The CRT has been dying a slow death. Almost all urban households now opt for flat-panel displays instead, which now ship with Full HD (1080p) capability, even for entry-level models. Although the pixel count of these flat-panels has grown five-fold to two million pixels, your average set-top box (STB) still broadcasts DVD quality (480p) content. Unfortunately, rasterised images do not stretch gracefully, which is why your widescreen Full HD display looks awful when paired with an SDTV broadcast. That's a point driven home by the ghastly picture quality evident on HDTVs, for the same broadcast that looks gorgeous on a CRT.
While most decent HDTVs have built-in upscalers that can convert regular 4:3 aspect ratio SD signal into a 16:9 widescreen picture, the image quality is nowhere near as good as an original HD broadcast. With an increasing number of HD channels, it's only wise to pair your HDTV with an HD-capable STB. airtel seems to agree with us on that count, and that's why it arranged for the digital TV [HD] recorder to be installed at my residence for a review. Let's see if airtel's HD DVR has what it takes to make us junk our regular STB.
Confucius say, small dish equal small signal.
Installation Ideally, the installation for the recorder should be a quick and hassle-free affair, thanks to its single HDMI link to your HDTV. The only other wires hooked to the device are two separate antenna cables feeding the DVR with two discrete input streams, and a 12 V DC adapter cable. The twin-antenna input cables enable the much touted Watch-One Record-One DVR feature. It lets you record two separate channels simultaneously, or watch a programme while you record another.
That's airtel's way of telling you to head out and enjoy the rain.
I say ideally, because the ninnies airtel had sent for the installation had a hard time setting up the dish antenna. They could have got the job done quicker if they weren't so rude and uncooperative. For some strange reason, the installation personnel were more interested in knowing if I had paid for the STB, as they begrudgingly went about doing what they get paid to do, as if it was a huge personal favour extended towards me. I understand that when you pay peanuts, you are bound to get monkeys, but that still is no excuse for rudeness and unprofessionalism.
The airtel dish was the same size as that of my tiny Tata Sky antenna, which is a problem because the latter loses the signal every time someone decides to take a piss off the roof. It's no surprise then that the reception on both the airtel and Tata Sky STBs would conk out at the slightest hint of rain. My doubts were confirmed by the signal strength read-out maxing out at 35%. This is a problem easily avoided by using larger dish antennas. The guy who showed up to disassemble the antenna post-review was a lot more amiable, and he revealed that airtel only recently switched over to smaller antennas. It looks like the bean counters got the better of the engineers yet again.
Front view (click to enlarge).
Front fascia (click to enlarge).
The Set-Top Box The airtel Digital Video Recorder (DVR) simply isn't as gorgeous as its Tata Sky counterpart. It features a matte finish box reminiscent of the old-school VCRs of yore. That means the build quality isn't any better than the STBs provided by your local cable guy. The front fascia is no exception, with a rather ghastly airtel logo flanking the status LEDs for power, signal, message, recording, and USB. The bottom edge contains a row of buttons housing the Power, Play, Pause, Stop, Forward, and Rewind buttons. The four-way D-pad at the centre, flanked by the Menu, Back, and Enter buttons will prove to be a godsend the day your remote control disappears in the all-consuming void between the sofa cushions.
The View Card is neatly tucked away.
Nothing but a glorified SIM.
The panel on the right hand side, pimping the STB's features, opens to reveal a slot accepting what airtel calls the View Card, which is something we already know as the Subscriber Identification Module (SIM). Strangely, there's a USB port at the side, albeit with no official statement on what it's supposed to do. The cheap STBs provided by local cable operators allow playback of DiVX and MP3 files through similar USB ports. Who knows, airtel may even enable that feature through firmware updates in the future. The Ethernet port is another mystery. I surmise it will come in handy if and when airtel delivers broadband satellite internet access through the STB.