Watching a broadcast in four times the HD resolution with TATASky's 4K set-top box is a lot more enjoyable, but only if you own a 4K television.
i've seen a number of 4K televisions launched the past few years and have always wondered where the content was to enjoy on such high-priced devices. The past few months have seen the prices of 4K televisions dropping, with Micromax now offering one at just Rs 40,000. And, content, too, is available, albeit limited.
After showing off a teaser during the FIFA World Cup last year, TATASky launched its 4K set-top box that let viewers in India watch select matches in Ultra High Definition (UHD) on STAR Sports' 4K channel. When I was approached to review the box, I was pretty excited to watch parts of the World Cup in 4K.
Being a TATASky subscriber, installing the box was easy. We had Sony's KD-55X9000B, a 4K television, on hand to enjoy the proceedings.
The 4K box, besides the HDMI output, also has composite outs, as well as a digital audio out, in case you want to connect to your home-theatre system. It also has USB 3.0 ports. Unlike my TATASky+ HD box of 2011 vintage, the 4K box doesn't have component out.
First on was India's game against South Africa at the group stage. India won the toss and elected to bat. From the looks of it, the 4K broadcast looked a bit clearer and more vivid than high definition (HD). And, there were no ads!
While South Africa started with a maiden, I was still trying to figure out how else 4K was better. Technically, it's four times the resolution of HD, so it should be much clearer. But it was difficult to compare, even if I switched to the HD feed on my regular monitor, a 24-inch one. You see, it's like comparing oranges to footballs: One image on a 55-inch screen and the other on a 24-inch one.
While I was lost in this contemplation, Rohit Sharma managed to get run out. The replay showed the superb direct throw of Proteas skipper A B de Villiers knocking down the stumps - and Rohit's dive was in vain. If I were the third umpire, I would definitely be watching the proceedings at the highest resolution available on the biggest screen possible.
Soon Shikhar Dhawan came to his own, belting the ball all over (guess it helps that he has a home in Melbourne). And Virat Kohli gave him good support, stealing the singles and rotating the strike. His dismissal on 46 brought in Ajinkya Rahane, who seemed to accelerate the scoring. But since I'm one of the poor sods who has to go to office on a Sunday, I had to leave.
And I couldn't record the match in 4K. The 4K box, unlike my TATASky+ one, doesn't have the ability to record. Muttering under my breath, I left for office, where I caught snatches of the match.
A few days later, I was casually changing channels when I found STAR Sports 4K showing a recording of the India-South Africa match. Fortunately, I was able to catch the fag end of the Indian innings and the South African innings in 4K, which was obviously a lot more enjoyable than the standard definition broadcast I had watched live in office.
I also came across a show called Air Racers on the 4K channel, which showed stunts and races by vintage propeller aircraft. The extended vistas and the view from the aircraft truly brought to me what the advantage of 4K over HD was. But there was more to come. I was startled out of my senses by the detailed view of an owl turning its head, a big cat's eyes and the innards of a vintage automobile, as witnessed on a promo film by the Discovery channel.
There were also a few stunts on skis and it made me feel dizzy. I started rueing my luck that I couldn't watch soccer matches in 4K. I might ruffle a few feathers, but watching a football match in vivid detail on a big screen is much more exciting than watching cricket.
But for Rs 5,900 (that's what the TATASky 4K box costs for existing subscribers), will I buy it? The answer isn't simple. The box doesn't make sense for me right now because I don't own a 4K television. But if I did, this might just be what we were waiting for, with a caveat. There's just one channel showing limited content, which could only get better with time.
A cheaper option
The Sony TV we used for our review is priced at more than Rs 3 lakh. In case you'd like to go in for something a bit cheaper but with the same screen size, you could look at options from Vu. We had Vu's 55-inch 4K UHD 3D SMART LED TV (Rs 1.19 lakh) for a review and were impressed by its performance, with a few riders. While colours on this TV were vibrant, it paled when compared with the Sony TV, which is of course much more expensive.
We also liked the built-in widgets and the lag-free performance of the Vu TV, though it does take its time to start up. The sound output is also quite loud and it has plenty of connectivity options, though like other big screen TVs, upscaled standard resolution channels look bad.
The built-in digital media player is also good for most purposes, though it failed to play a few 4K clips we had on a pen drive (and which could be played on other 4K TVs). Also, the remote (which never seemed to work at one go) seems the weakest link for the TV, which looks quite stunning in white.
Don't wake them up
One side effect of the early World Cup matches has been a grumpy better half/family for most cricket enthusiasts. Not only do we wake people up at ungodly hours while stirring out
of bed but also, more often than not disturb their sleep by putting the TVs on loud and giving vent to our emotions. While it'll take some effort to keep our emotions in check, this pair of headphones, which Sennheiser claims to have launched for this very purpose, ought to make one's family/neighbours happy.
The RS 175 at Rs 19,990 isn't exactly cheap. But when I connected the set-top box's optical output to the wireless headphones and turned on surround sound, I did get a sense of depth, not to mention the fact that it cut out outside noise and leaked no sound. I tried it with a 5.1 sound card while watching a DVD of Saving Private Ryan and was ducking bullets in no time. Did I mention my wife was happiest while I reviewed this product?