Choosing a Digital-to-Analog Converter

Once the DTVPal was released a few weeks ago, I went ahead and requested two government-issued $40 “coupons” – which are more akin to plastic gift or credit cards. While we’ve still got several months until the digital television transition, there’s a finite amount of vouchers so I’m staking my claim now. Actually, it’s a claim by proxy – being the guy who manages my mom’s technology. Her kitchen doesn’t have a cable outlet and she enjoys her existing (NTSC-tuning) television – so for about $20 (minus $40 coupon card), it makes sense to just pick up a digital to analog OTA converter (CECB).

The question is: Which one? The top criteria should be ATSC reception and picture quality. Unfortunately, there aren’t many comprehensive model comparisons… and while reception is key, pq is less important on this small set and from her viewing distance. In fact, I suspect she mostly listens to TV while preoccupied with other tasks. While I like the form factor of the DTVPal and the polished UI (for a low-end device), I’m leaning towards the Zenith DTT900/901 or the RCA DTA800 because the included remote will also power the television on/off. Anyone picked these up?

19 thoughts on “Choosing a Digital-to-Analog Converter”

  1. Oh yeah, inventory/location needs to be factored in. Supposedly, some of these are hard to track down… Too much effort already for a low ticket item.

  2. I can vouch for the RCA model. I did the same thing and helped out my parents get their second TV ready for digital broadcasts.

    Funny thing is, they got an inexpensive DTV-capable set in their living room, and it won’t tune some of the channels that the RCA box will.

    Factor in a pretty spiffy on-screen guide (it’s no TiVo, but hey), a simple-to-use universal remote, and good picture quality, and you’ve got a solid piece of equipment.

    I have no experience with the Zenith, but I’ve been very happy with the RCA.

  3. I helped my in-laws pick up the Zenith at their local Radio Shack. I was actually pretty impressed by it. PQ via composite is actually better than the PQ via component from the Phillips DVDR3576H-37 ATSC DVD-recorder I also helped them pick out.

    The GUI on the Zenith is also pretty nice, and it does a good job managing aspect ratios (better than the DVD Recorder). Probably my only complaint is that the included remote doesn’t control the TV’s volume, but rather the volume of audio output from the Zenith unit itself. It does power the TV on and off, however. Because of the volume issue, they still have to juggle remotes.

  4. …also, the Zenith’s reception seemed pretty solid. I didn’t have anything to compare it with, but their outdoor omnidirectional antenna + the Zenith picked up all of the local DTV stations (they live within 15 miles of all the transmitters).

  5. I have both the Zenith and the DigitalStream DTX9900 and they’re both excellent. One thing though – if you’re planning to control the converter box using a Series 2 TiVo (via IR), avoid the DigitalStream. Tivo has a list of controllable boxes. I believe that Dave had a post on that in the last week or two.

    On the subject of TiVo, what has been the experience of people on the quality of the ATSC tuner in the TiVo HD. I hope it’s as good as the Zenith converter box, which is supposed to be at least a 5th generation tuner.

  6. FYI both my local WalMarts have the new converter boxes in stock and they accept those coupons, but I saw them for $99 bucks, not $40.

    I searched ebay the other day for old TiVos to use as my digital TV converter, but didn’t find any for the price I wanted to pay ( less than 10 dollars ). :(

    Are there any cheapo DVD players that have the digital tuner in them?

  7. Just get the DTVPal – in a kitchen, she can turn off the TV at the source when she puts the remote away. You can get them at Sears as of last week.

  8. Dave, we have the Zenith DTT900 and are happy with the picture quality and reception. The Zenith also does a good job of dealing with different aspect ratios. Since we are using it with an old (non widescreen tv), we used the zoom feature to eliminate the letterbox effect on certain channels. The box remembers the zoom setting for each channel, which you might find useful if you are setting everything up for your mom.

    Your post gave me the motivation to post a few screenshots showing the picture quality of the Zenith. You can see them at:

  9. I have the zenith and have no complaints. The guide is OK, but is obviously dependant on the stations. The aspect ratio is a button on the remote — which is way better than other boxes where it’s inside the settings menu. Also, there is an audible tone that gets louder as you move the rabbit ears — helping you pick the best orientation. Lastly, it turns off my TV which is nice. Regarding the lack of volume control for the TV — I just set my TV at a high volume and let the zenith control the master volume. Just make sure to turn the TV off before the zenith… otherwise you get the loud hiss of no reception!

  10. I believe the Zenith is the same as the Insigna from Best Buy which I have. It works great however make sure you hook it up with RCA cables rather than coaxial cable as the audio is not good with coax.

  11. I picked up the Channel Master CM-7000. It has an excellent tuner that locks in stations even my HDHomerun can’t! It also is only one of the two CECB units with a S-Video output. It uses a standard AC cord (not an adapter), and has a metal chassis.

  12. Dave,

    Would your mom use the Electronic Program Guide?

    Most guides exclusively use PSIP time so if the stations in here area are not sending the correct times they will not display the correct listings.

    Three boxes don’t have this problem.
    1. Channel Master (can set Manual Time)
    2. Zinwell ZAT-970A* (can set Manual Time)
    3. DTVPal* (Francie Bauer said it will use CBS time)
    ~ Note: With a power loss the Zinwell will show 00:00 if using manual time mode.

    Does she need Analog PassThru?

    Does she what a box with controls on it so she does not need the remote?
    Wait for the MicroProse MPI-500PT*

    You said the top criteria should be ATSC reception and picture quality.

    Do you think it needs S-Video?
    Only the Channel Master and Apex have that

    Reception reports vary from person to person.
    I would say these have the best in no particular order.
    Channel Master
    Zenith DTT901* – MicroProse MPI-500PT* should be very similar to the Zenith.

    I also know that the remote concerns you and I think that is the most easily replaced item with a universal one.

    If you don’t want to replace then you need a converter with some TV functions like the RCA, Digital Stream, and Zenith.

    About the RCA availability if you are in the West check Wal-Mart or else you have to buy online.

    About both the RCA and Zenith.
    Get the PassThru versions.

    RCA added option to add channels for each scan.
    Before it would wipe out the old and start over.

    Zenith improved reception and audio with the new tuner.

    Speaking of adding channels
    The DTVPal does this on it’s own in Maintenance mode activated by inactivity timer or remote power off.

    Remember after after February 17, 2009 most boxes will require a rescan as the channels will move.

    – Hope this helps you –

  13. I bought an RCA DT800, the first week I had it home I hooked it up and within two days the box stopped working. I went back to Walmart and they gave me a new one. The same thing happened again after using it for about a month. I’m done with RCA. I’ll buy a zenith next time.

  14. Can anyone help: I purchased the Channel Master for good reasons, however I’m having difficulty with the Channel Master universal remote……. have no idea how to program the remote to work with the box or the tv….. the user manual says to program a universal remote to operate the CM-7000 digital to analog converter box, use Pioneer cable box codes……have no idea as to how or where to find this info (even though I’ve searched the Internet….. Can anyone give me some idea as to how to program this remote?

  15. I would love to have the program codes to make my converter box remote work with my tv again its a emerson I lost the paper that had the codes on a long while ago Any help would be great please email me

Comments are closed.