All of a sudden, most direct-tohome satellite TV providers - Dish TV, Tata Sky, Airtel, Sun Direct and BIG - have started high definition, or HD, broadcasts. After last year's push towards digital video recorders, is this the latest gimmick by the satellite service providers to get you to spend your money?
While a recorder may not have been the best investment, we believe an HD box is actually a good investment. Were you floored by the sharpness and clarity of the image of the demo video on the LCD (short for liquid crystal display) TV in the showroom? And then ended up disappointed at home where TV broadcasts looked washedout, stretched and blurred? What made the difference was HDTV.
Your so-called "Full HD" TV set can show images with 1,080 lines of vertical resolution, but regular TV broadcasts or standard definition (SD) comes with only 480 lines of vertical resolution. In the process of stretching the image to fit your 37-, 40- or 50-inch screen, the image was pulled and became unclear. It even felt like the picture quality was superior on your old picture tube TV than on your new and expensive wall-mounted flat panel.
High definition channels fix that as they are natively broadcast on HD. Most set-top boxes with HD capabilities also 'upscale', that is, they improve SD broadcasts as well. But when you watch an HD channel, the difference is palpable.
In recent weeks, your correspondent watched Wimbledon tennis on a 40-inch Full HD LCD set hooked up to an HD Airtel DTH, as direct-to-home satellite TV is commonly called, connection. The lines on the Centre Court at Wimbledon were stunningly clear. So was the perspiration on Rafael Nadal's brow as he overpowered Tomas Berdych. The image was not stretched to fit the screen and you could even see individual blades of grass, if you looked hard enough.
An HD upgrade of your existing DTH box will cost Rs 2,000-2,500, depending on your service provider. Upgrading your box is pretty much just that: Your old box and remote are taken back and you get a new, HD-compliant box with an HD Multimedia Interface, or HDMI, cable out. Your dish antenna remains the same. A new HD DTH box and connection will cost upwards of Rs 3,000.
Subscription to HD channels could set you back an additional Rs 100 every month. Honestly, if you have spent Rs 50,000 on an LCD TV, you can't really quibble over such sums. Still, in the interest of being balanced, there are some very good reasons why you should not get an HD DTH connection. The first is that you still have a tube TV. The second, that TV anchors and actors will look less pretty.
The third and biggest reason is that there is not that much HD content as of now. ESPN Star Sports, which broadcast Wimbledon and the soccer World Cup, had nothing on its channel when the matches were not on. And, if you are a Hindi soap lover, only Colors is available in HD right now and that too only on a couple of HD DTH platforms.
It's only a matter of time before things change. Already, the grizzlies or Great Whites on National Geographic and Discovery HD make for a chill down the spine - and we remain steadfast in our recommendation: Yes, go HD.