In August 2020 something of a cultural shift happened but it wasn’t unreported widely. The New York Times decided to do away with TV listings, which has been available since 1939. The editorial team had a message for the readers via email: “We know that this will be a loss for many of you. But growing numbers of readers are already using their own TVs or other digital resources to inform them of daily schedules and there are now far more shows available any day, any time, on demand.”
So traditional TV continues to be in trouble, right? Yes and no. In an era of demand television and streaming there are endless choices as to what you want to watch, when you want to watch and where you want to watch. It can be exhausting and expensive.
With work from home keeping me back at my den, it was a refreshing change to review Tata Sky Binge+. I have had a Tata Sky connection for more than a decade and have enjoyed a love-hate relationship for one big reason — channel content, something that’s not up to Tata Sky. Anyway, it’s now used by my parents who believe in a mix of streaming and traditional TV. Where does Binge+ fit in?
Welcome to hybrid zone
The two obvious questions are what is Tata Sky Binge+ and why? Consider it a mix of traditional set-top box and a streaming device. More of a two-in-one. There is the option to watch all the channels that Tata Sky provides but at the same time, you can catch up on streaming.
Let’s make the hybrid model simpler to understand. With a TV box — like the one from Tata Sky or Airtel — you watch TV channels as and when it’s broadcast. Then there are streaming devices — like Chromecast, Fire TV Stick and Mi Box that allow access to OTT content, like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar and even something like YouTube. Hybrid boxes are somewhere in the middle, offering OTT and live TV.
The process of installation is traditional — a Tata Sky representative will visit your place and install a dish, plus a set-top box attached to the TV. You don’t need an Internet connection to enjoy TV channels. But if you want to access OTT apps, the set-top box needs to connect to the Internet, either via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. All this makes it clear that the hybrid boxes are not portable.
Plans and more plans
When OTT platforms entered our lives, it was cool identifying with the term cord-cutter. Of course, love is not a permanent state of enthusiasm. When only Netflix was around, most didn’t think too much before spending on subscription fee. More options appeared. And we took up one or two more. And then the floodgates broke down. Now we have a range of streaming services that are adding heft to credit card bills.
With Tata Sky Binge+ set-top box (Rs 2,999 if it is a new connection; Rs 2,499 for existing subscribers opting for an upgrade or secondary multi-TV connection), consumers get a great deal. Under the OTT aggregation service Tata Sky Binge, there are 10 partners — Disney+ Hotstar Premium, SunNxt, Hungama Play, Eros Now, ShemarooMe, ZEE5, VOOT Select, VOOT Kids, SonyLIV and CuriosityStream. These can be accessed with a single sign-in and single subscription for Rs 299 per month (new Binge+ connection subscribers get six month of free access to the Binge service). Plus there is a three-month access to Amazon Prime Video at zero cost.
There’s more. If you already subscribe to Amazon Prime, Disney+Hotstar Premium and other video streaming services, that membership can be used here.
The plan is enticing for a number of reasons. First, in case you still watch a few TV channels as well as OTT. Second, for parents who primarily watch TV channels and some OTT. Third, you want to save data by not having to stream some TV channels, like sports and news, via something like Fire TV Stick. WFH still being a reality, it’s best to save data.
Friendly towards users
Obviously, if the user interface is bad then everything falls apart. Tata Sky has done a good job both with the interface as well as the remote for a number of reasons. In less than 30 minutes you will have a proper understanding of what’s where. The channel directory is also well planned while Chromecast functionality allows screencasting from compatible devices. Though powered by Android TV, the UI is different and quite well-planned.
I am happy about the design of the no-nonsense remote. You can easily move from one channel to another or change volume level. There is a pattern on the back of the remote which makes it easy to grip it. There is a Google Assistant button on the remote which works seamlessly. You don’t have to remember channel numbers.
On top of all this, Tata Sky Binge+ supports 4K as well as HDR, so make the most of the content on Prime Video and Hotstar. Needless to say, you also need an HDR-capable TV as well.
Let’s navigate the rough edges
Overall, I like what Tata Sky has done but there are some areas that can be worked upon to make Binge+ the only option at home. First, there is no support for Netflix but never say never. As Binge+ continues to collect pace, the future can only get brighter.
Second, while switching between channels there is one issue that continues to bother me like it did a few years ago — there is a lag; the screen blanks out for a couple of seconds before the chosen channel is shown.
Third, if you don’t do a monthly recharge of your “traditional” channel package, you will not be able to use the set-top box for OTT only. That makes sense. Why would anyone use a set-top box to only stream?
Helping you decide
For those who are mostly at home and want to enjoy TV channels as well as OTT content, the hybrid set-top box is of good value. In case your Wi-Fi is iffy, streaming will take a hit across devices but you will at least get to enjoy the TV channels.
When it comes to live content, like sports and news, the substitutes are data hungry. You can stream many of the news channels as well as sports channels but at the cost of the limited data at your disposal. The good old TV channel experience still works well.
Plus, you can pay for a Tata Sky connection anytime to watch live TV channels, instead of making an annual payment.
At the end of the day, it all depends on what kind of watcher you are. If “getting it all” (minus Netflix here) is priority then Tata Sky Binge+ is a good option but if you are interested in certain things — like a lot of movies and some sports — then streaming is a good option, provided there is a stable Internet connection at your place. For the time being, the hybrid model is an innovative way forward for legacy companies.