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With DTH and IPTV, watching TV is never going to be the same again. We tried to shed more light on how these technologies are going to affect us.
From slums to high rises, interior villages to the swankiest locations, one consumer electronic appliance that you’ll see in Indian homes is the TV. A report from a market research firm pegs TV sales at 1.87 crore units in 2011, with a growth rate of 9 per cent per annum.
In the mid 80s, after the Asian Games had kicked off the television revolution in India, the content provider was the state channel Doordarshan. There were no fights over the remote because apart from the fact that most TVs didn’t come with a remote, there was only one channel to watch. The typical Indian family gathered to cry with soaps, watch mythological series in wonder and awe and entertain themselves with an odd movie or two each week.
The situation changed in the 90s as the skies opened and private operators were allowed to beam content into Indian homes. Other factors like TV sets getting better and cheaper and economic liberalisation enabling a whole lot of people to stop worrying about basic necessities led to the boom. Soon there were channels for just about every topic under the sun with a new bunch launched each week or two.
The usual mode of delivery of these channels was cable. The system worked in this way—channel operators scrambled their channels and uploaded them to a satellite, usually a geostationary one. This satellite beamed content to dish antennas, installed in individual homes or a cable operator’s office. They are unscrambled, converted from digital to analogue and then piped to individual homes using a network of previously laid coaxial cables. Subscribers plugged this cable to their TV.
New Kids On The Block
Though it seems simple enough in practice there were plenty of hurdles. The channels had no direct contact with the viewer and they had no idea how many people they were reaching out to. Viewers complained about lousy picture quality and suddenly absent channels. The cable operator replaced the crooked shopkeeper as the neighbourhood villain. Besides they were largely fragmented and in a particular area each operated as a monopoly. Also there were some obvious problems like cables and infrastructure that would always be an impediment to cable TV becoming ubiquitous.
Enter Direct To Home (DTH) television. This new technology cuts out the cable operator from the entire viewing chain and gets the viewers all the goodness of clear crisp television without any annoying cables and disturbances in between. The viewers install small dish antennae on their premises. These antennae get the scrambled digital feed from the satellites which is unscrambled by the set top box, converted into analogue and then displayed on the TV.
Another new technology that is catching the fancy of big corporates, content providers and viewers is something called IPTV. An acronym for Internet Protocol Television, television programmes are delivered through broadband cables that are snaking slowly across many Indian cities. There is also digital cable where the cable operator is still involved but features high-res pictures and better sound through use of superior encoding techniques like MPEG-4.
All these digital distribution platforms will see exponential growth in the coming years. According to Ernst and Young by 2010, 28 per cent of India’s 10 crore pay TV households would switch to such platforms with DTH garnering the lion’s share.
DTH is enjoying the limelight these days. Anywhere you go you are bound to see small black or white antennae that bristle from rooftops, attached precariously to walls and even hanging from support beams. Moreover, the fact that they can be seen in both lower middle class homes as well as posh localities attest to the fact that DTH is a hit in the Indian market.
TataSky and DishTV are two major players in this sector with south-based Sun Direct coming a distant third. There is also DD Direct, a Doordarshan service but it offers free channels which will be geared more towards promoting education and health. In the next few months other private players like Reliance, Bharti and Videocon will enter the sector, giving viewers more choices and driving prices down. The times are exciting for those living in DTH land.
As of May the number of TataSky subscribers is 21 lakh. The installation cost along with the hardware is Rs 2,499.00. In terms of channels TataSky uses the package system in which channels are grouped together in packages, with varying numbers and costs. For example the cheapest package is the South Starter Pack, with 68 channels priced at Rs 175 per month. Get the full details of the packages from http://www.tatasky.com/channel-packages.html.
DishTV’s pricing system is more complicated but offers a wider variety of choices too. Pricing starts at Rs 1,990 and goes up to as high as Rs 3,990. Depending on the package taken DishTV offers a free set top box too. For complete details on pricing go to http://www.dishtvindia.in/Static/pricing.asp.
Both TataSky and DishTV offer services like video on demand, gaming and special channels and are pretty much evenly balanced in this regard. For example both offer movies on demand where a viewer can check a list and then buy to see movies for as little as Rs 30 per movie. It’s another thing that the system works more like booking a gas cylinder; the collection of movies is woefully inadequate too.
While DishTV is the market leader in this segment (32 lakh subscribers), its leadership position is likely to be challenged by the newer entrants like BigTV, Reliance ADA Group’s DTH arm and Bharti’s yet to be named service. However, with more prime time content and better ways of reaching customers (VGA STB for computers and mobile STB for cars) DishTV seems to be better prepared to defend its turf.
While consumer experience with this service is much better than cable TV, viewers still have their long list of complaints. Some include poor viewing experience in case of heavy rains, absence of channels and poor customer service. Besides, a common problem is image quality on 42-inch HD screens. This is expected to be solved when Dish TV and Big TV start to offer set top boxes aimed at HDTVs.
TataSky tends to get most of the rap because of its arbitrary division of channels into packages: often viewers end up buying another extra package over and above their regular package because of only one or two specific channels. Implementing a system where a viewer can choose any number of channels they want and pay for accordingly would not be too difficult and it still doesn’t make sense why nothing has been done. We asked both TataSky and DishTV and came up with nothing concrete.
In the past couple of years there has been plenty of talk about IPTV where broadband cables are used to supply TV content. IPTV was launched commercially for the first time in India in Bangalore by BSNL in 2007. Since then this new way of delivering content has been tested in different cities across India and has achieved mixed results. IPTV is very different from Internet TV where video content from Web sites is streamed in an uncontrolled manner. IPTV broadcasts are designed to utilise the bandwidth properly so that there are no stutters or lost frames and the experience is akin to that of a normal broadcast.
For using IPTV a viewer needs a broadband connection along with a multi-port modem and a set top box. The encoded TV content comes via broadband in digital format which is transferred to the set top box. Here decoding takes place and the output is then displayed on your TV. Using a TV tuner card it is possible to watch these programmes on your computer too.
The biggest impediment to IPTV is the requirement of broadband. Without suitable bandwidth it is impossible to enjoy your favourite programs. In India broadband would not go beyond selected pockets for quite some time unless current policies change. Besides, according to Vikram Advani of IOL, for optimum viewing experience the base station needs to be within 2.5 Km of your home.
That said, in places like metros or in bigger cities where sufficient broadband is available, IPTV would be a smart choice. This is because IPTV brings together three services—telephony, Internet and television. If you have an MTNL Triband Internet connection as well as a landline connection the same cable will be used to carry your landline conversation, bring broadband Internet to your computer and also high resolution content to your television. Businesses can look at video conferencing options.
In terms of customisation and services offered IPTV beats all other mediums. You can select the number of channels you want, and pay only so much. You can record your favourite programs automatically and watch it later at a convenient time. You can also pause, rewind and fast forward “live” programs with a click on the remote. Besides if you already have cable TV you can switch between IPTV and cable, as IPTV plugs into the A/V input of the TV. Rains are not going to play spoilsport, nor do you need to unplug your telephone or broadband connection to enjoy your favourite travel show.
In India apart from established state providers like MTNL and BSNL, Reliance ADAG is planning a foray in this sector. Recently a new IPTV related service called “iControl” has been deployed by Aksh, one of the two companies who deploy these services along with IOL for the state owned companies. MTNL itself has 1.52 lakh broadband subscribers in Delhi and 1.83 lakh subscribers in Mumbai who can be potential clients. Aksh is projecting the turnover from this sector to be at Rs 3,500 crore in three years.
Getting a IPTV connection is not going to blow a hole in your pocket. A set top box for Rs 999 which is refundable and monthly charges of Rs 199 are enough to get iControl on your TV. With more than 170 channels on IOL (maximum capacity 1000) and 122 channels and counting on iControl IPTV is a very good proposition.
While cable has horror stories digital cable aims to bring a new mode of professionalism into the much maligned medium. Digital cable is being launched by companies like WWIL, You Scod 18 and Digitelly.
Digital cable is an attempt to deliver better content than what is being shown by conventional operators while keeping things simple for end users. Viewers need to simply get themselves a set top box and enjoy much better and crispier picture without running around getting a broadband connection or installing a dish antenna on their windows or terrace.
Behind the scene, however, digital cable is very different from normal cable, with new technologies being deployed. One acronym that is common in the context of digital cable is HITS. (See box)
Right now in India WWIL, of the Essel Group, has got permission to deploy HITS and is conducting field trials at different places in India. Mrinal Sapre, Head Corporate Communications, WWIL says, “Right now we are focussed on setting up our dealer network. We have plans of offering this service even in towns like Varanasi.”
When queried about how digital cable plans to hold its own in an India where cable has got a very bad name Sapre replied, “We have taken steps to bring in more professionalism in this segment. For instance all our customers will not have to call up their local agent if something goes wrong. They will need to ring up our call centre where appropriate steps will be taken to solve their problems.”
Digital cable operators like WWIL seem to be targeting the cable market and are not really worried about other mediums like DTH or IPTV. None of the digital cable television providers have released any prices but it is assumed that they would be cheaper than the price for DTH.
For a fairly detailed comparison of all the new services detailed above see the chart below.
Right now DTH seems to be the best way to go if you plan to ditch your cable connection. It has the widest possible user base among the new age contenders and the market is comparatively mature. In case you have not done so yet we would advise you to wait some more time for BigTV’s launch when there will be another round of price cuts.
In the final analysis you are the best person to decide what medium to go with. If you were in a rural area you would not be able to use IPTV or digital cable. Even most urban areas would be without these services. If it rains half the year DTH would be useless and you are better off watching cable television (or DD, if even cable is not there). And even if that does not work, you can always take heart in the fact that you are not being dumbed down by the idiot box.