It’s been a month since I upgraded from my old Tata Sky Set Top Box (STB) to a new Tata Sky+ HD DVR STB. I thought I should write a review of this new STB, the extra features it provides, and whether it makes sense to upgrade.
The upgrade cost me Rs. 3,999/- for the new HD DVR STB (prices have increased since then) and I got Rs. 300/- back for my old Tata Sky STB. Under the prevailing offer, I also got two months of free subscription to all HD channels.
- Pause, rewind and forward live TV
- Record upto 625 hours of TV content (both Standard and High Definition)
- Watch High Definition (HD) TV content
- Video on Demand (VoD) and Showcase (pay-per-view) features
1. Picture quality
Tata Sky+ uses MPEG-4 encoding for better picture quality. All HD channels are broadcast in 1080i format (the highest resolution currently supported). A HDMI cable is provided with the kit thereby providing full digital input to the TV.
2. Audio quality
Tata Sky+ supports Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 Surround Sound format for crystal clear audio. To enjoy the full audio experience, you will need a Home Theatre that supports 7.1 channel sound.
3. Storage capacity
The Tata Sky+ STB has a built-in 500 GB hard disk which allows storing upto 625 hours of live TV (SD format). It is also used to store content downloaded using the newly launched Video on Demand (VoD) feature.
4. User Interface
The Tata Sky+ STB software is designed by NDS and is currently the best in the Indian DTH market. The Tata Sky+ HD STB has a new black-and-silver user interface and visual effects like fading menus with translucent skins, which is very contemporary and looks sleeker than the regular Tata Sky user interface. Do note however that the menus’ fonts are much smaller than in the regular Tata Sky STB, and will be difficult to read if your TV is smaller than 32″.
On the flip side, since this is a newly developed user interface, there are a couple of bugs and performance issues, such as:
- Can’t set reminders for two programmes if they are scheduled to start simultaneously. But if there is some time difference in the start time, there are no issues. Such a restriction is not there in the old Tata Sky user interface and is surely a bug. The strange thing is that this restriction does not apply to recording programmes, but only to reminders. So you can record two programmes even if their start times are the same, although you can’t set reminders for both!
- Sometimes the banners don’t fade out properly, reappearing after you press “Back” to clear the banner.
- Reminders for a scheduled programme appear even if you are already on the appropriate channel.
- Pressing “i” or “Record” on the remote when the channel banner is active still fades out the banner after the preset time. The banner shouldn’t fade out when the information bar or record menu is active.
- If you try to switch to a third channel while recording two programmes, a dialog box pops up to ask you to either stay on the same channel or stop recording one of the two programmes. Sometimes, the STB gets stuck on this dialog box, and the only way out is to reset the STB.
- The new STB software treats channel numbers as 4 digits, even though currently the channel numbers are still 3 digits. So to switch to a new channel, you need to press “Ok” after typing the 3 digits, unlike in the old STB where typing 3 digits takes you to the new channel directly.
- The channel guide menu need a bit more colour, as it is difficult to differentiate between the boxes containing program name, time and channel name. Also, because of the translucent menu background, it is difficult to read some menus if the channel picture is near white.
5. Inputs and outputs
The STB has two RF LNB inputs where the signal cables from the dish antenna must be connected. This is unlike the regular Tata Sky STB in which there is only one input cable from the dish.
The STB provides both analog and digital video outputs to connect to both SD and HD TVs. There are RF, RCA and Component (Y/Pb/Pr) outputs for SD TVs and a HDMI output for HD TVs. There are also S/PDIF electrical and optical digital audio outputs, in case you have audio equipment that supports it.
There is also an Ethernet and USB port on the STB. While the Ethernet port is used to connect to an Internet modem for the VoD feature, the USB port is currently unused and is reserved for future applications.
See the below image which lists the various inputs and outputs on the STB and their use.
1. Record, Rewind, Play and Pause live TV
Recording programmes on Tata Sky+ is extremely easy. Pressing the “Record” button on the remote starts recording the current programme. You can record upto two programmes simultaneously; however you need to be watching one of them and can’t switch to a third channel until one of them stops recording. HD channels are recorded in full HD format.
For serials or other episodic programmes, you can choose whether to record only the current episode or all future episodes using the Series Linking feature. This option allows recording the entire series of a programme with a single record instruction, while intelligently skipping repeat telecasts.
The other useful feature is Live Pause, which allows you to pause live TV, and rewind and fast-forward channels (upto 30x speed). This can be done via the “Play/Pause/Rewind/Forward” keys on the remote which are very easy and intuitive to use.
Apart from TV programmes, you can also record Showcase movies that you may have purchased, although these will be stored only for a day and deleted afterwards.
For convenience, Tata Sky allows you to set a programme for recording over the Internet via their website or from a mobile phone via Tata Sky’s Mobile Access App (currently supports only Android and iOS).
2. Video on Demand (VoD)
The VoD feature allows you to watch old episodes of TV shows on some select channels (called Catch Up TV). It also has a library of certain old and new movies (called Movie Library). Currently the service is totally free; however in future the Movie Library service will become a Pay Per View (PPV) feature, while the Catch Up TV service will continue to remain free.
Note that there’s a catch here. To use the VoD feature, you will need a broadband Internet connection. You need to connect an Ethernet cable from your Internet modem to the Ethernet port on the backside of the Tata Sky+ HD STB, so ensure that your modem is near your STB. You will not need to do any additional configuration on the STB or modem, as long as you have DHCP enabled on the modem.
To access VoD on the STB, you need to click on the “Showcase” button on the remote and choose “Video on Demand” from the menu. You will then be shown a selection of movies and old episodes of TV shows. You can choose which ones you want to watch, and the STB will download them for you over the Internet.
Do note that since VoD downloads content over your Internet connection, the speed will be dependent on the speed of your Internet connection. Also, you will need to keep the Internet bandwidth usage in mind, particularly if you are not on an unlimited usage plan.
The installation of Tata Sky+ is the same as Tata Sky with one exception. The Tata Sky+ STB has two RF inputs, as mentioned earlier, so there are now two cables drawn from the dish to the STB.
If the customer premises does not allow drawing an additional cable to the TV (such as in an apartment), then a splitter is installed behind the STB to duplicate the signal. The downside of this is a slight attenuation of the signal due to losses in the splitter. However, this has not caused any problems for me so far.
Tata Sky has also launched a new dish antenna which is larger than the older one, presumably to compete with Airtel Digital TV’s bigger dish. I don’t know how much better the signal will be with this new dish, but it does negate the advantage Airtel had here.
The channel packages and their costs are the same as that for the non-HD Tata Sky STB. The HD channels themselves are part of the regular packages so you don’t need to subscribe to them separately, but you do need to pay an additional HD Access Fee to view them.
The ability to pause, rewind and forward live TV is just so incredibly useful! Imagine getting a phone call while you’re watching your favorite serial, or having to go to the toilet while watching a match. Now you can just pause the picture and resume when you’re back. Or if you couldn’t hear a dialogue properly, just rewind and watch it again. This is a feature you’ll be using day in and day out.
The recorder is extremely useful as well, because we can record programmes that play during office hours and watch them in the evening. I also record late-night programmes which my wife likes, so she can watch them the next day.
Viewing HD channels is a real pleasure. There are times when I watch Discovery HD World and Nat Geo HD just to enjoy the beauty and clarity of the HD pictures. Do note that some of the channels like Star Plus HD and Star World HD do not always show show genuine HD content, but rather upscaled SD content.
All in all, this is a great product which really turns your TV into a TiVo. At a price of Rs. 3,999/- this is a fair deal, although I expect prices to drop to half in the next few months. But that’s no reason to wait, considering what you’re getting in return.