent for subscribers who would like to switch services. So, what’s good? And what’s not so good? Campaign tries to find out.
There are three DTH platforms available today, but only two—Tata Sky and DishTV—are of any consequence. The third, a Doordarshan-offering called DD Direct+, costs less than Rs3,000, but offers only 30 free-to-air channels, including DD Punjabi, DD Kashir, and DD Bangla. So, it’s really only for people into those sort of genres. The real choice, in this department, is between the other two.
A Tata Sky set-top box with a 12-month warranty costs Rs4,000. The box itself costs Rs3,000. And additional 12-month warranties cost Rs500. A monthly charge of Rs300 enables you to receive 110 channels and a few more— Zoom, B4U and the Sun network channels—are expected to be made available by the second week of April.
The DishTV set-top box and satellite dish cost Rs3,100, but on the understanding that they’ll be leased to you for five years, unlike the Tata Sky offer. The platform’s most basic package, called Dish Welcome, provides 85 channels at a monthly fee of Rs210 plus taxes (it works out to approximately Rs250). The higher-end package, Dish Maxi, costs close to Rs300, but has 125 channels, including a few exclusive ones.
Given that the same channels are available on all platforms, products differentiate themselves through the additional services they provide. Tata Sky advertises its Active Wizkids service, which the company says makes learning fun, as well as Active Games and Active Sports, in which you can choose the language in which you would like to listen to the cricket commentary and also watch the match from different camera angles.
Dish TV provides a similar service, but both platforms are severely limited in terms of camera angles. The novelty of such a thing could wear off quickly. The other differential both companies are attempting to create is their movie libraries. So far, both have minuscule libraries but will, over time, grow to have larger, more exclusive libraries.
Still, there’s a particular segment of people who choose one platform over the other. Movie buffs tilt towards Zee for its movie channels, and sports fans take up Tata Sky because it has Neo Sports, which owns the rights to Indian cricket until 2010.
There are other differentiators between the services, albeit small ones. The programme guide is one such. DishTV claims to list the programmes of the next two days, but barely has listings for one day. Tata’s platform, on the other hand, has a comprehensive list for a week in advance.
Tata’s curved remote control—thicker around the middle and slim at the end—fits more comfortably in the palm of the hand than Dish’s rectangular block. Its volume and channel buttons require less finding by thumbs than those on DishTV’s.
Apart from this, Tata platform’s interface is more aesthetically pleasing than the unfinished look that Dish TV’s interface has. Its colours are more vibrant and it has a helpful recording of the actress and singer Raageshwari, who assists you in understanding how the system works.
However, for those who do not like waiting as the system changes from one channel to the next, Tata Sky is likely to be a bore. DishTV switches channels faster, leaving you with less of the annoying blank screen that appears when you move from one channel to another. Tata’s response, on the other hand, can be somewhat laboured, making one of television’s joys, channel surfing, a big chore.
Reliance Anil D. Ambani Group and Sun Television Network are set to launch their own platforms later this year, so you might want to wait until then, if you aren’t pressured by the roll out of CAS.
The singular advantage of subscribing to CAS is that viewers can choose exactly what they want to watch. Set-top boxes are cheaper too, ranging from Rs1,500-2,500. If 20 channels are all you want, you pay Rs5 per channel (unless they’re free-to-air), and your monthly bill is Rs100. The two main providers of the service in Mumbai are Incablenet and Hathway, just as the dominant provider in Chennai is a division of Sun Television Network, but that should make no difference to the consumer because, essentially, it’s still the cable guy he’s dealing with. Each neighbourhood is claimed by a particular cable company, so there’s no competition. The cable guy, whom a subscriber dealt with before CAS, is probably the same one after CAS, too. However, given that cable now competes with DTH companies, there have been reports of improved—and less arbitrary—services by cable guys.
Then there is the issue of two-way connectivity to consider. DTH is one-way transmission—from the uplink centre to your television. CAS, on the other hand, with the right cable support, could eventually become a two-way process, making the connection truly interactive.
The first thing you require for Internet protocol TV, currently supplied by MTNL, is an MTNL landline and broadband connection. This system has the potential to be an interactive tool for consumers. Since it uses technology suited for Web access, it is completely interactive. Consumers can have video and other content on demand. And because MTNL offers it along with broadband and voice, the system is more cost effective. It currently costs Rs299 each month, with a one-time cost of Rs999 for a set-top box. While it is still relatively new, once MTNL’s done experimenting with it, the service is likely to catch on.