Tomorrow's set top boxes will fuel the shift to 4K broadcasts in Ultra High Definition. Inset: Simmtronics has launched a made-in-India set top box with WiFi
Time to future-proof your set top box, is now!

Your TV may not be  'smart' , but you can be --  when buying a set top box with an eye on later, better screens.

By Anand Parthasarathy

Bangalore, July 7 2014

When HD television sets  first came in 2010,  many 'experts' said: "Nobody is going to spend  all that extra money, just for a better picture!"  They were wrong. 

 Vikram Mehra, Tata Sky's  Chief Commercial Officer,  tells me,  3 of 4 set top boxes they sell  today are HD enabled. Not all  buyers have a HD TV to match,  but they have aspirations --  and like good boy scouts, their motto is 'Be prepared'.

On Friday,   Tata Sky  unveiled plans to launch   4K or ultra high definition (UHD) set top boxes (STBs)  early in 2015 -- and to drive home the  message, they  used a 4K STB and a Sony HD TV to show  live,  the France-Germany FIFA match.  A day  earlier, Videocon d2h made a similar announcement  promising  4K services 'very soon'.

4K Ultra HD resolution gives a picture of 3840 pixels × 2160 lines (8.3 megapixels in all for an aspect ratio 16:9).   This means twice the horizontal and vertical resolution & four times as many pixels overall as compared to the  HD  format. Having seen the same  video in both formats, side by side, I can vouch for the dramatic improvement in  image clarity with  extremely fine detail and a 'touch me' realism when it comes to skin tones.

Experts who love throwing  buzzwords at us are already warning that just as  HD was  misleadingly   and interchangeably used  for the  lesser '720p'  image as well as  the  1080p of Full HD,  UHD too has its  jargon jungle: 4K p60 is your  true UHD  broadcast standard  which means  the picture comes to you at 60 frames per second  and not at  30 frames per second which might be OK for HD, but  not smooth enough for UHD.

Many of the set top boxes  are fuelled with  silicon from Broadcom, which is a world leader in  chips  for set top boxes.    Their solutions are already to be found under the hoods of many  STB brands sold in India  and in addition to creating  single-chip solutions for UHD  boxes, they are also helping multiple broadcasters transmit  FIFA  matches  in full 4K -- a  first  for a major  global sporting event.

There are over  100 million Indian homes with a cable TV connection, 20 million of them digital,  in addition to another 56 million with  satellite dishes  fuelled by digital  set top boxes. To reach this huge market, Broadcom has created  a ready-to-use design and  is  even throwing in the software free to encourage Indian makers of STBs,  says  Rajiv Kapur, Managing Director, Broadcom (India).

Turn TV into Smart TV

Made-in-India STBs will soon compete with imported models: Delhi based Simmtronics has entered the arena and promises their STBs will be 15% cheaper than the imported  models.  Their first product  comes with a WiFi router that will turn your TV into a smart TV on which you can also  browse the Internet.

And  leading cable TV operator DEN,  is working with STMicroelectronics to  provide  enhanced experience, including a HD Zapper for gaming, even on an entry level STB.

Just see the numbers: Mandatory digitization of TV in India will be completed in 2014. That means some 75 million  will be buying new  set top boxes, between now and December.

If you are one of them, may be it makes sense to  pay a little more upfront so that  you are future-proof and  UHD-ready, awaiting   the day  when you can go for a bigger better TV...  when  their asking  price and your purse can   see eye to eye!

See our 4K India launch story

See our earlier story: Why '4K'  is way to go