When we talk about online video, it's mostly about on-demand services, such as Netflix, Hotstar, or Amazon Prime Video, but it's also possible to watch live television on your phone. There are a number of different apps to do this. For example, if you're a Tata Sky subscriber, you could use the Tata Sky app to watch a selection of channels on your phone; DittoTV (soon to be Zee5) lets you watch live TV on your phone for a subscription of Rs. 20 per month, offering a selection of channels. However, two platforms for streaming live television on mobiles that have become quite popular of late are Airtel TV, and Jio TV.
If you're using Airtel, you can access the Airtel TV app right now for free, while all Jio Prime members (which we imagine should be a fair portion of Reliance Jio users) can access the Jio TV app at no additional charge till the end of this year. Many Indians tend to have dual-SIM Android phones, and it's possible that you already have access to both the two platforms. In case you don't however - and want to know which of these is the best option available right now - we're here to help. Here's a detailed look at Airtel TV and Jio TV.
Perhaps the most important thing with a TV streaming app is - what all can you watch with it? This is an area where Reliance has the upper hand, on paper. On the Jio TV app, you have an impressive 583 channels to choose from, though your mileage may vary a little in terms of what you'll actually get to watch. This includes channels like Jio Events, Jio 1, Jio Sports, as well, so not all 583 channels are live TV channels either.
On the other hand, Airtel TV has 'only' 368 channels, putting it well behind Jio TV in this regard. This disparity also becomes really clear when you start looking at languages outside Hindi - Airtel TV has 110 Hindi channels, and Jio TV 173 - while Tamil and Telugu channels are at 45 and 44 respectively on Airtel TV, with Jio TV having 60 of each.
The gap becomes even more stark once you start dipping into HD options - for instance, Airtel TV has only 13 English HD channels, compared to 39 for Jio TV. This includes sports channels being aired in English. There is only one Tamil and one Malayalam HD channel on Airtel TV, while the numbers are nine and seven for Jio TV.
If you tend to watch mostly English TV shows and movies, Jio TV also delivers many of the channels that you're probably looking for, including HBO HD, though with a few exceptions such as Start World and Zee Cafe. With Airtel, the selection is noticeably slimmer, with sports and news dominating the mix.
Finally, aside from live TV, the Airtel app also has a good selection of video on demand content. You get a free year of Amazon Prime along with the app (if you're not already subscribed and are on a plan with at least Rs. 499 rental), and you can stream videos from Eros Now, Hooq, and Hotstar. If you're a fan of something like the DC shows on the CW, there's a curated superhero collection, and there are other such collections on the app as well, so there's a lot to choose from.
On the other hand, Reliance Jio has its own standalone video streaming app, Jio Cinema, which has a great selection of movies as well. If you're more interested in movies, Jio Cinema outmatches Airtel TV, although on the TV VOD side of things, we think that Airtel TV's catalog wins by a hair.
All things considered, the advantage in number of channels, along with the strong movie VOD catalog, gives Reliance Jio the edge in terms of content.
Since Jio Cinema is supposed to cater to your video-on-demand needs, Jio TV can focus on live TV alone, which means launching the app takes you straight to the program guide. You can set up your favourites, and see your recent channels, or scroll vertically to see more channels, and horizontally to see what's coming next.
Drop down menus let you select the categories and languages, and there's a simple button to tap to list only HD channels. It's a huge step forward from the original design that Jio TV had launched with, but it's definitely utilitarian. Features such as recordings are not readily apparent, and although the overall interface is usable, there's little by way of personalisation.
With Airtel TV on the other hand, the home page shows a mix of VOD and live TV - there are cards for shows you can play on demand, and there are channel cards that you can tap to launch a live channel. There's a lot of curation of the VOD content, and there are even cards showing content from YouTube such as short films.
Once you tap the Live TV button though, it takes you to a simple view showing channels and what's playing - it doesn't show you what's playing across time, you only see one show listed per channel at a time, though you can scroll through the time bar on the top, and tap on a different time slot to load up the list and see what's playing then. One thing that's nice is that channels you watch move up in the list so it's easier to find shows you like in the Airtel TV app.
Again, you can sort through languages and HD through the buttons on top, though in this case, after selecting a language or a category, you have to tap the Apply button. Some might prefer having this although for us it was just a piece of needless friction. One glaring difference is that we didn't find any way in the Airtel TV app to record live TV - this could be useful if you want to watch a show on the way home from office without using your data, for example.
Although we much preferred the overall organisation of content on the Airtel TV app, and think that it has a much more attractive landing page, if your focus is on live TV and live TV alone, then Jio TV has the better experience.
One concern that a lot of people have when streaming video to their phones is - how much data will this use? Although the Jio effect on India's telecom market has made data much more affordable across the board than it was even just a year ago, it's still an important factor. The Jio TV app doesn't allow you to easily set the quality, but playing a HD channel for 10 minutes consumed around 250MB. We tried this at multiple times of the day, and the usage varied but on average, this seems to be about right. When you're watching a video (but only in full screen mode), you'll see a settings button in the player, and if you tap on that, you will see a Quality button. Here, your options are Automatic, High, Medium, and Low. This applies for each playback - there's no global menu setting for quality.
In contrast, Airtel TV lets you choose from three quality settings, and at the High quality, it consumed around 300MB after ten minutes. We repeated the process on the Medium setting, and consumption had come down to about 150MB, although visually, the picture still looks fine on a phone screen. When the quality is set to Low the image quality visibly degrades, and subtitles in particular aren't readable anymore, but the picture is still clear enough to watch in a pinch, and the data usage comes down to about 75MB to 80MB for 10 minutes.
Again, these are rough figures, averaged after multiple attempts. Finally, Airtel TV also has a Mobile Data Saver toggle, which disables HD streaming on mobile data, so you could leave the quality on high and enjoy high resolution videos at home, and then automatically drop the quality down to save data when on the move.
Although Jio TV used a little less data at the highest quality setting, Airtel TV allows you to choose the quality, and has a data saver mode, giving the viewer complete control over usage, so we'd say that Airtel TV is easily the winner in terms of data consumption.
Jio TV vs Airtel TV - viewing experience
Aside from everything else, there's also the question of the viewing experience. In this, both apps are pretty similar - tap a show, and it'll start playing. With a decent 4G connection, buffering and pixelation shouldn't be problems you face, but even when we manually set the connection to use 3G (as long as you have an active Reliance Jio SIM in your phone, you can use any connection to actually stream the data), loading times and so on were not affected.
In terms of playback, the experience is pretty standard - there's not much room for experimenting at this point - and the video experience was pretty good even on a 3G connection. When connected to a fast Wi-Fi connection, we didn't see any pixelation or anything along those lines with either app.
In terms of the viewing experience, we'd call it a tie between the two.
Although both apps are pretty good and have advantages, the good news is that if you have a connection from both telcos, you'll be able to use either one without having to pay extra for now. All in all, we found them to be quite close in many regards, but in general, Jio TV seems to be the winner as of now, thanks to the broader catalogue of TV channels, and the small refinements it offers in terms of the interface. Both Airtel TV and Jio TV are available on both Android and iOS - we used the apps on a Xiaomi Mi Max 2 for the sake on this comparison.
If data usage is a major concern for you, then it might still be best to stick to the Airtel TV app as it gives you much more control over data use, but if that's not something you're too worried about, Jio TV would be our pick.