Recommendations and notes

Digital TV converter boxes

Last reviewed: March 2009
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More details about the models listed in our Ratings of DTV converter boxes:

Access HD DTA1080D

Picture quality

Picture quality was among the best—close to what you see with a good DVD. It had a minor flaw that only the fussiest might notice: If you're watching a downconverted HD wide-screen program letter-boxed to fit your squarish screen, images are stretched vertically to a slight extent.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the smaller models. Its info bar lists the program title and run time for several hours' worth of programming for the currently tuned channel but does not provide show descriptions. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. And if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know that a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It only provides two aspect ratio settings, letterbox and zoom (though the government requirements indicate that it should have a third full or partially zoomed ratio). It has a detachable power adapter.

SPICA AT 2018

Picture quality

Picture quality was among the best, close to what you see with a good DVD. It had a minor flaw that only the fussiest might notice: If you're watching a downconverted HD wide-screen program letter-boxed to fit your squarish screen, images are stretched vertically to a slight extent.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and line-level left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

Has analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, but only when the box is in standby or not tuning to digital channels. Program guide provides show descriptions for several hours of programming for the currently tuned channel. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. And, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know that a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It has a Smart Antenna connection. It comes with A/V cables (composite-video and stereo audio) in addition to the usual RF cables.

Zinwell ZAT-970A

Picture quality

Picture quality was among the best, close to what you see with a good DVD.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and line-level left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the few boxes available with a program timer: allowing you to program up to eight instances in which the box will turn on and tune into a specific channel at a certain time. That enables you to record digital off-air broadcasts onto a VCR or other recording device, but you cannot program the box to turn itself off. Has analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, either, while the box simultaneously tunes to digital channels and displays them through the composite video output, or when the box is in standby. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the signal meter in the menu allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. While the title and run time for the current and next program is available on the info bar, there is no program guide to give information about coming shows or shows on other channels. Also, there are no options for adjusting the size, font, or color of the closed-caption text, a capability offered by most other tested boxes. It has a detachable power adapter.

Tivax STB-T9

Picture quality

Picture quality was among the best, close to what you see with a good DVD. It had a minor flaw that only the fussiest might notice: If you're watching a downconverted HD wide-screen program letter-boxed to fit your squarish screen, images are stretched vertically to a slight extent.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and line-level left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

Program guide provides show descriptions for several hours of programming for the currently tuned channel. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It has a Smart Antenna connection. It comes with A/V cables (composite-video and stereo audio) in addition to the usual RF cables.

Alpha Digital AT2016

Picture quality

Picture quality was among the best, close to what you see with a good DVD. It had a minor flaw that only the fussiest might notice: If you're watching a downconverted HD wide-screen program letter-boxed to fit your squarish screen, images are stretched vertically to a slight extent.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and line-level left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

Program guide provides show descriptions for several hours of programming for the currently tuned channel. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It has a Smart Antenna connection. It comes with A/V cables (composite-video and stereo audio) in addition to the usual RF cables.

Sansonic FT300A

Picture quality

Picture quality was among the best, close to what you see with a good DVD.

Audio

Although the audio output is good, the RF's output volume is noticeably lower than its left/right audio stereo outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the smaller models. While the run time and program title for the currently tuned program are available on the info bar, there is no program guide to give information about coming shows or shows on other channels. There is only a power button on the front of the box so you must use the remote for everything, even changing the channel. Also, there are no options for adjusting the size, font, or color of the closed-caption text, a capability offered by most other tested boxes. Among the few boxes we've seen that does not allow you to tune in a channel directly, but only by performing the more time-consuming scan-for-all-channels. It has a detachable power adapter and is Energy Star-compliant.

Access HD DTA1010D

Picture quality

Picture quality was among the best, close to what you see with a good DVD. It had a minor flaw that only the fussiest might notice: If you're watching a downconverted HD wide-screen program letter-boxed to fit your squarish screen, images are stretched vertically to a slight extent.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and line-level left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

Program guide provides show descriptions for several hours of programming for the currently tuned channel. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It has a Smart Antenna connection.

Lasonic LTA-260

Picture quality

Picture quality was among the best, close to what you see with a good DVD.

Audio

Although the audio output is good, the RF's output volume is noticeably lower than its left/right audio stereo outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the smaller models. While the run time and program title for the currently tuned program are available on the info bar, there is no program guide to give information about coming shows or other channels. There is only a power button on the front of the box so you cannot even change the channel without the remote. Also, there are no options for adjusting the size, font, or color of the closed-caption text, a capability offered by most other tested boxes. Among the few boxes we've seen that does not allow you to tune in a channel directly, but only by performing the more time-consuming scan-for-all-channels. It has a detachable power adapter and is Energy Star-compliant.

Microgem MG2000

Picture quality

Picture quality was among the best, close to what you see with a good DVD. It had a minor flaw that only the fussiest might notice: If you're watching a downconverted HD wide-screen program letter-boxed to fit your squarish screen, images are stretched vertically to a slight extent.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the smaller models. Its info bar lists the program title and run time for several hours' worth of programming for the currently tuned channel but does not provide show descriptions. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It has a detachable power adapter, and its software can be automatically updated.

Tivax STB-T8

Picture quality

Picture quality was among the best, close to what you see with a good DVD. It had a minor flaw that only the fussiest might notice: If you're watching a downconverted HD wide-screen program letter-boxed to fit your squarish screen, images are stretched vertically to a slight extent.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and line-level left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the few boxes with analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, but only when the box is in standby or not tuning to digital channels. Program guide provides show descriptions for several hours of programming for the currently tuned channel. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It has a Smart Antenna connection. It comes with A/V cables (composite-video and stereo audio) in addition to the usual RF cables and claims energy star compliant.

Channel Master CM-7000

Picture quality

The best picture quality we've seen so far when using the S-video output, which eliminated "dot crawl" noise at the edges of colored objects, making details and edges look sharper. Using the composite-video output, picture quality was close to what you see with a good DVD.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the few models with an S-video output. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. Its program guide provides show descriptions for several hours of programming for the currently tuned channel. When first turned on, there is no auto setup feature, so initial setup and channel scan aren't as easy as on other models that have this feature. Among the few boxes we've seen that does not allow you to tune in a channel directly, but only by performing the more time-consuming scan-for-all-channels.

Artec T3A Pro

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable. (Note: you must adjust the box's out-of-the-box settings to get optimal picture quality.)

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the smaller models. Its program guide presents the program title and run time for the current and next show on all available channels, with a show description available for the currently tuned program. This box has its own picture setting controls (contrast, brightness, and hue), unusual for a set-top box. However, its default picture settings are poor, causing a loss of any near-black shadow details and colors that are noticeably off; these can be quickly adjusted for a better picture. It has the basic aspect ratio settings and can also automatically adjust the aspect ratio depending on whether the digital channel is in standard-def or high-def resolution. But an aspect ratio control button is not available on the remote, requiring you to use the onscreen setup menu to make an adjustment. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Closed caption has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It has a detachable power adapter.

Coship N9988T

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

The program guide presents program title and run-time info for the current and next show on all available channels, with a show description available for the currently tuned program. It has the basic aspect ratio settings, plus a "Set by Program" option that automatically adjusts the aspect ratio depending on whether the digital signals are standard-def or high-def (which an analog TV would display as standard-def). Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible, but does not have a button on the remote control dedicated to turning closed captions on and off, so you have to go through the menu. When first turned on, there is no auto setup feature, so initial setup and channel scan aren't as easy as on other models that have this feature. The LED status indicator lights are very bright, especially the red standby LED, which may be annoying at night. It comes with A/V cables (composite-video and stereo audio) but no RF cables.

Philco TB100HH9

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

Both audio outputs provide good audio, but the RF's output volume is noticeably lower then its left/right audio stereo outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

It's one of the few boxes with analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels while the box tunes to digital channels. There are no buttons on the console so you must use the remote to do everything, including turning the box on and off. The electronic program guide presents the program title, run time, and brief summary of shows for several hours of programming on the currently tuned channel. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the signal meter provided in the menu allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. However, the remote lacks a button for turning closed captions on and off, as well as one for adjusting the aspect ratio, so you have to go through the menu.

Dish Network TR-40CRA

Picture quality

Picture quality was generally comparable to that of a good analog broadcast with digital standard-definition programs. But downconverted HD broadcasts are soft and lacking in detail, more comparable to VHS (videotape) than DVD quality.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and line-level left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the smaller models. One of the first box available with a program timer: allowing you to program up to five instances in which the box will turn on and tune into a specific channel at a certain time. That enables you to record digital off-air broadcasts onto a VCR or other recording device, but you cannot program the box to turn itself off. One of the few boxes with analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, but only when the box is in standby or not tuning to digital channels. It has a more advanced program guide that provides show descriptions for several hours' worth of programming on all available channels. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. There are no buttons on the console so you must use the remote to do everything, including turning the box on and off. It has a detachable power adapter.

Winegard RC-DT09

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the smaller models. It has the basic aspect ratio settings, plus a "Set by Program" option that automatically adjusts the aspect ratio depending on whether the digital signals are standard-def or high-def (which an analog TV would display as standard-def). An aspect ratio control button is not available on the remote, requiring you to use the onscreen setup menu to make an adjustment. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. When first turned on, there is no auto setup feature, so initial setup and channel scan aren't as easy as on other models that have this feature. While program information for the currently tuned program is available on the info bar, there is no program guide to give information about coming shows or shows on other channels. It has a detachable power adapter.

Sunkey SK-801ATSC

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

Has analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, but only when the box is in standby. It has a more advanced program guide that provides show descriptions for several hours' worth of programming on all available channels. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It has a detachable power adapter and comes with A/V cables (composite-video and stereo audio) in addition to the usual RF cables.

Magnavox TB100MG9

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

Although the stereo left/right audio output provides good audio, the RF output's volume is quite low, which causes a noticeable hiss if you raise the TV's volume.

Features

One of the few boxes with analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels while the box tunes to digital channels. The electronic program guide presents the program title, run time, and brief summary of shows for several hours of programming on the currently tuned channel. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the signal meter provided in the menu allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible, but does not have a button on the remote control dedicated to turning closed captions on and off, so you have to go through the menu. An aspect ratio control button is not available on the remote, requiring you to use the onscreen setup menu to make an adjustment. There are no buttons on the console so you must use the remote to do everything, including turning the box on and off.

Magnavox TB100MW9

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

Although the stereo left/right audio output provides good audio, the RF output's volume is quite low, which causes a noticeable hiss if you raise the TV's volume.

Features

The electronic program guide presents the program title, run time, and brief summary of shows for several hours of programming on the currently tuned channel. Also, there are no buttons on the box itself, so you won't be able to do anything if the remote is lost. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the signal meter provided in the menu allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. However, the remote lacks a button for turning closed captions on and off, as well as one for adjusting the aspect ratio, so you have to go through the menu. It is Energy Star-compliant.

Venturer STB7766G

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the smaller models. It has the basic aspect ratio settings, plus a "Set by Program" option that automatically adjusts the aspect ratio depending on whether the digital signals are standard-def or high-def (which an analog TV would display as standard-def). Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. However, an aspect ratio control button is not available on the remote, requiring you to use the onscreen setup menu to make an adjustment. When first turned on, there is no auto setup feature, so initial setup and channel scan aren't as easy as on other models that have this feature. While program information for the currently tuned program is available on the info bar, there is no program guide to give information about coming shows or shows on other channels. It has a detachable power adapter.

Kingbox K8V1

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable. (Note: you must adjust the box's out-of-the-box settings to get optimal picture quality.)

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the smaller models. Its program guide presents the program title and run time for the current and next show on all available channels, with a show description available for the currently tuned program on the info bar. This box has its own picture setting controls (contrast, brightness, and hue), unusual for a set-top box. However, its default picture settings are poor, causing a loss of any near-black shadow details and colors that are noticeably off; these can be quickly adjusted for a better picture. It has the basic aspect ratio settings and can also automatically adjust the aspect ratio depending on whether the digital channel is in standard-def or high-def resolution. But an aspect ratio control button is not available on the remote, requiring you to use the onscreen setup menu to make an adjustment. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Closed caption has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It has a detachable power adapter and is Energy Star compliant.

Digital Stream DSP7700T

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

Has analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, but only when the box is in standby or not tuning to digital channels. The electronic program guide presents the program title, run time, and brief summary of shows for several hours of programming on the currently tuned channel. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. And if no signal is found on a particular channel the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know that a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Its universal remote allows you to turn on and off, change the video input, and adjust the volume of your analog TV. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It is Energy Star qualified.

Apex DT250

Picture quality

With downconverted HD, this model is capable of producing picture quality that comes close to a good DVD. It had a minor flaw that only the fussiest might notice: If you're watching a downconverted HD wide-screen program letter-boxed to fit your squarish screen, images are stretched vertically to a slight extent. Its S-video output provides an even better image by eliminating the "dot crawl" noise that appears at the edges of colored objects when using composite video. With the "dot crawl" noise removed, edges and details become sharper. But with standard-def content there was visible stretching and blurring of the image.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and line-level left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the few models with an S-video output. Program guide provides show descriptions for several hours of programming for the currently tuned channel. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. There is only a power button on the front of the box so you cannot even change the channel without the remote. It has a Smart Antenna connection and comes with A/V cables (composite-video and stereo audio) in addition to the usual RF cables.

Cadence DTVC-9

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

The program guide presents program title and run-time information for the current and next show on all available channels, with a show description available for the currently tuned program. It has the basic aspect ratio settings, and a "Set by Program" option that automatically adjusts the aspect ratio depending on whether the digital signals are standard-def or high-def (which an analog TV would display as standard-def). Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. And if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So if you know that a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. When first turned on, there is no auto setup feature, so initial setup and channel scan aren't as easy as on models that have this feature. The LED status indicator lights are very bright, especially the red standby LED, which might be annoying at night. It comes with A/V cables (composite-video and stereo audio) but no RF cables.

Dish Network DTVPal

Picture quality

Picture quality was generally comparable to that of a good analog broadcast with digital standard-definition programs. But downconverted HD broadcasts are soft and lacking in detail, more comparable to VHS (videotape) than DVD quality.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and line-level left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the smaller models. The first box available with a program timer: allowing you to program up to five instances in which the box will turn on and tune into a specific channel at a certain time. That enables you to record digital off-air broadcasts onto a VCR or other recording device, but you cannot program the box to turn itself off. One of the few boxes with analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, but only when the box is in standby or not tuning to digital channels. It has a more advanced program guide that provides show descriptions for several hours' worth of programming on all available channels. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. There are no buttons on the console so you must use the remote to do everything, including turning the box on and off. It has a detachable power adapter.

GE 23333

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

Has analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, but only when the box is in standby. It has a more advanced program guide that provides show descriptions for several hours' worth of programming on all available channels. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It has a Smart Antenna connection, and is Energy Star compliant.

GE 23334

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

Has analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, but only when the box is in standby. It has a more advanced program guide that provides show descriptions for several hours' worth of programming on all available channels. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It is Energy Star compliant.

Insignia NS-DXA1

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

The program guide presents program title and run-time info for the current and next show on all available channels, with a show description available for the currently tuned program. It has the basic aspect ratio settings, plus a "Set by Program" option that automatically adjusts the aspect ratio depending on whether the digital signals are standard-def or high-def (which an analog TV would display as standard-def). Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. The universal remote can turn your analog TV on and off. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It comes with A/V cables (composite-video and stereo audio) in addition to the usual RF cables. It is Energy Star compliant.

Insignia NS-DXA1-APT

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. Downconverted HD content looks a bit soft compared to other DTV boxes, but has less noticeable downconversion flaws (such as jagged edges).

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

Has analog pass-through, which allows your TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels when the box is in standby. The program guide presents program title and run-time info for the current and next show on all available channels, with a show description available for the currently tuned program on the info bar. It has the basic aspect ratio settings, plus a "Set by Program" option that automatically adjusts the aspect ratio depending on whether the digital signals are standard-def or high-def (which an analog TV would display as standard-def). Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. The universal remote can turn your analog TV on and off. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It comes with A/V cables (composite-video and stereo audio) in addition to the usual RF cables. It is Energy Star compliant.

RCA DTA800B1**

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

Has analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, but only when the box is in standby. The electronic program guide presents the program title and run time for the current and next show of all available channels, with a show description available for the currently tuned program. Its universal remote allows you to turn on and off, change the video input, and adjust the volume of your analog TV. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It only provides two aspect ratio settings, letterbox and zoom (though the government requirements indicate it should have a third full or partially zoomed ratio). An aspect ratio control button is not available on the remote, requiring you to use the setup menu to make an adjustment. Among the few boxes we've seen that does not allow you to tune in a channel directly, but only by performing the more time-consuming scan-for-all-channels. It has a Smart Antenna connection and is Energy Star-compliant.

**This model replaced the DTA800B, but adds analog pass-through.

Winegard RC-DT09A

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the smaller models, it has analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, but only when the box is in standby. It has the basic aspect ratio settings and a "Set by Program" option that automatically adjusts the aspect ratio depending on whether the digital signals are standard-def or high-def (which an analog TV would display as standard-def). An aspect ratio control button is not available on the remote, requiring you to use the onscreen setup menu to make an adjustment. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. And if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So if you know that a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. When first turned on, there is no auto setup feature, so initial setup and channel scan aren't as easy as on models that have this feature. While program information for the currently tuned program is available on the info bar, there is no program guide to give information about coming shows or shows on other channels. It has a detachable power adapter, and is Energy Star qualified.

Zenith DTT900

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

The program guide presents the program title and run-time info for the current and next show on all available channels, with a show description available for the currently tuned program. It has the basic aspect ratio settings, plus a "Set by Program" option that automatically adjusts the aspect ratio depending on whether the digital channel is in standard-def or high-def resolution. The universal remote can turn your analog TV on and off. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It comes with A/V cables (composite-video and stereo audio) in addition to the usual RF cables. It is Energy Star-compliant.

Zenith DTT901

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. Downconverted HD content looks a bit soft compared to other DTV boxes, but has less noticeable downconversion flaws (such as jagged edges).

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

Has analog pass-through, which allows your TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels when the box is in standby. The program guide presents the program title and run-time info for the current and next show on all available channels, with a show description available for the currently tuned program. It has the basic aspect ratio settings, plus a "Set by Program" option that automatically adjusts the aspect ratio depending on whether the digital channel is in standard-def or high-def resolution. The universal remote can turn your analog TV on and off. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It comes with A/V cables (composite-video and stereo audio) in addition to the usual RF cables. It is Energy Star-compliant.

RCA DTA800B*

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

The electronic program guide presents the program title and run time for the current and next show of all available channels, with a show description available for the currently tuned program. Its universal remote allows you to turn on and off, change the video input, and adjust the volume of your analog TV. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It only provides two aspect ratio settings, letterbox and zoom (though the government requirements indicate it should have a third full or partially zoomed ratio). An aspect ratio control button is not available on the remote, requiring you to use the setup menu to make an adjustment. Among the few boxes we've seen that does not allow you to tune in a channel directly, but only by performing the more time-consuming scan-for-all-channels. It has a Smart Antenna connection and is Energy Star-compliant.

*This model is being replaced by the DTA800B1, which adds analog pass-through and other features.

Dish Network DTVPal Plus

Picture quality

Picture quality was generally comparable to that of a good analog broadcast with digital standard-definition programs. But downconverted HD broadcasts are soft and lacking in detail, more comparable to VHS (videotape) than DVD quality.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and line-level left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the smaller models. Has a program timer, allowing you to program up to five instances in which the box will turn on and tune into a specific channel at a certain time. That enables you to record digital off-air broadcasts onto a VCR or other recording device, but you cannot program the box to turn itself off. One of the few boxes with analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, but only when the box is in standby or not tuning to digital channels. It has a more-advanced program guide that provides show descriptions for several hours' worth of programming on all available channels. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. And if no signal is found on a particular channel, the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know that a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. There are no buttons on the console so you must use the remote to do everything, including turning the box on and off. It has a detachable power adapter. Note: It performed slightly better in our sensitivity tests, so it might be able to tune into some weaker signals that the other boxes cannot.

Digital Stream DSP7700P

Picture quality

Picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts for standard-def content. With downconverted HD content, some flaws (such as jagged edges) were noticeable.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

Has analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, but only when the box is in standby or not tuning to digital channels. The electronic program guide presents the program title, run time, and brief summary of shows for several hours of programming on the currently tuned channel. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. And if no signal is found on a particular channel the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know that a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Its universal remote allows you to turn on and off, change the video input, and adjust the volume of your analog TV. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It is Energy Star qualified.

Zentech DF2000

Picture quality

Picture quality was generally comparable to that of a good analog broadcast with digital standard-definition programs. But downconverted HD broadcasts showed visible coarseness of image detail, with strong jaggies on image edges.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

Instead of having the usual RCA jacks for its composite video and stereo audio outputs, it has a single AV output which requires the use of the provided "camcorder style" breakout cable to connect to your TV. It has a more advanced program guide that provides show descriptions for several hours' worth of programming on all available channels. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. There is only a power button on the front of the box so you cannot even change the channel without the remote. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It has a detachable power adapter and is Energy Star compliant.

Digital Stream DSP7500T

Picture quality

With downconverted HD content, picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still impressive, better than most analog broadcasts, despite some flaws that may go unnoticed (depending on the content). But with standard-def content there was visible stretching and blurring of the image.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

The electronic program guide presents the program title, run time, and brief summary of shows for several hours of programming on the currently tuned channel. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Its universal remote allows you to turn on and off, change the video input, and adjust the volume of your analog TV. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It is Energy Star compliant.

Digital Stream DTX9900

Picture quality

With downconverted HD content, picture quality was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts, despite some flaws that may go unnoticed (depending on the content). But with standard-def content there was visible stretching and blurring of the image.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

The electronic program guide presents the program title, run time, and brief summary of shows for several hours of programming on the currently tuned channel. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Its universal remote allows you to turn on and off, change the video input, and adjust the volume of your analog TV. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It is Energy Star-compliant.

Digital Stream DTX9950

Picture quality

HD content produced a picture quality that was a small step below that of the top boxes but still better than most analog broadcasts, despite some flaws that may go unnoticed (depending on the content). But with standard-def content there was visible stretching and blurring of the image.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

One of the few boxes with analog pass-through, which allows the TV's RF input to tune to off-air analog channels, but only when the box is in standby or not tuning to digital channels. The electronic program guide presents the program title, run time, and brief summary of shows for several hours of programming on the currently tuned channel. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Additionally, if no signal is found on a particular channel the on-screen signal meter allows you to monitor its strength as you optimize the antenna position. So, if you know a channel exists, you can tune to it and adjust your antenna until the signal is strong enough for the box to tune it in. Its universal remote allows you to turn on and off, change the video input, and adjust the volume of your analog TV. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It is Energy Star compliant.

GE 22729

Picture quality

Picture quality was generally comparable to that of a good analog broadcast with digital standard definition programs. But downconverted HD broadcasts showed visible coarseness of image detail, with strong jaggies on image edges.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

It has a more advanced program guide that provides show descriptions for several hours' worth of programming on all available channels. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It has a Smart Antenna connection.

GE 22730

Picture quality

Picture quality was generally comparable to that of a good analog broadcast with digital standard-definition programs. But downconverted HD broadcasts showed visible coarseness of image detail, with strong jaggies on image edges.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

It has a more advanced program guide that provides show descriptions for several hours' worth of programming on all available channels. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible.

Goodmind DTA 1000

Picture quality

Picture quality was generally comparable to that of a good analog broadcast with digital standard-definition programs. But downconverted HD broadcasts showed visible coarseness of image detail, with strong jaggies on image edges.

Audio

It delivers good audio from its RF and left/right audio outputs (which you'd use with the composite-video out).

Features

It has a more advanced program guide that provides show descriptions for several hours' worth of programming on all available channels. Allows you to directly tune to a new digital channel without having to do a scan-for-all-channels. Has adjustable font, size, color, and transparency of the closed-caption text and its background in order to make it more or less visible. It has a Smart Antenna connection.
Posted: June 2008