Tata Sky has been offering 3 different kinds of set-top boxes since a while, which include Tata Sky+ (with recording but no HD), Tata Sky HD (with HD but no recording) and a bare bones (no recording, no HD) option as well. The reason I chose not to upgrade from my bare-bones box was because I was expecting a hybrid box (with both recording and HD) to launch pretty soon. Tata Sky Plus HD is finally here and I was among the first few customers to order it
I have been using Tata Sky+ HD since a few days now and here are some of my observations, which will hopefully help you decide if you want to upgrade or not:
1. Pause Live TV- You can pause live TV and then resume from where you left. Very handy when your door bell rings or when you want to take a quick loo break. You can pause for up to 45 minutes. Once you return, you can resume from where you left or completely skip that section and return to live transmission.
2. HD content- You absolutely need to have a full HD TV to enjoy the complete experience. The Tata Sky Plus HD box will need to connect to your TV with an HDMI cable to enable HD viewing. The box can output both in 16:9 and 4:3, so the image doesn’t stretch on your widescreen TV. The HD transmission is in 1080i and spotless. It is definitely *the* best quality of TV transmission I have ever seen. Infact, it’s so good that your eyes will sometimes fail to perceive that you are watching a TV and feel as if you’re really inside what you are watching. For now, Discovery and National Geographic are the only two channels to be broadcasted in HD. The HD channel schedule is not the same as the regular schedule though. Tata Sky claims to have Star Plus in HD as well, but it doesn’t seem like that. The Cricket World Cup 2011 is also being transmitted in HD, without any ad breaks! A few showcase movies also have an HD option.
3. Recording- You can supposedly record upto 625 hours of SD (standard definition) content on the built-in 500 GB hard disk. If you are recording HD content, the recording time will be slightly lower. But you cannot copy the programs off the disk and into your computer etc. You can schedule specific programs for recording or all episodes in the series. However, the box can record only 2 shows in parallel. Moreover, if you are recording 2 shows simultaneously and watching TV at the same time, you must be tuned into either of those two channels which are being recorded. Showcase movies can be recorded too, but they cannot be played back after the 24 hour window in which you purchased it, making the feature effectively useless.
There’s also an iPhone app from Tata Sky which can show entire TV schedules on your phone and schedule specific ones, even if you’re not at home. Personally, I’m using this recording feature very heavily and recording all my favorite TV shows all round the clock. When I return home in the evening, I play them at my convenience. You’ll find yourself watching watching TV much more than you earlier used to.
4. The box, remote and installation- The box is significantly bigger than the simple bare-bones model and looks much better too. The remote control hasn’t changed much except for a few extra buttons to control recording and playback. The box has a USB and Ethernet port meant for “future use”. The box’s firmware is installed when you first switch on the device and auto-upgrades whenever Tata Sky publishes any new updates for it. When I first bought the box, the firmware was slightly buggy (the box used to hang while changing volume or deleting an existing recording), but that’s no longer the case.
5. VOD- A few movies are available as “video on demand”, which can be played any time you want and totally free of cost. Do not expect new movies in this section though. At the time of writing, “Bheja Fry”, “Apne”, “Bhoot”, “Jodha Akhbar” etc. were available for playback, all of which are roughly 1-2 years old.
6. Upgrade- The Tata Sky+ HD set top box costs Rs. 3999. If you already have a Tata Sky set top box, Tata Sky will not take the old one back in exchange of any discount. What’s worse is that you cannot pass it on to any other customer since the box is in a way “locked” to your account. You can either choose to use it in a multi-room setup with another TV (this will require a small change in your dish and complete change of wiring, both of which are done free of cost), or get it deactivated for the time being. If you don’t, Rs. 5 per day or so will be deducted from your account so ensure that this is done.
7. Cost- I am personally using the Annual Mega Pack (minus the South Indian channels) for Rs. 5500 per year, which includes ALL channels including HD and 12 Showcase movies. I think this is definitely the best option. I also removed the CAS connection from my other TV and setup the old Tata Sky box on that one, which costs about Rs. 150 per month and shows all channels, since I have the annual mega pack on the other TV. So 2 TV’s with all current and future channels + 12 movies effectively turn out to be Rs. 5500 + 150×12 = 7300 per year. That’s about Rs. 306 per TV per month. Not bad at all. If you don’t have the annual mega pack, I think the HD package has to be taken separately.
My overall recommendation- Tata Sky Plus HD is definitely a super-hit product from Tata Sky at a reasonable price. Buy it.