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Tata Sky versus DishTV - whats in it for you? (pictorial in depth review of the service providers)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

/ by Srikanth Eswaran

I had been observing the DishTV service ever since my father in law installed it at his house a year back. However I did not have a chance to check on Tata-Sky service until now - that is until I myself was a victim of the satellite broadcasting hooliganism if I may use that word freely here. I am putting together my experiences on both of these services, before Airtel (Bharti) and Reliance IPTV launch their services in Bengaluru.

I kind of like writing informally, but I ll try to be as formal as possible with the comparions of course with pictures to aid you understand better.

Customer service

I made a call to DishTV and I received the required answers almost immediately. They had both IVR options as well as direct customer rep talking to me, which made me feel good. At that time I did not intend to go for their connection, but nevertheless, someone from either Bangalore or Delhi always called me regularly to see if I was still interested in opting for their service. Finally I got it installed for my father in law under the freedom offer where for a given set of channels, other than box cost, he need not have paid anything anytime. With respect to retaining customers, Dish TV is making all efforts and I would give them 8/10 for their dedication in this respect.

Coming to Tata Sky, I totally made two calls for installation. While the first call was answered in about 3-5 minutes time, the second one had me waiting for almost 15 minutes before someone on the other end decided to pick up the call. Having said that, naturally as a customer I got really annoyed and made clear my feelings to them as well. My box arrived on May 30, and an installation was scheduled for June 3. Then I get a call on June 1 and the voice on the other side tells me (not asks me) - "We are reaching your house in 30 minutes, and you have to be there for installation of the box!"I mean what the hell ? I am not at home, and you just say you are coming by? Is this how you schedule installations? - I didn't want to buy that argument and asked them to come on June 3 itself. Now this is when I casually made the second call on June 3 to find out if they are coming by. I have no answers until 15 minutes. To add to this misery a recorded voice on the other end goes on saying how I can SMS some code to them to order an ACTVE package, for my box that is not at all installed! The conversation went thus:

CustomerServiceRep(CSR): May I help you sir?

Me: Sure you can help me, how about changing that stupid SMS message details to some song or something more soothing so that I can wait in peace while you decide a right time to answer my call according to your astrological calculations.

CSR: Its a nice feedback sir, we will definitely consider it for your sake!

Me: And perhaps you can also have someone call me back if the estimated time for answering calls is going to be more than 2 minutes

CSR: Yes sir, good feedback again.

Me: Nowhere have I had a wait of more than two minutes for a rep to talk to me. Is this how you define customer service?

CSR: Sir, you are lucky, that I could get to you in fifteen minutes atleast. Earlier it used to take half an hour for such calls you see!

Me: I work with Tata and Sky, so are you trying to tell another insider like yourself the real story? Then why will people like DishTV not overtake us in competition?

CSR: Sir we dont consider Dish to be a competition at all. We are afraid only of Reliance, not even Airtel sir.

Finally the CSR hangs up thanking me for my feedback and promising installation on June 3 itself. At about installation time, 6pm, I get another call saying since its rainy and since the guy's vehicle is not ok, he cant do the installation. I shout at him and ask him to finish it the next day and the next day they promptly complete the installation. I give Tata Sky 5/10 for their customer service. In one word, its pathetic and they have a lot of catching up to do.

Installation nitty gritties

The installation personnel wear proper uniform, and come with the complete set of necessary tools required to complete installation. Both providers bring the dish antenna, along with LNB and the wires required. They also carry power drills and enough clamps to secure wiring properly. While the DishTV antenna is oval and large in size, the Tata sky antenna is smaller and more circular in shape. The LNB however is similar.

Tata Sky antenna and LNB


DishTV antenna and LNB


While the DishTV antenna is able to be clamped only on top of walls, the TataSky antenna can virtually be clamped anywhere due to flexible moving clamps. Irrespective of terrain this antenna thus can be fit in most places which is a breeze. Also the entire wiring for DishTv is NEVER clamped anywhere, and it looks very clumsy, whereas the TataSky wiring is fully clamped securely to the wall making it more neater in terms of installation.

Tata Sky wiring (first) and DishTV wiring (second)


For installation, I would give DishTV 6/10 where as Tata scores higher at 8/10.

Set Top Box and Remote Control

I also did a comparison of both set top boxes (DTV and TS - TataSky). While the DTV box is called Zenega and is from a taiwanese company called Handan BroadInfocom Co., Ltd, the TS set top box is from Thomson Electronics, a french company which is the world leader in set top boxes at the moment. The Zenega box has RF in/out, a serial port (intended for interactive communication later on?) and also aux in and tv out along with CVBS out to output to TV. The Thomson box on the other hand misses out on Aux IN and serial port and only has basic RF in/out with CVBS. These are at the rear of the box. On the front side though I liked the TS box better since it has a concealed smart card slot which makes it more durable and out of reach of people who dont know whats in it. Also the LEDs for on/off and alerts are neatly arranged along with front side switches for other operations. The Zenega box on the other hand, has no smart card (atleast as far as what I could make it out to be) and has the front side buttons on the side stacked up vertically. Personally since I dont use these buttons much, its of less relevance to me where they are placed honestly! On box design, DishTV and Tata both score in their own ways, but total about 6.5 to 7 /10 if not more!

Tata Sky box:


DishTV box:


Coming to the remote controls - this area is of extreme interest to me for a few reasons. I firmly believe that a remote must be user friendly, intuitive and most of all extremely simple and accurate to use. So I would naturally expect large keys to fit my fingers and a nice holding position for the remote itself. While the DishTV remote is too puny and rather obscure with most options too small to read for people with glasses, the Tata remote on the other hand is nice to hold, chunky, fleshy and intuitive. There are blue colored keys for important things and the others are black making it easy to use. However, Tata has chosen to name the buttons in a funny way such as having Organizer, Home, buttons as opposed to EPG or Menu buttons found on normal remotes. One thing I think a company must never do is to try and introduce new formats for something accepted and being used in the industry. One such gadget is the remote. Tata, please dont mess around with the names on the remote, they really irritate users at times. I am a set top box veteran and it pains to see such remote control labels which none can understand!

Tata Sky remote:


DishTV remote:


For design, I would give the Tata remote 8/10 and the DishTV remote only 6/10.

EPG (Electronic programme guide), menu and other screens and their usage

Having fairly large amount of expertise in this area, I found the Tata menu system a much better overall menu system to work with rather than the skimpy DishTV menu system. The EPG for instance on the Tata boxes is quite comprehensive and is in matrix format showing me multiple channels and multiple time lines. The EPG on the DishTV box however, shows me only one channel's information at a time. Also the navigation button design is really horrible with respect to looks on this system. Tata on the other hand uses a highlight system which is more pleasant to use. This clearly shows DishTV has not been investing time and money to make that user experience well worth it yet. Tata with NDS' software have ensured that nothing is left unturned to satisfy the user to the fullest level possible.

You can see some of the screens yourself and decide. While DishTV have a small PiP in place in the menu, Tata have chosen to cautiously ignore using it as we internally know that such features are prone to problems for the developers causing boxes to crash every now and then. The layout of the menu is much more organized in Tata Sky with useful information that we can always refer back to. There are help screens, with a dedicated help button on the remote and also account status screens, alerts, favourites and the list goes on and on. Look for yourself to see which is best! I would give 9/10 to Tata on their User experience and 6/10 to DishTV in this aspect.

Tata Sky screens:


DishTV screens:


Extras (Games, Quizzes, Stories and everything else under the sun)

So getting TV programs is no big deal. The set top box companies have to think that extra bit to make TV more interactive for children and adults alike. So what do they do? DishTV has an array of quiz programs and games which people can play. They are not exactly the most intuitive ones, but nevertheless you can kill some time with them. Tata on the other hand has ACTVE brand of games, story telling, news channels, religious darshans all bundled into the boquet of channels. While I personally did not like any of these much as they were pretty kiddish, I feel that they would still be of some use to children.

One has to remember that loading of these games or quizzes takes horrible amount of time, sometimes more than 2 minutes which is extremely annoying to any user even if he is a child. I personally feel set top box software development guys must stop including such time consuming applications on their boxes and stick to technology in terms of connectivity or video/audio format support etc. You cant please all at the cost of making the box slow. And thats not the only thing - non technical people like my mother and wife were easily able to hang the software on the Tata box without even pressing too many buttons. The software buckled just on entering and trying to play a game. Shame on you guys. Why did you throw caution during testing to the wind? Is it because we are Indians and would tolerate anything and everything? Wrong! Take notice before time runs out. Give us quality software at the least! If I were the testing coordinator releasing this box to customers, I would have failed the tests even before the box reached the store shelves.

Tata Sky ACTVE menu option screen (ACTVE stories)


Thankfully the DishTV software is more stable and does not crash often. I would give 6/10 to Tata for their ACTVE nonsense and about 7/10 for DishTV for their extras.

Packages, costs, boquets and brickbats

While DishTV is almost making their box cost zero (meaning offering the box to readers like you FREE of cost), Tata prefers to keep the cost at about 2,400 including installation charges of Rs.1000. Even servicing my Maruti Swift Car does not cost Rs.1000 and I wonder what is the great deal and brouhaha about charging users Rs.1000 under the guise of installation charge. Instead why not make DIY (Do it yourself) kits for users? So they may also learn and save money at the same time?

However one point to note is that the DishTV free box scheme still means you pay atleast 2,499 which is compensated by 3 months free subscription (which otherwise amounts to 300 * 3 = 900) + free movies worth 2,490. Now if I am neither a movie buff nor the movies available to view are not the latest it still means I am paying 1,599 towards the box alone which essentially means the box is not free.

For me a free box is something where I start paying monthly subscription alone with no installation charges, box charges or free movies or any other freebies. Consumers open your eyes and understand this simple fact. The profit margins are eroding for set top box companies, but still they come up with ingenious means of recovering the box costs! So remember - THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FREE LUNCH ANYWHERE IN INDIA!

Tata on the other hand has more reasonable schemes such as discounts for you if you refer friends and family members, like giving you monthly offs on the charges. Also upon bulk purchase for 12 months you get 2 more months free. The showcase movies package which promises movies worth Rs.4500 free is a raw deal just because the movies in showcase are not the ones you would love to watch always!

Tata Sky old pricing:


Tata-Sky new pricing:


Dish TV pricing for south and non south categories:


Additional boxes in one home for each extra TV and their costs

The Bane of today's technology is that one box can work only with one TV even in 2008 ! Welcome to India! This country has still a long way to go by the time affordable multi tuner based server-client architectured set top boxes make it into homes (home gateway solutions). So lets review each providers scheme of things then for additional connections.

Tata Sky's policies are simple here. Each additional box would cost Rs.1,499 with an installation charge of Rs.500 as opposed to Rs.1000, and the same package would cost Rs.125 more on each of the boxes at home. So this means the box cost remains the same irrespective of how many boxes you buy. So if I own 2-3 TVs realistically speaking, then I end up paying Rs.4,500 for the boxes alone which is a horrendous cost on me for a gadget that will depreciate in future sooner than later.

DishTV has a pricing of Rs.2,499 for each room with 3 months subscription discount. As stated earlier even if we subtract this amount of Rs.900 the remaining comes to Rs.1,599 for each extra box. Add a recommended installation fee of Rs.200 and what do you have? Rs.1,800 for each extra box. As compared to Tata, this is about Rs.200 lesser. But at what cost? You dont get the free movies for Rs.2,499 that you spend, and your subscription amount for second and subsequent connections remains as much as your first one: this means if I am paying Rs.300 for say Dish Maxi, for one connection, I end up paying Rs.900 for three connections.

Dish TV extra room equipment pricing:


Obviously its a no brainer that Tata sky is cheaper here. Dont get misled by free movies. You can always watch a paid movie at a theater such as PVR for a better experience! For this section I give Tata Sky an 8/10 and Dish TV 6/10.

Anomalies in transmission

While I have not seen much of DishTV lawsuits, arguments and counter arguments, Tata Sky seems to have gotten into some trouble with the sports channels, inviting their wrath by making customers pay for what has to have been free. After a bit of media bashing Tata seems to have calmed down and gotten back onto track to offer these sports channels once more.


Meanwhile DishTV has taken the opportunity to woo more customers when Tata was busy flouting broadcasting rules!


After all this only means broadcaster is king. No one likes to lose his money. And no one likes double crossing as well! Shame on you Tata Sky for this kind of gimmick. This was absolutely unnecessary. You can always earn this money in other ways - how about manufacturing more versions of indica until 2020 ? and testing it on the guinea pigs ?

Payment mechanisms

Both the providers offer SMS based and internet based payment mechanisms which make life easy for customers. Even more easier is the remote control based payment and subscription which is the defacto standard in the industry today. In this respect both score 9/10.

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So then friends, here ends the (hi)story of both the service providers. Now you are better informed to make good decisions! Safeguard your interests, think long term investment and look at what you need more proactively. If you like this article, share it with your friends so that they too benefit from it.

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