HD DTH TV and DVR shootout: Digit rates the top six players in India

May 9, 2011, 3:02 IST

Nimish Sawant

With so many High Definition Direct-To-Home players in the market offering a variety of packages, how do you choose ‘The One’? Digit tested the HD DTH services of the six major Indian service providers, Airtel digital TV (HD), Sun Direct HD, Dish TV TruHD, Tata Sky+ HD, and Videocon d2h, to tell you which is best suited for your needs.

Back in 1983, when India lifted the cricket World Cup, a lot of us were not even born. The only recall, that most of us have of that event, is the grainy footage of Kapil Dev lifting the cup. Cut to 2011, when most of us could see the perspiration on the faces of Sri Lankan players as MS Dhoni hit maximum to bring the World Cup back to India after 28 years. From grainy footage to high definition glory, TV broadcasting in India has come a long way indeed, thanks in part to Direct-To-Home services.

Direct-to-Home (DTH, hereon) technology has transformed the way we view cable TV in India. Not only has this technology made the local cable operator monopoly a thing of the past, but it has also succeeded in bringing cable and satellite television to remote corners of the country. According to a study by Media Partners Asia, India is poised to become the largest DTH market in the world in terms of subscribers by 2012. The projections predict 45 million subscribers by 2014. These are massive numbers for an industry that has not even completed a decade since its inception.

Just like the introduction of cable TV back in the 90s took no time to become mainstream, so has the DTH service gone from being plain vanilla to offering 3D HD goodness. The set-top box is no more just a signal receiver, but it can also come with a digital video recording functionality which allows you to record your favourite shows, pause live TV, among other things. Last year saw the introduction of High Definition set-top boxes, capable of showing HD channels. Back then there were just two proper HD channels. Thanks to the competition between the six major DTH players where the market share gap between the top three is quite narrow – Dish TV: 26 percent; Tata Sky: 22 percent and Airtel Digital TV: 20 percent (Source: Media Partners Asia) – HD is now being offered by majority of the players. Mainstream channels are slowly going HD as well.

Buying a DTH service today can be a nightmarish experience, thanks to the insane variety of packages on offer. You need to choose wisely, based on your needs and budget. But at the same time, you should not be swayed by tall claims. This is where we come in, to guide you to make the best choice. We will also debunk some tall claims, along the way.

We got set-top boxes from five HD-DTH service providers such as Tata Sky, Airtel, Videocon, Reliance and Sun Direct. Dish TV did not want to participate, but being India’s oldest DTH provider, we felt the need to include it, and decided to buy it ourselves. So let’s see which service offers the best bang for your buck.


Individual Reviews (click to navigate)

HD-DTH Digital Video Recorders

HD- DTH Players

Tata Sky+ HD

Airtel Digital TV (HD)

Videocon d2h 3D HD DVR

Dish TV TruHD

Reliance Digital TV

Sun Direct HD


Overall Verdict

Tata Sky+ HD was judged as the Best Performer for a host of parameters including its extremely responsive user interface. Quality of reception was flawless and it was the only service that offered six proper HD channels along with seasonal HD channel like Set Max. Tata Sky+ HD scored the maximum in terms of features offered. Except for preview while surfing, it has all other features. Videocon is the only one offering 3D support, but unless there is 3D content like movies or TV shows being broadcast, that feature is quite useless.

Airtel Digital (HD) TV was judged as the Best Buy thanks to its economical pricing for the content offered. It scored the most in the Ease of Use section, thanks to its user-friendly interface and ease of operations, but the user interface could have looked better. Tata Sky+ HD and Sun Direct HD have beautiful and simple interfaces. Absence of universal remote functionality affected Tata Sky+ HD’s tally. Videocon d2h came in second thanks to the well defined interface.

Videocon d2h 3D HD DVR was awarded the Editor’s Pick for its consistent performance across all the four parameters against which it was tested. It stood second in terms of Performance. It also scored the second highest overall. Moreover, the 3D function makes your service future proof if you have a 3D TV. It lost out on the total cost of ownership factor as it does not offer any discount on the HD-DVR box like the other competitors. But we are hoping that with cut-throat competition, Videocon will have to cut costs somewhere.

As far as the best digital video recorder goes, Tata Sky+ HD was awarded the Best Buy thanks to the variety of recorder settings offered. The 500 GB hard disk which comes bundled with it, allows you to record more hours of SD and HD programs than the Videocon d2h and Reliance Digital HD DVR, for the same price point. 


Genre-wise Service Provider Recommendations
English News Tata Sky+HD
English Entertainment Tata Sky+ HD or Reliance HD DVR
Infotainment Airtel Digital TV (HD)
Music Reliance HD DVR
English Movies Tata Sky+ HD
Hindi GEC Tata Sky+ HD or Videocon d2h or Dish TV TruHD
Sports Fanatic Tata Sky+HD 


Click next to read about how we tested the products, the availabliity of 3D and HD DTH content in India, and our complete list of head-to-head test results...


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