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DTH firms look at high definition TV to fuel growth
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With the five-player direct-to-home (DTH) television sector under pressure due to a decline in new subscribers in the first four months of this year, launching differentiated High Definition (HD) services may be the next big thing.

Sun Direct, the southern DTH major, has already launched its HD services for regional consumers.

HD services on a DTH platform are supposed to provide a superior TV viewing experience. The picture and sound quality is supposed to be up to five times better than those of normal (standard definition) TV channels.

Sun Direct is offering its services in a select genre of television channels, including movies, sports and lifestyle channels. Analysts say this may encourage other broadcasters and DTH operators, including Prasar Bharati, which has to produce and broadcast the 2010 Commonwealth Games in HD format. Others like National Geographic, ESPN STAR Sports and HBO have already got HD channels in western countries and may bring these to India once DTH operators make a provision for them.

There are over 13 million DTH subscribers in the country among the five private players — Dish TV, Tata Sky, Sun Direct, Big TV and Digital TV. The growth in the number of subscribers declined by up to 35 per cent in the last quarter of the 2009 fiscal due to the overall economic slowdown.

For consumers, Sun Direct’s HD services will come costly, as the hardware (set-top box) alone will cost around Rs 10,000, almost five times the normal DTH equipment, while each HD channel will cost around Rs 100 per month. Sun Direct initially plans to offer five to six HD channels. For the operators, each HD channel will require twice the bandwidth in comparison with a standard definition channel (what we get at homes via cable or DTH).

A normal DTH connection is available for Rs 1,500-1,800, along with monthly channel-packages starting at Rs 90, substantially lower than what DTH service providers are offering in HD format.

HD services on DTH platforms are common among DTH players in the US and Europe and are also offered as premium services.

TonyD’Silva, COO, Sun Direct, said: “It is a niche service now, but it will be the future of DTH. Currently, we are offering HD services for movie channels in Tamil and Telugu. Soon, we will add an HD channel in Hindi, apart from a number of other channels as and when they are available.”

“To telecast a channel in HD format, the content itself has to be shot using HD cameras. The entire infrastructure has to be HD, including production and transmission. It costs at least triple the standard definition format television channel,” said a technical expert on DTH services.

“It’s a niche area. The DTH market is not mature enough for such specialised services. But technically, we have the capability of offering these services,” says a source in Dish TV.

A Tata Sky executive said the company was not looking at providing HD services.

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