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Mumbai: With 31 October as the deadline for the mandatory rollout of digital addressable systems (DAS) in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai, large cable operators have announced packages and pricing for their channels. Mint takes stock of what this means for consumers.

1. What is a set-top box (STB)?

It is a device that converts digital or encrypted signals into content that can be watched on the small screen. These signals can reach an STB through cable or satellite dish.

2. Why do you need an STB?

The government has made STBs compulsory through an amendment to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act. STBs make for a better viewing experience because of the digital signal, help identify television homes and prevent illegal channels from being beamed into India. The entire country is supposed to watch television via STBs by December 2014.

3. What happens if you don’t get an STB?

You will face a TV blackout. All analogue signals will be turned off after 31 October in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai, which means people in these cities cannot view any channel unless they install an STB.

4. How do you know if you are in the DAS area?

The shift from analogue to digital television system will be in phases. If you live in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, you fall under the first phase of DAS which has a 31 October deadline. Cities with a population of more than 1 million have to shift by 31 March, 2013. All urban areas (municipal corporations and municipalities) have to move to DAS by Sepetmber 2014 and the rest of India by 31 December, 2014.

5. How do you shift from analogue to DAS?

You have to install an STB. This can be done either through your cable operator or by subscribing to the services offered by direct-to-home (DTH) companies such as Tata Sky, Dish TV, Airtel Digital TV, Videocon D2H and Reliance Digital TV. DTH is a satellite-based service unlike cable. The advantage of DTH is all-India coverage. You can use the same DTH operator even if you move cities. Cable is a ground distribution network and you may have to change your operator if you move to a different place even within a city.

6. What is the difference between DTH and digital cable?

DTH means having to install a dish antenna along with an STB, although your apartment complex may need only one such device if everyone subscribes to the same service. Digital cable, on the other hand, uses fibre optic cable. Both DTH and digital cable can also be used for broadband, video-on-demand, and other value-added services. One disadvantage of DTH is that signals can be disrupted in bad weather.

7. How much does it cost to install an STB?

As an introductory offer, almost all larger cable operators are offering an STB at around Rs799, with a one-year warranty and manuals. No additional wiring is required for digital cable as just the STB needs to be installed.

A DTH STB will cost between 1,600 and 2,000 depending on the company you choose. The cost includes hardware (STB and dish), installation and a one-month subscription package, although this will vary depending on the number of channels and whether you’re opting for high-definition (HD).

As of now, the option of equated monthly installments (EMIs) is not available for cable but a few DTH operators offer this on HD STBs.

Cable operators offer the option of leasing the STB. However, a certain amount will be deducted from the fee paid for the STB.

8. How much will it cost to subscribe to channels?

Through a cable operator: Cable operators are offering 100 free-to-air (FTA) channels for 100. If you opt for a combination of FTA and paid channels, it will cost around 270 to 300 per month for roughly 250 channels. This is up from 180 per month for around 80 channels (mix of FTA and paid channels).

DTH gives you two options: 1: A-la-carte, under which you can choose individual channels based on price. The pricing for each channel is mentioned on the operator’s website. Under this option, your minimum bill per month cannot be less than 150.

2: A mix of channels (belonging to various genres) under different packages that cost between Rs200 and Rs325 on an average per month for around 100 channels. DTH operators offer monthly, half-yearly and annual subscription options. Long duration subscriptions come with discounts.

9. What if you have more than one TV at home?

Each TV will need a separate STB. However, most cable and DTH operators offer discounts on the second and third TV.

10. What are STB options available?

Based on viewing habits and preference, you can opt for a standard definition (SD), high definition (HD) or high-definition digital video recorder (HD-DVR) STB. HD boxes will need an HD TV. The HD and HD-DVR STBs cost 3,000 to 4,000. HD units are currently being offered only by DTH players. Subscribing to India’s dozen or so HD channels will cost about 100 per month.

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