Your boring DTH set-top-box at home is set to get a makeover, sort of. Airtel yesterday introduced a new set-top-box that runs on Android, lets you access Netflix, and even play games. Conveniently, Airtel calls the device as Internet TV and stresses on making any TV into a smart TV . Airtel s Internet TV is believed to mark the further evolution of the traditional set-top-boxes that are gradually becoming hybrid devices with more add-on features than just watching TV channels.
While Airtel s is first to run on Android, rivals like Videocon D2H and TataSky are too working on similar boxes. Moreover, Reliance Jio is expected to disrupt with its own set-top-boxes that will also have bundled content and apps. It s highly likely Jio s DTH services will be available at dirt cheap prices in order to gain quick adoption, just like it did in the telecom space. Now that Airtel s smart set-top-box is here, should consumers, including myself, be upgrading right away?
Before I elaborate, let s get one key thing out of the way. Airtel s Internet TV is not Airtel s IPTV as the name would imply. It s a DTH product with support for internet connectivity. Although it is the first device to run on Android, but not the first one to have internet support. Videocon D2H already has set-top-box called Wi-Fi SMART HD set top box” that allow you to surf internet. It even includes apps like Twitter, Facebook, Daily Motion, and Video on demand and movies.
So, what does the Airtel Internet TV bring to table? The set-top-box comes preloaded with apps like Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Games, Airtel Movies and more. It comes with 4K Chromecast inbuilt for letting you mirror your smartphone. It has a remote control app (for Android and iOS) and the physical remote control supports voice search using Google Assistant. Some of the features that will be coming soon are Video conferencing app, Cloud storage and recording, Catch-up TV, Restart TV etc. For apps memory, it comes with 8GB built-in storage and supports 128GB expandable storage via microSD.
To access all these, customers need to shell out Rs 4,999 for three month Digital TV subscription and after the limited period offer, you need to pay Rs 7,999 with one year subscription.
While it may all read quite fancy at the moment, here s what you have to understand. The bundled app subscriptions aren t free forever. You get three months of Eros Now and one month of Netflix subscription free, and then you have to pay for these apps anyway.
To have a seamless experience, Airtel recommends 4Mbps internet speed, though it says it can work on 2Mbps speed as well. So, you can experience all these apps if you a good broadband/high-speed dongle connection at home. Airtel says it will give you up to 25GB data free with the subscription. But the free data will be redundant if you don t have Airtel internet at home.
And there s the fine print too – Airtel broadband customers with rental <=999, will get additional 10GB & with rental>999 , will get additional 25GB on broadband account every month. Also, you need to have an active DTH plan to access all these apps. This essentially means if you don t recharge one month, you lose access to these apps as well.
Airtel says that after free preview period, all SD channels will be available at Rs 500 per month. HD channels can be availed through HD MyPack or customers can get all HD and SD channels at Rs 700 per month, which appears to be on par with what rival TataSky will charge for a full bouquet of channels. But there s not much of special for new users as the subscription packages are the same as any other Airtel STB for DTH.
If you are an Airtel DTH user, you can upgrade to Airtel Internet TV for Rs 3,999. But non-Airtel DTH customers will have to pay the full price. Putting these in perspective, it doesn t really make sense for existing DTH users, especially those who already have HD boxes or smart media players, to upgrade to Airtel Internet TV. For roughly Rs 5,000, they will barely get any further value proposition that a much lesser expensive Chromecast dongle could do turn dumb TVs into smart . ALSO READ: Google Chromecast Audio, new Chromecast: Hands-on and first impressions
Personally, I d prefer Chromecast dongle, which is available for around Rs 3,400. The dongle brings that portability element, and it works fluidly. In fact, I have been using Chromecast for over two years now. If I expand on my use case, I don t really watch movies on TV a lot even if I can. I have Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video subscriptions, and most of the time I d prefer watching it on my phone and laptop. And by the way, Netflix and Hotstar support Chromecast as well. Needless to say, YouTube works fine on Chromecast as well.
Though if you don t have a DTH connection, and looking to buy one, you might consider the Airtel Internet TV. So for Rs 5,000, you get a built-in Chromecast, (saving on additional spending of Rs 3,400) along with a premium set-top-box with a limited time free trial.
That said, I d recommend you to wait for Jio s much-awaited DTH service, which is likely to have similar offers and features, perhaps cost even lesser, and do a thorough comparison before making any decision. In my opinion, Airtel s Internet TV is a noble concept but isn t really compelling enough at the moment that would make everyone ditch their existing DTH service providers right away. ALSO READ: Reliance Jio IPTV set-top-box photos leaked ahead of official launch