DTH services are slowly phasing out standard cable TV, that has reigned supreme for the past decade or so. A lot of the major brands in India such as Reliance, Tata, Airtel have launched their DTH services that come with a slew of instruments over standard cable TV. Slowly but surely, these DTH services are expanding throughout the length and the breadth of the country. A while back we saw the Airtel DTH HD and the Reliance BIG TV, that offered direct to home services such as HD content along with the ability to record content onto the internal drive. We recently got the Airtel DTH HD Recorder in our labs and it came packed with a lot of features including ability to playback 1080i content, 7.1 Dolby surround sound and MPEG4 playback capabilities. Read on to find out how it fared.

The directional buttons

The directional buttons

Design and Build Quality

Owing to the inbuilt 320GB HDD, the HD Recorder has a slightly bigger footprint than its cousin we reviewed earlier, the Airtel DTH HD. It comes in an all black design with a silver lining at the bottom, just above the control buttons. It’s got plastic overalls but none that are creaky and considering it’s just going to sit their minding its own business, there’s not much to complain about. The face of the STB features the Airtel branding along with the directional keypad and the playback controls. The top has a metallic finish and the vents on the top as well as the sides allow for heat dissipation. 

The ports at the back

The ports at the back

As far as connectivity options are concerned, the STB comes with a USB port, HDMI, Ethernet, S/PDIF, component video out, audio and video out along with the antenna in and out ports. The bundled remote has added recording buttons along with the common options for menu, iTV, favourites etc. Overall, the design is pretty conventional and will easily complement the look of your TV.

Slim and responsive

Slim and responsive

Interface

Airtel has vastly improved upon the interface of their STB, which is definitely a welcome addition. The interface is neatly segregated into different categories which makes you manouever and sift through the various channels with ease. Adding favourites, changing settings and setting up the recorder is a fairly easy job as well. Infact, all the user needs to do is click on the record option on his remote to start the recording. The on screen interface allows scheduling and deleting of recordings. The interface is predominantly black and all the options are in tabs. The universal remote helps in eliminating the usage of two remotes to operate the TV and the STB, which is another plus. The interface also allows you to preview channels by simply scrolling through the various channels in the menu settings, so you can quickly see what’s on air.

Neat interface

Recording options well covered

As far as the cons are concerned, the dreaded advertisements do creep in but with time we managed to overlook them and go about our manouevering without much hassle. 

A screenshot

Neat interface

The big Airtel watermark still exists though and sadly there’s no option to disable it. Though the remote is quite responsive, it does face the slight lag that most infrared transmitters and receivers have. Overall, the interface is smooth, neat and easy on the eye; functionality wise, you won’t get lost either as each tab and feature is well labelled.

Features and Packages

The HD Recorder starts at a price tag of Rs. 5,940 per month with one month subscription of any of the Value Sports HD, Economy Sports HD or Mega HD channels. It also includes 14 free HD channels for the first month. The HD channels currently include – Star Plus HD, Star Gold HD, Star World HD, Star Movies HD, Zee TV HD, Zee Cinema HD, Colors HD, Movies Now HD, NGC HD, Discovery World HD, History TV18 HD, Ten HD, Star Cricket HD, ESPN HD. Their current packages are summarized in the table below. 

Packages

Packages

The packs are categorized into Chota Packs, A la Carte Packs, Advance Rental Packages and Monthly packages. Chota packages are an accumulation of similar channels, like English Plus Channels, HD Plus Channels and so on. A la carte packs are effective when you want just one channel out of a pack and do not want to purchase the whole pack. For example, if you want to watch the IPL matches in HD and not the other ones, you can simply download the Set Max HD channel and not the entire pack. Half yearly and annual long duration packs are available as well. Complete details on the current offers can be viewed on Airtel’s official site

A slim profile

A slim profile

A slew of features have been included in Airtel’s iTV tab. A couple of games have been ported as well, but they’re pretty useless to play on a remote and work no better than terribly coded 8 bit games and are absolutely avoidable. Airtel’s iEnglish feature gives users a chance to better their English language skills within the comfort of their homes. These English language tutorials are in an audio-visual format, complete with animated characters and quizzes for easy comprehension. Reasonably priced at Rs.30/month (inclusive of  taxes) subscribers can avail the benefits of this offering by pressing the iTV button on their remote control. The STB comes quite packed with features with something in store for everybody. 

Performance

We connected the Airtel DTH HD Recorder to a 55 inch full HDTV to gauge its performance. The HD channels are a big big improvement if you’re used to watching SD content on your HDTV and 1080i more than satisfies your needs. The recording facility was definitely an added benefit and the fact that it allowed users to view other content while recording videos was another plus for the recorder. With the HD Recorder it only makes sense to subscribe to the HD channels to fully utilize the capability of the STB. Video quality was sublime and overall we were quite impressed with what Airtel’s DTH HD Recorder had on offer.

For your HD needs

For your HD needs

Verdict

For a new connection, you’ll have to shell out Rs. 5940/- for your first month, following which your payment should start from 300 depending upon the channels you subscribe to. Tata Sky+ HD has a similar cost of Rs. 5,940 for first installation with 1month HD pack and supreme sports kids free. Videocon HD DVR slots in at Rs. 5,990 while Reliance HD + DVR currently costs Rs. 4,890 sans additional channels, bringing the overall price in the same range as its competitors. Individual channels and packs also have extremely competitive rates so it’s hard to tell one from another. As a standalone product however, if you’re in the market for an HD recorder, Airtel’s DTH HD Recorder is a worthy option.

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