Television

Travelxp's Prashant Chothani's 4K HDR TV global mission

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MUMBAI: Prashant Chothani is probably India’s most underrated TV professional and entrepreneur.  The 49-year-old founder of the infotainment channel Travelxp looks more like a typical Kutchi baniya businessman probably involved in the commodities trade. But, Chothani is actually a wiz at all things tech, all things high definition and all things Ultra HD.

He has been beating a pioneering 4K or UHD HDR (ultra high definition – High Dynamic Range) trail globally. In the process, he’s been getting oodles of accolades worldwide -- at almost every 4K gathering  – apart from his home country, India, where almost everyone scoffs at what they call a technology which is years away. Especially considering the rickety cable TV infrastructure that distributes television channels to more than 100 million homes. Chothani is the only Indian who has been co-opted on the Global Ultra HD Forum, which is the organisation responsible for setting standards for the format.

Since a prophet is respected but in his own home, Chothani has been pushing his Travelxp 4K HDR channel globally. And he’s got a big supporter in the world’s top two satellite operators – SES and Eutelsat – who have been goading him to spread his tentacles even further. Says he: “SES and Eutelsat have been going all out to promote the 4K ecosystem. We have partnered with them for our launches.”

Earlier this year, he rolled out Travelxp 4K – the world’s first 4K HDR travel channel – in the US with the help of the satellite company SES. The greatest potential is, of course, in Uncle Sam, where operators serving close to 30 million TV homes are currently testing 4K delivery.

“Operators are hungry for 4K HDR channels. There’s a lot of demand, but limited supply. And, they are awaiting 4K boxes,” says Chothani. “Subscribers are already signing on, as we have signed distribution deals with three small to medium-sized operators.”

On 1 October, Travelxp 4K HDR  was officially launched in Europe off Eutelsat’s Hotbird 13E.

Says Chothani: “The majority of operators are planning to launch 4K services in the next six months, and they were waiting for a HDR channel. That is where we come in. The operators will now start testing and sampling it.”

Hotbird's market-leading penetration in cable and IPTV networks across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, gives it a wide footprint to get Travelxp the widest coverage. There are plans to widen it even further by taking the channel to APAC and Latin America in the next few months.  To date, Chothani’s company Media WorldWide has a clutch of 10 channels under its belt. 

At the time of writing Chothani was in Russia, exploring a distribution deal for Putin’s land, and he chatted with Indiantelevision.com over Whatsapp.

Travelxp 4K has close to 50 hours of 4K HDR content –arguably the largest library globally. “It costs close to $500,000 to produce a good hour of 4K HDR content,” he says. “If you dig for gold, how much you spend to get it is your creativity. But, the market price is what you get when you sell the gold.”

To get more value out of the content, Chothani has dubbed the Travelxp HD and 4K HDR content filmed all over the world with multicultural hosts in several languages. The programmes are currently available in English, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Serbian, Croatian, Czech and Dutch, and more languages are slated to follow suit.

The channel has selected HEVC encoding with 10 bits of colour depth (one billion colours), at 50 frames per second. It broadcasts in 10 bits REC 2020 colour space using the new HDR (high dynamic range) standard developed by the BBC and NHK that creates richer and more dynamic images by increasing the contrast ratio between the lightest and darkest areas of the screen and expanding the volume of colours displayed. This standard uses HLG (hybrid log-gamma) technology, enabling legacy standard dynamic (SDR) displays to decode the HDR standard.

While Chothani has a long way to go with Travelxp 4K HDR, his HD channel has travelled a lot, and is available in around 50 million homes globally.

“There are other launches planned for the HD service,” he says with a gleam in his eyes. “Very soon. Very soon.  We will be in about 100 million homes in SD and HD worldwide by end-2018."

He adds: “We were amongst the first to launch HD programming in India. Now, we are amongst the first in 4K HDR in the world when HD is on its way down worldwide. A year down the line when UHD HDR will have taken root globally, Travelxp 4K will be in every 4K basic packs of most operators by virtue of it being the first mover and because of the quality of HDR content.”

Chothani would like to make an appeal to the regulator and the TV industry in India.

“The first round of digitisation of cable TV saw some plain vanilla set-top boxes being brought in to meet deadlines,” he says. “Now, planning for 4K HDR needs to be borne in mind when set-top box standards are drawn up. It requires very little extra investment in hardware and software. This will prevent regrets in the future. I would like Indians to enjoy the experience of 4K HDR from an Indian TV channel provider. ”

Clearly, this is a man for whom 4K HDR is not just a business,  it is a passion. And, that is the first ingredient needed to achieve success.

Also Read :

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Travelxp's Prashant Chothani's 4K HDR TV global mission

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