Continuing with the examination of the digital converter boxes, I’ll take a look at some of the other key features that consumers should consider when shopping for them. I’ll also review some of the recommendations made by Consumer Reports and CNET.
The electronic programming guide (EPG) feature should also be taken into account when buying a digital converter box. Most TV stations bundle additional programming information with their TV shows, such as what the show is, what it’s about, what’s coming up, etc.
Basic guides only give you a small amount of information about what you’re viewing and what’s next. The best guides give you this information plus details about all the channels that are available to you and/or a list of what’s coming up for the next several hours.
Moreover, you may need a converter box that is capable of analog pass-through. Some small local stations will not be required to move their over-the-air broadcast from analog to digital. Therefore, if you want to continue to receive their shows, you’ll need a converter box capable of accepting their analog signal as well as the new digital signals.
Furthermore, you may want to take a look at the other features these converter boxes offer. Some of these devices will be a capable of configuring closed captions based on their fonts and background. In addition, some will have auto/manual aspect ratio configuration for different screen types. Plus, having channel, volume, or other buttons right on the box might be useful as well.
Consumer Reports recommends several devices for digital converter box buyers. One of the products they reviewed is the Insignia NS-DXA1. It can be purchased at Best Buy or FreeDTVShop.com.
This device offers an impressive picture display and audio output. Plus, its programming guide provides information on the current and next shows for all available channels. It also has several other features, such as basic manual/auto aspect ratio control, manual option for adding channels, a signal indicator, universal remote, customizable close captions, and its Energy Star compliant.
However, the converter does not have analog pass-through capability. It also has some connection quirks, like "fixed pattern" interference, if you try to connect it using both the RF and composite outputs at the same time. This maybe something to consider, if you want to connect it to your VCR and TV at the same time.
Another digital converter box they recommend is the Zenith DTT900. It’s currently available at Circuit City and Radioshack stores. The device’s picture quality is similar to the Insignia’s near DVD-quality signal. It also possesses similar added features, like its EPG, aspect ratio control and others.
On the other hand, the device does show some flaws when it’s converting high definition content to standard definition. Plus, like the Insignia, it doesn’t have analog pass-through capabilities either.
CNET recommends the RCA DTA800, now available at Walmart and FreeDTVShop.com. It has excellent picture quality and a nice basic EPG. Plus, its remote has huge buttons, perfect for people with near-sightedness. It even works with smart antennas that automatically align themselves to the best signal strength.
CNET also recommends the Dish Network DTVPAL. This device has probably the best EPG that CNET ever sampled, providing a ton of channel guide information in an easy to read format. Unfortunately, this device is not one of the converter boxes listed under the government coupon, so you’ll have to pay for it full price.
Finally, when you do buy a digital converter box, make sure to connect it with composite cables rather than RF for the best signal possible. Also, you may have to buy or relocate an antenna afterwards. Unlike analog signals, where you may see the picture in the mist of fuzz or snow, a digital signal will either receive the entire picture or none at all. If this happens frequently or you’re experiencing weak signal strengths, then an antenna replacement or relocation maybe a good idea.
For more information about whether you need to consider getting a digital converter box and any additional features to consider before making your decision, check out the first part of this article series, Digital TV converter boxes: when to buy, what to look for.