A DTH War for the Record

Last month, Airtel launched their Personal Video Recorder (PVR) box with mobile-based recording and some other unique features. Soon, their competitor Tata Sky followed suit with both Internet and mobile recording signaling a new phase in DTH services. So if you are planning to reap the benefits, read on:


Hardware
The TataSky Digicom, with its circular layout for the record, forward, play, rewind and pause buttons, reminded me of an DVD Player. On the back, the box has standard connectors for your TV as well as Ethernet and USB ports. The Tata Sky+ box gives you 90 hours of recording, but I could not check out their new 130 hours claim. The curvy remote makes it easy to record programmes.

The Airtel digital recorder’s plain black box is brilliant to look at with its glowing red light. The buttons are on the top making the front panel plain, but it still has all manual setting. But there are no indicators on the box to show if you are actually recording. But the box has a 576p HDMI out, two USB ports for future uses and an Ethernet port. This box is not HD ready, so if Airtel comes up with HD transmissions, the box will have to be swapped for a new box. It gives 100 hours of recording on the box. The remote has a standard brick interface with old VCR-like buttons, all very functional though.

Interface
The TataSky interface used to be fast and functional, but it has become slower with the new version. Still, TataSky’s blue and red colours are far more soothing on the eye than the red and black of Airtel. However, Airtel allows you to list 20 favourite channels in five different sections and search for recorded programmes by time and genre. Since both use NDS as their software provider, it won’t be long before they catch up with each other. A channel switch is faster on the Tata Sky+ box compared to Airtel where you can feel a lag. However, the Tata Sky+ ad for ring tones or content on the screen can be annoying.

Features
Along with Internet recording, the new TataSky+ offers TVoD where popular programmes are pre-recorded for you to watch at your convenience, but without eating up your hard disk space. Currently, the feature is free.

Problems
If you have more than one Tata Sky+ box, you can’t choose which box should record the programme. If you enable the programme from your mobile phone, the primary box in your account starts recording, while through Internet all boxes will start recording. The mobile applications of both companies are very similar and let you programme the channel you want. Both the customer care centres seemed a bit clueless about Internet and mobile recording.

MPEG4 vs MPEG2
Airtel claims to have MPEG4 on their transmission and on their boxes. Tata Sky+ hardware, on the other hand, supports MPEG4, but the transmission is in MPEG2. But thankfully, an average person cannot make out the difference between the two technologies.

Both Tata Sky+ and Airtel have rushed to the market to add features, but are still very basic in their approach as far as interface, usability and features go. For now, I will choose Tata Sky+ over Airtel, just because I can record programmes from anywhere through the Internet.


The above review appeared in theĀ Indian Express, on Sunday May 09, 2010