Hathway, one of India’s top cable feed providers, said it will launch its Smart Hub, a smart set-top-box that will run Google’s Android operating system, in the market next month.
This will make it the second big player to come on-board the Android TV platform, a special version of Android OS that is customized to run on a big screen.
The first major distribution platform to hop on the Android TV platform was Airtel, which launched its ‘Internet TV’ last year.
Like Airtel’s Internet TV, the Hathway Smart Hub will also be an ‘open system’, and will come with support for all Android TV apps.
Unlike many proprietary smart set-top-box and TVs, Android TV does not try to tie down the user to a limited number of apps that have agreements with the hardware maker. A case in point is Xiaomi’s Patchwall platform found on Mi TV, which does not support apps like Netflix.
The price of Hathway Smart Hub has not been decided, and the company is in the process of “working” it out, said Hathway Cable & Datacom MD Rajan Gupta.
Standalone Android TV boxes can be purchased for Rs 2,000-5,000, depending on features like 4K support, RAM size and so on.
Gupta said consumers will get the Hathway smart set-top-box for “a fraction of the price” they would have had to pay if they were buying all the built-in components — such as the cable box and chromecast — individually.
The idea, said Gupta, is to provide the “best of linear TV, OTT, VoD and gaming content” with easy access to voice control features. OTT refers to apps like Netflix and Youtube, while VoD refers to video-on-demand, such as movies and serials.
As is the case with all Android TV implementations, Hathway’s Smart Hub too will show only those apps that Google has certified as being suitable for running on a large screen.
At present, most of the big apps, such as Netflix, Youtube, ZEE5, Sony LIV, Hotstar and HOOQ, have come out with versions that are optimized for large-screen devices, and will be available on Smart Hub too.
Besides the video apps, Google is also offering free access to 10,000 songs via its Google Music app.
One of the advantages of buying the Android box from Hathway, instead of buying it from independent box vendors, is that you don’t have to switch from one TV source (such as HDMI 1) to another (HDMI 2) when you want to go from watching a TV channel to an app video.
Moreover, the box has the ability to record live channels, due to the software integration between Android and Hathway’s TV transmission.
Gupta said consumers want the best of both worlds, and don’t want to be confined to just linear TV or just OTT.
“We see a clear shift in consumption,” he said. “In the smart and digital era, consumers want a mix of traditional linear viewing combined with on-demand or streaming services.”
Using the smart remote, he pointed out, consumers can easily switch between all kinds of content — including traditional TV, streaming videos and movies, local audio and video files, apps and games.
“Consumers can also use Google Assist through a simple voice remote for functions such as finding your favorite web series, setting timers, answering questions, weather forecasts and even placing e-commerce orders,” he said.
The voice-based function can also be used to switch between channels, instead of pressing the channel or number keys.
The Hub comes with a remote controller with short-cuts to Netflix, Youtube and Google Play, and supports up to 2 TB of external USB memory in addition to 8 GB built-in.
Thanks to the built-in support for Google’s Chromecast technology, the box can also be used to mirror a phone display on the TV.
Gupta said Hathway will support the box and upgrade it to new versions of Android TV “as and when needed”.
Unlike most of the Android TV devices available in the market, the Hathway box will also have an AV out, in addition to HDMI, which makes it suitable for working with older, CRT televisions.
Interestingly, the launch comes in the wake of moves to integrate Hathway’s technology with those of telecom operator Reliance Jio.
From initial indications and leaks, Jio seems to be working on a smart box that is based on its own proprietary technology, and not Android TV.