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