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In 2010, the high definition (HD) broadcast revolution kicked off in India—Espn HD was launched to telecast the Fifa World Cup 2010. Soon, the Indian Premier League cricket tournament was also available in HD.

Fast forward to present day. We are witnessing a big development—ultra high definition (UHD) broadcasting, aka 4K. Star TV, the broadcaster of the ongoing cricket World Cup, introduced this format via the Star Sports 4K channel launched earlier this month.

The resolution of the telecasts is about 3,840x2,160 pixels, which is much more than the 1,920x1,080 pixels currently referred to as full HD resolution. To give some perspective to these numbers—UHD resolution is four times more than 1,080 pixels. While a 4K TV has over eight million pixels, 1,080p TV is limited to two million pixels. But before you subscribe to a 4K connection, know that the channel will work only on new-generation televisions that have UHD resolution panels.

There is no doubt that 4K is away ahead in terms of viewing experience, evident in a side-by-side comparison with the same content broadcast in HD. The sheer amount of detail that is captured is staggering.

Samsung’s UA40HU7000R ( 89,000) and LG’s 42UB820T ( 82,900) are the first UHD TVs in India to sell below the price of 1 lakh. But the real advantages of UHD are best enjoyed on a screen more than 46 inches, because of the bigger canvas to reproduce the minutest detail. We believe the sweet spot is the 55-inch mark—and our picks would be the Sony KD-55X9000B ( 3,14,900) and the Samsung UA55HU8500R ( 2,41,500).

This is just the beginning for UHD in India. When HD was launched, broadcasters supported it by quickly launching HD channels, and direct-to-home (DTH) operators offered HD services at competitive costs. The same scenario is repeating itself with UHD—expect more channels by the end of the year, but the big boost will come next year, once TV prices dip further because of increased competition and lower manufacturing costs.

DTH service provider Tata Sky is offering customers the 4K broadcast. To get the 4K channel, you need to buy the new UHD 4K set-top box (STB). There is no separate cost for the channel. Videocon d2h has also added Star Sports 4K to its channel line-up, and Airtel Digital TV is expected to start 4K services soon.

For existing Tata Sky users who upgrade to 4K, familiarity with the settings and the interface is immensely useful. For new users, the well-designed software means there is just a minor learning curve. The STB outputs video to the TV via an HDMI 2.0 interface, which supports the higher resolution and faster data transfer. This box also supports 7.1 channel audio output on all HD and 4K channels, something that high-end home theatre users would appreciate. One wire connects the STB with the dish antenna installed outdoors, from where it receives signals from the satellite.

The viewing experience offered by 4K is outstanding. Every blade of grass on the cricket field is clearly visible and the crowd in the background is not some off-focus blur. Colours look better, details improve the richness of the picture and fast-moving visuals don’t get ruined by blurring. While HD was a big upgrade over standard-definition content, UHD is in a higher league altogether.

Currently, you can watch live World Cup matches on Star Sports 4K without any advertisements to interrupt the game. When there is no match being telecast, users can watch programmes from Discovery Channel 4K.

One feature the UHD 4K STB doesn’t have is the ability to pause, rewind or record live TV. But there is a USB port on the STB itself, and if Tata Sky sends a software update to enable that, users will be able to plug in a USB or external hard drive and get the recorder features. Also, we expect a full-fledged recorder version of this STB, much on the lines of the Tata Sky HD+, with an internal hard drive for recording content.

The UHD 4K box is priced at 6,400 for new customers, and 5,900 for existing customers who want to upgrade their existing STB, or buy a connection for another TV.

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