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Is HD Direct-to-Home (DTH) for You?
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#1

It has been only a few years since people in India have been exposed to decent clarity television. Before the CAS (Conditional Access System) enforcement in some parts of the country, we didn't have much choice but to stick to what our local cablewallah provided us. Picture quality wasn't always consistent across all channels. I still remember those times when I used to crib over how the saans-bahu driven channels used to get better clarity, while the lesser-watched English TV and movie channels would have noisy reception.



Now with DTH (Direct-to-Home) Satellite TV technology, all those problems have been solved. Even on a CRT, TV reception looked appreciably better. Their claims of DVD quality video did seem to hold true. Another great boon with digital cable is the Electronic Programming Guide (EPG). Having that small box overlay that tells you what's playing and what will play later is just beautiful. They have rendered those TV listings they print in the newspaper everyday so useless. It also rang the death knell for the TV Tuner laden Media Center PCs.



But as with any new technology, it all comes at a price. DTH was (and still is) more expensive compared to older cable or CAS-enabled non-satellite connections. Don't believe me? They did mask the audience fairly well with low-priced value packs; the public only later realized the concept of optional Add-on packs. So if that sports channel that you wanted to tune into isn't in your basic pack, you'll have to subscribe to a bouquet of channels for extra money per month.

Then these damn LCDs started becoming so popular. I'm not saying they shouldn't have; they're slim and give great picture quality with up to 1080p HD resolution. And that was where part of the problem began. The DTH set-top box that you owned would still transmit Standard Definition (SD) transmission. Also, the reception was adjusted to the 4:3 aspect ratio (in simple terms, a squarish picture), the one used by almost all CRT TVs you see. LCDs have a wider 16:9 aspect ratio (i.e. they're more rectangular). So what was the outcome?



The awesome quality of that LCD TV you drooled over at the electronics store doesn't look so awesome at home. Of course it wouldn't; at electronic stores they're always playing HD content on them. But over your typical DTH connection, your swanky LCD shows just decent image quality that stretches across the panel making people look a little fatter than they are. So, how do you watch TV now?

You have two choices -- keep watching the stretched version till your eyes get used to it or switch the aspect ratio from 16:9 to 'Original' or '4:3' in your picture settings. Both have its pro/cons. The stretched version will look a little crappy (crappier if you have a bigger size), but at least covers the entire screen. The original aspect ratio normalizes the picture, but you'll lose precious viewable inches, which will be replaced by black horizontal borders.

While we were breaking heads to choose from those two mediocre choices, the DTH providers were busy creating a third choice -- HD ready set-top boxes. That's right, these are new generation of receivers having an HDMI port, which you can use to connect to your LCD TV. The three most obvious benefits of you getting an HD set-top box are:

1) Clearer, crisper picture - Operators claim to deliver content up to 1080i in resolution. That's five times as much resolution as a Standard Def reception.

2) 16:9 aspect ratio - No more stretched content on the LCD! Since HD content is formatted in a wider angle, it will fit proportionately to your LCD TV. But mind you, this is applicable to HD channels only. Non HD channels from your HD-enabled box will continue to be streamed in a 4:3 ratio.

3) Multi-channel surround sound - If you have a proper home-theatre system, then the 5.1 channel output would benefit you. But for others, this feature isn't of any use.

There are five providers who've come up with these services as of today. They have just a few HD channels to offer right now, but almost everybody is promising more HD channels soon. However, most of their pricing seems to be the same. Note that these are subject to change whenever they add more HD channels.

I have an LCD TV, and don't have DTH. Should I get an HD set-top box?

Poor you, the local cable is doing grave injustice to that beautiful screen you own. The cost of an HD ready set-top box is roughly just a 1000 bucks more than a non-HD one. But you have to watch out for the recurring costs. Some operators charge as high as Rs. 25 per HD channel. So, you add like 4 channels and your monthly cable bill will be up by 100 rupees, along with whatever base pack you subscribe to.

A couple of hundred bucks don't matter to me, I'm getting HD man! Now, I already have an existing set-top box with my LCD. Should I upgrade to an HD one?


By all means. Other than Sun Direct, everybody else seems to be giving some kind of incentive to upgrade to HD boxes. So if you don't mind spending the extra, it will make sense to upgrade.


I don't have an LCD TV as of now. But I'm thinking of getting a DTH connection. Do I directly leapfrog to an HD-ready box?


That depends upon the operator; better read the fine print before buying. For example, Dish TV states that subscription to their 'Platinum' pack and 'HD' pack is compulsory with the HD box. So it wouldn't make sense to pay for something that you cannot enjoy on your CRT.


It's so sad that most don't have a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) function in their HD boxes. I was keen on using this, what do I do?


As of now, Reliance Big TV HD is the only one that has a DVR + HD compatible combo. But Tata Sky's website claims that they will release a HD-ready version of their DVR in the future. Airtel too has a non-HD DVR for now, but they might just want to do the same as Tata sky. In that case, it is better to just wait for them to launch these devices. Either go with the operator that's providing it right now, or wait for your favored one to release theirs. In all probability only the players mentioned above will do anything about it in the near future.


Bottom line


HD is here, and is here to stay. The only thing lacking at this point of time is the availability of HD channels. Also, some would say the pricing of the already expensive DTH is hindering it from becoming popular. But that's what you pay for being an early adopter.

Consider the case of Tata Sky Plus for example. When we tested it at its launch, it was charged at a somewhat extravagant Rs. 10,000, simply because it was a unique product. Now it sells for almost half that price. So, if you are feeling the pinch with this HD thing, it'd be a better option to wait till it gets mass acceptance, and prices hopefully go down.


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#2
Good Info.. In Coming Months Some Parameter Will Change...
[Image: izvqcn.jpg]

wIcKeD mEnTaLiTy
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#3
The last 2 section will surely change but i think not much in other parameters as HD will not be in middle class and lower middle class houses.
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#4
Yep... The Channels And Comparison Will Change... and First Section Will Change When TV With 16x9 Aspect Ratio Only Will Be Available...
[Image: izvqcn.jpg]

wIcKeD mEnTaLiTy
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#5
Thanks for both for sharing a good news for all
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