Sun Direct, the DTH service from Sun Network, has unveiled three new HD subscription plans that make it the cheapest provider of HD TV services in India.
The plans are priced at Rs 51, 101 and 150, including taxes.
The cheapest pack provides 23 HD channels — with the exact composition depending on the language chosen by the subscriber.
The 101 rupee pack offers 45 HD channels and the Rs 150 pack includes all 55 HD channels currently available on the service.
Sun Direct used to have only a dozen HD channels beamed from a single INSAT 4B transponder till early this year, but has since added many more after it got an extra three transponders on India’s new GSAT-15 satellite.
As a result, Sun Direct — whose core audience is in South India — is now more or less at par with Airtel Digital TV and second only to Tata Sky in its collection of non-Hindi HD channels.
CHEAPEST IN INDIA
However, what sets the company apart is not just the collection of its channels, but also the way in which adopts new technology to cut costs and prices.
It was the first to introduce MPEG4 technology in India, and was able to reduce its satellite costs by using the high-compression standard.
It is now doing something similar with its HD service as well by introducing the next standard in line to cut costs.
Not surprisingly, it has unveiled aggressive tariffs for its HD service that make them the cheapest in India.
For Rs 150 including tax, a subscriber can get 55 HD channels including practically all the HD English movie channels, English entertainment channels and infotainment channels available in India.
The pack also includes seven HD sports channels. The only big misses in the line-up are Star Sports HD3 and HD4.
With the new packs, Sun Direct has replaced Dish TV as the cheapest option for those looking for non-Hindi HD broadcast content in India. Prior to this, Dish TV’s 56 HD channels for Rs 220 was the most affordable.
Besides the price, the key difference between DishTV’s bouquet and that of Sun Direct is language composition.
Dish TV’s Rs 220 pack includes a large number of North Indian HD channels, while Sun TV’s offer includes comparatively more English and South Indian HD channels. Dish TV has also leased two transponders on GSAT 15.
As for the other operators, charges for HD packs are far higher than either of these operators.
To get all the HD channels offered by Sun Direct in its Rs 150 pack, a subscriber on other platforms will have to pay between Rs 550-900 per month due to the way the packs are structured.
On Sun TV, they have to pay Rs 250 for the basic pack and Rs 150 for the ‘Ultra HD’ pack.
To take an example of the competition, Airtel Digital offers only 24 HD channels in its top-of-the-line ‘Jackpot’ package that costs Rs 1,890 for three months, going by the data available on its website.
Its biggest HD addon, ‘Max HD’ with 35 channels, is priced at Rs 225. It is not clear whether that includes taxes or not.
Some like Tata Sky even require the user to buy the standard definition version of a channel to get access to the HD version.
According to what distributors are telling Ultra News, Sun Direct is planning to further increase its HD portfolio by adding many more channels, but after a brief interval to refresh its legacy HD boxes.
At present, it is beaming its HD channels from four transponders located on ISRO’s newly launched GSAT-15 satellite. At 14 HD channels per transponder, that works out to a carrying capacity of 56 HD channels.
Further expansion of HD channels will take place when the broadcaster switches its broadcasting standard from MPEG4 (also known as H.264) to HEVC or H.265 for its HD users.
Such a move will free up 40-45% of the capacity being currently used for HD transmission, and each transponder will then be able to carry 24 HD channels instead of the current 14.
Between all four transponders, the total number of channels that will be carried by Sun Direct will reach 96 — a record in India and about 26% higher than what Tata Sky, the current No.1 provides.
This will be a key advantage for Sun Direct HD as none of the HD set-top-boxes sold by its competitors incorporate this standard.
In other words, the competitors are more or less locked out of the option of switching to HEVC codec due to the lack of support in their boxes.
It is only when they start expanding their 4K services — expected sometime 2019 — that these operators are seen seeding HEVC-enabled boxes.
At present, therefore, Sun Direct will enjoy a unique advantage thanks to its delayed start in the HD space.
Paradoxically, the delayed start of HD services is in turn is the result of a misfortune — a power failure on board the INSAT 4B in 2010, which knocked out several transponders used by Sun Direct. This prevented the company from expanding its HD service till early this year, about five years after its rivals started expanding HD services.
However, due to the delayed start, the Chennai-based DTH provider has been able to incorporate HEVC technology into all its HD boxes. Only a small number of HD boxes — sold before the current expansion — remain without support for HEVC.
These legacy HD boxes will be replaced with the new ones once the supply of the new, HEVC boxes stabilize. At present, all new boxes are being used to add new HD customers.
Even after the migration, non-HD users will continue to be on MPEG4 technology.