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CAS vs DTH: Which is better?
Shuchi Bansal | December 29, 2006
She had a choice between buying a satellite-based direct-to-home (DTH) connection or getting a digital set top box from her cable TV supplier of 10 years.
She decided in favour of a cable box for two reasons. One, the cablewallah is known to her. Two, it seemed to be the cheaper option.
If Jain had not acquired a set-top box, television viewing in her household, like lakhs of other houses in south Delhi, would have been chaotic after December 31. For, cable operators in some areas of Delhi cannot show pay channels without a set top box from January 1, 2007.
In other words, CAS or conditional access system must be implemented by that date in parts of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai that were notified by the government a couple of years ago.
Needless to say, consumer in CAS notified areas in the four metros are in a frenzy as without the set top box, they will have access neither to some of the better known niche channels nor the popular entertainment channels such as Star Plus, Zee and Sony.
But choosing between a cable box and a DTH box is not easy, especially, in view of the claims being made by the two television distribution platforms. To help consumers choose between CAS through cable or directly through satellite, here's a low down on the prices that operators are offering as well as a sense of the advantages and disadvantages that each platform has.
A look at the pricing first
The cable operators are offering a price structure fixed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. There are two schemes, one with a monthly rental of Rs 30 per digital set top box plus a refundable deposit of Rs 999 per box.
Note, if you were to return the box, the refund will be made after deducting Rs 12.50 per month for use of the box. The second scheme comprises a monthly rental of Rs 45 per digital set top box and a refundable deposit of Rs 250 per box. In this, the refund will be made after deducting Rs 3 per month for use of the box.
If the consumer does not wish to take the box, the cable operator will offer him 30 free-to-air channels for Rs 77 a month. In fact, the set top box owners will also have to pay this sum every month and an additional Rs 5 per pay channel. So in case a consumer picks 15 pay channels, his monthly bill would be Rs 77 plus Rs 75 for 15 pay channels and, say, a monthly rental of Rs 30. That comes to Rs 182 a month.
This is lower than what the DTH operators charge. Tata Sky, for instance, sells the DTH set top box for Rs 2,999 and charges Rs 1,000 for installation. Its monthly fee is Rs 300. Currently, it's offering 107 channels.
Zee-owned Dish TV, however, has introduced a new rental scheme for the CAS notified areas. The set top box and installation cost for a Dish TV connections is Rs 1,500.
On top of this is a monthly rental of Rs 35 plus a choice between two packages - at Rs 215 plus tax for 85 channels and Rs 240 plus tax for 125 channels. So your immediate outgo for the cheaper package will be Rs 1,750. The cost of equipment and installation for a Dish TV box continues to be Rs 3,150 in non CAS areas.
"These prices have been fixed by TRAI for a year. After that, TRAI says, tariffs will be left to market dynamics. Obviously, the prices will surge." Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) president Roop Sharma is quick to counter: "It is the DTH players who will raise prices. Their boxes are highly subsidised."
For an informed choice, however, it is important to look beyond the price. DTH operators claim that they deal with their consumers directly. The middleman - the cablewallah - who is really the last mile operator for one of the larger multi-system operators (MSOs) is eliminated.
And that you deal with a large corporate house with high service standards. Local cable operators vehemently disagree. The consumers know them well, know their offices and even knock at their door in the middle of the night for faulty television reception. "Try getting in touch with a DTH operator. You will be talking to a recorded voice at a call centre and your complaint will be heard three days later," challenges Roop Sharma.
But DTH operators claim they score over cable in terms of geographical mobility. If a DTH subscriber is moving house, he will just pick up his dish, set top box and re-install it in the new house\city.
DTH satellites have a national footprint and can reach you anywhere in the country. With a cable box, even if you are moving within a city you may have to switch your cable operator and, therefore, first return the box, get your refund and acquire a fresh connection.
But before you dismiss the cable box, hear what MSO heads say about their edge. The cable box does not require a dish set up. Cable can be received even in high rise building and basements. "DTH may have picture quality issues if the dish is not in the line of sight of the satellite. "Cable transmission is not susceptible to poor atmospheric conditions," quips Ashok Mansukhani, director, Hinduja TMT, which runs Incable.
The biggest advantage that cable has is the reverse path that does not exist in the satellite based DTH. Cable box is highly interactive and you can give commands for content that can be fetched from the server immediately. DTH operators will have to use a phone line for interactive commands. "The only trouble is that MSOs in India have no experience in building special content. So the reverse path advantage may be lost," says a DTH and cable expert.
Several value-added services such as electronic programme guide, commercials-free films channel, gaming, may be similar in the two systems, but DTH operators are already providing multi-camera angle viewing facilities for sports and bulletins of your choices in news.
So while Delhi's Namita Jain may have made her choice, lakhs of consumers are still sitting on the fence. "We expect boxes to fly off the shelf in the next few days and all through the first week of January. Consumers are yet to realise how life will change after December 31," sums up Vikram Mehra, head of consumer marketing at Tata Sky.