Digital cable

Last week, our cable guy came and set up a set top box at our home.

"Try it out for free, sir", said he.
"How about dish?" I asked
"No dish. This uses our normal cable. The only difference is you have digital channels - more of them, including audio channels".

The provider at our place is Hathway. It was a Humax STB - looked similar to the other STBs (a la Tata Sky). It also had the card slot.

"So how does it work? Where do I buy the recharge coupons", I asked.

"Oh! the card always works. There is no concept of recharge. We come each month and collect the subscription", he responded.

I had been contemplating changing my cable provider and go for Tata Sky or Dish TV. I had never explored the possibility of a digital cable transmission. I was also curious about BSNL's IPTV, but was reluctant to try out, since they did not have a free trial.

On browsing the web, I realized that digital cable is not something new. In India it has been there for some time, since the advent of CAS (Conditional Access System). The STB serves as a CAS.

Though the cable guy "touted" the digital qualities of the transmission, I could perceive no tangible difference between the normal cable and the digital cable. This could be because the TV should also be suitably geared up!

Now came the question of comparing the providers and deciding on the way to go.

I had already evaluated Tata Sky and Dish TV. Tata Sky had a Rs.2,990/- STB (less 20% during Diwali), which worked out to Rs.2,400/- There was a one-time Rs.1,000/- installation charge. Monthly subcription varied based on channels. When I looked at the mix I wanted I realized I would need to take the Rs.350/- per month package.

Dish also had a Rs.3,990/- package, which included about Rs.1,500/- worth of subscription charges. Here too the package mix was such that I would need to take the highest slab (Rs.350/-) .

My case is not isolated. As a Tamilian Malayalee, I watch English, Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam channels - each in turn classified as sports, news, entertainment, kids, music and so on - so roughly about 40-50 channels. These channels are so distributed amongst various "packages" that if you get one you don't get the other - thus effectively needing to chose the highest "package".

BSNL's IPTV had a set up charge of Rs.4,500/-. Also they had limited charges. These charges are non-refundable as well. So it was ruled out.

Hathway's STB cost Rs.1,500/- (including installation). They had only one package - which was "all". This cost Rs.250/- per month (for now:).

Thus I could see the following advantages in going with Hathway's STB.

1. Least one-time cost (which meant the cost of shifting to a different provider was least)
2. Maximum channels for least subscription rate
3. It also provided normal cable channels (in case the STB malfunctioned ) as a backup!
4. There was no hazzle of recharging it periodically from a shop or online and so on.
5. The provider's office was walkable from my home and you could go and catch him in case of any problem.
6. No dish and hence no reception issue due to positioning (especially since I live in apartment)

Of course, it came with a price.

1. If power failed at the distribution centre, you would not get the signals, even if you had power. (They said they had some generators and stuff).
2. Since this was distributed through cable, in case of any local disturbances (like Kaveri water dispute), there is possibility of some (or all) channels getting blacked out.

Thus, it was that, when the cable guy came after two days, I decided to go for the digital cable option.

Updated: 26th Nov 2007.

Imagine my surprise when I got a call from a BSNL IPTV representative last Friday. According to him, if I took BSNL's IPTV, I get a 20% discount on my phone/broadband bill. Also, they had currently 70 channels. Until they got the entire 150 odd channels in place, the subscription was free!

So the catch? They had no trial/evaluation. There was a one-time set up fee of about Rs.800/- which was non-refundable.

I politely declined their offer.