Is It time to Switch to HD?

Suddenly everyone is going HD. Sun TV was the first to take the plunge, though with limited availability and just a handful of channels, but now all satellite TV providers seem to have joined the bandwagon. Some weeks back, when asked why that hadn’t launched HD services, guys at Airtel had told me that by the time of the World Cup finals everyone would have switched over. And this is coming true with Dish TV, TataSky and Airtel all announcing the availability of their HD DTH boxes.

What is HD video?
I know this is a basic question and most of you will have your own set of answers. Well, technically High Definition video is any video system of higher resolution than standard definition. HD video is any image between 1280×720 pixels (also called 720p, or HD Ready) and 1920×1080 pixels (1080p, HD). Remember, the higher the pixels, the better the definition. So it is essential that your TV supports 1080 pixels for it to show real HD quality.

So what do the various HD services offer?

TataSky: The service offers 1080i, 16:9 aspect ratio and 5.1 Surround Sound. The box costs Rs 2,599 and has an installation fee of Rs 1,000 which is waived off for now, plus there are additional charges of Rs 30 per month to get the channels in HD. If you are an existing TataSky customer, you will get the High Definition Channels — ESPN, Star Sports, Discovery HD World, National Geographic — free for the first 12 months.

Airtel Digital TV HD: The service has 1080i and 16:9 aspect ratio. But going one up on TataSky, the Airtel box offers 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus Surround Sound, if you have a home theater capable of reproducing the signal. The box is priced at Rs 2,940, but only offers ESPN and Star Sports in High Definition. Other channels are expected to be added soon. You must also remember that though the channels are in HD, not all broadcasts are hi-definition – as of now the Wimbeldon and the FIFA World Cup are in hi-definition.

DishTruHD: Rs 2,990 plus installation charges of Rs 200 + taxes. Customers are required to buy a Platinum pack with the HD Box which will put you back by Rs 325 per month, whether you like it or not. You will also have to pay for an HD Pack of Rs 100 per month, taking your monthly bill to Rs 425 + taxes, making it the costliest service in the market. The service is 1080i with 16:9 Aspect Ratio, but there is no clarity on the sound output of the box. Though Zee has two of its own channels — Zee Cinema HD and Zee TV HD — in addition to what the others are offering, not all content on these channels are in HD.

Big TV HD: Big TV is the only one offering an HD DVR box right now at Rs 7,490. The box offers 1080i, 16:9 aspect ratio, and 200 hours of standard definition storage on its 160 GB built-in hard disk. Only National Geographic HD is available on the HD Box for now.

Sun Direct HD: The first one off the block has announced a new package where you get the box with two-month subscription for Rs 2,940. They have SunTV and Colours in HD along with what others are offering. The Box offers 1080i, 16:9 aspect pictures, and 5.1 Stereo Sound.

The scenario is confusing with all the players jumping in to cash in on the football craze with not much additional content. The market is just evolving and it would be better to wait a few weeks to see how the players mature. Also wait for the HD recorders from the other players before upgrading. Things should look up as more channels start making and beaming content in HD. Till then, hold your guns.

The above article appeared in the Indian Express, on Sunday 10th July 2010