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What Dish brings to the table

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A sneak-peek at the future of home entertainment

FEAST FOR the entire family.
FEAST FOR the entire family.

Shanthi Venkataraman

The couch potato just died and went to television heaven. DTH or Direct-to-Home Television has arrived, a distribution platform that promises uninterrupted viewing of over a hundred channels, excellent reception quality, and hi-tech features that have gizmo freaks drooling.

Dish TV from the Zee group and the recently launched Tata-Sky from the Tata-Star combine are vying for the sophisticated viewer's attention, each proclaiming that entertainment will never be the same again.

The Anil Dhirubhai group and Sun TV are soon to go on air and, given their extensive resources, are likely to offer their own goodies. Feast your eyes on what the dish brings to the table that cable does not.

Goodbye cable, Hello DTH

The

bahu

in your favourite soap has finally mustered the courage to tell her

saasu ma

and, in that crucial scene, the power goes off at your cable operator's end and you are left staring at a blank screen.

Or, you look forward to a spectacular inaugural ceremony of the Olympics in Sydney, but all you get is grainy transmission.

All this is what makes you love to hate your cablewallah, who is indifferent to your complaints though prompt in turning up to collect his monthly dues.

With DTH, you can kiss goodbye to your troubles with the cable operator. For an initial investment of Rs 3,000-4,000, you get a compact mini-dish, a digital set-top box and a smart card for the channel package.

The mini-dish is fixed atop your house or building and receives signals direct from the satellite. These signals are de-coded by the set-top box and your TV set receives digital quality content.

DTH is the entertainment solution if you live in areas with no access to cable. The mini-dish is portable, and you can continue to enjoy the service even if you re-locate. Also DTH offers a much wider range of channels than the cable, as digital networks can accommodate more channels than those in the analogue format.

Snazzy features

DTH also offers a sweetener that is hard to resist: Interactive television. It could well turn out to be as futuristic as it sounds. The TV set does not talk back to you or start at the sound of your voice. But you get a fancy-looking remote.

Turn on the news and you can decide whether you want the top stories or interesting feature programmes.

As you watch a cricket game, you can have the batting line-up, player statistics or the match highlights thrown up for you. You can view a throw from different camera angles.

What if your favourite shows are playing on different channels even as you watch a nail-biting cricket match? You do not have to flip back and forth between channels.

Simply, the screen splits and allows you to watch multiple channels at the same time. Tata Sky's Active Newsroom, for instance, allows you to watch four news channels at once.

The movie-on-demand service allows you to choose a movie from the service provider's library and order it over the phone just five minutes before you settle down to watch it.

However, this feature is not attractive unless the movies on offer are recent launches and popular at the box office.

Channel packages

DTH is an ideal platform for niche offerings such as international channels. Dish TV, for instance, recently tied up with Disney's ABC News, now a 24-hour international news channel.

However, the scope for exclusive content from DTH service providers in India is limited, as regulations require that broadcasters provide their channels across all distribution platforms on a non-discriminatory basis.

Promotional offers, therefore, could well prompt your purchase decision. Tata Sky is offering all its channels for Rs 200 until the year-end. If other players launch by early next year, it is going to be a promo-war.

Good news for you and me. Check out promotional offers on

www.dishtvindia.in

and

www.tatasky.com

The price for choice

However, ensure that the package you opt for does not include too many channels that you would otherwise not watch. Dish TV's Welcome Package at Rs 160-180 a month, for instance, is attractive for those who mainly watch regional channels and sports.

Of course, you could miss out on English entertainment and movie channels, in which case you would be happier with the Dish Maxi at Rs 300 a month. Choosing channels on an

a la carte

basis in addition to the Welcome Package does not appear to be too attractive a proposition.

If you live in a conditional-access-system (CAS) notified area and price is your main concern, opting for no-frills cable with a set-top-box on rent might be a more cost-effective alternative, especially for those on transferable jobs.

Pay channels are to be retailed at Rs 5 per channel once CAS comes into effect on December 31.

If you are choosy about what you watch, you might prefer to pick up a few pay channels and restrict your total outgo to about Rs 150 a month.

But for those who really want to taste "the future of entertainment", as a player puts it, DTH is certainly worth checking out.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 29, 2006)
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