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April 2008
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Samsung DTB-H260F: First Look
A digital-to-analog converter box for HD-ready TVs

Samsung DTB-H260F
Samsung DTB-H260F
If you receive your TV programming via an antenna, you need to prepare for the February 2009 switch to all-digital broadcasting. In a nutshell, you'll need a digital tuner—either built into your TV or connected externally—to continue receiving over-the-air broadcasts starting next year.

With a standard-definition TV, your best bet is a basic digital-to-analog converter, which costs about $40 to $70. (For reviews of basic DTV converters, see our First Look at digital TV converter boxes.) But if you have an HD-ready TV, which is capable of displaying high-def images if connected to an external tuner, you might consider spending more for an HD-capable set-top box.

The Samsung DTB-H260F, $170, is one such product. In our tests, it delivered an excellent HD picture in 720p and 1080i resolutions. The box should give you access to just as many stations as an HDTV with a built-in tuner, assuming that you have a good UHF/VHF antenna to pull in the high-def signals.

In addition, the box includes a QAM cable tuner that could give you access to a limited number of HDTV channels from your cable pay service. This might be useful if you are paying for basic non-HD cable service but would like to view local broadcaster's HD programs. Channel availability may vary depending on your cable service.


HIGHS

Excellent HD performance. In our tests, the DTB-H260F delivered top picture quality on an HD-ready set connected via either HDMI or component-video. A rear-panel switch on the box allows you to change the resolution (480i, 480p, 720p, or 1080i) to optimize the quality of a broadcast.

On-screen guide. You can scroll through a grid displaying the programming lineup for all available digital channels, with start and end times.

Analog pass-through. Although this box doesn't have an analog tuner, it can pass through analog signals to a TV with an analog tuner. That will enable you to watch broadcast programming from stations that will continue to broadcast analog signals after the transition.

Aspect-ratio adjustment. Using the dedicated "aspect" button on the remote, you can directly switch between different aspect ratios to the one that best suits a particular program.

Sensitive tuner. The box did just as well as several late-model HDTVs in our lab with broadcast signals from our rooftop antenna. In addition, when we fed the box progressively weaker signals, it did a good job of displaying a viewable image even with a weaker signal.

Signal-strength meter. Accessible via the remote, this feature helps you adjust the antenna to the optimal position.


LOWS

Expensive. At $170, the Samsung box isn't cheap. Nor is it eligible for purchase with one of the federal government's $40 coupons aimed at defraying the cost of a standard set top box.

For HD-ready TVs only. You will need at least an HD-ready TV to set up this box because the DTB-H260F isn't friendly to older standard-definition analog TVs. (If you want basic options for your older TVs, check out our reviews of three digital TV converter boxes: the Magnavox TB100MW9, Insignia NS-DXA1, and Zenith DTT900.) The box can present an on-screen menu via component or HDMI outputs only; no menu, closed captioning, or other graphic overlay is visible on the composite or S-video outputs. Lack of access to the menu will prevent you from performing a scan for digital channels and prevent access to other menu or on-screen related options. In addition, the box's antenna output only provides "pass through" of the antenna signal, and cannot output off-air digital programming onto channel 3 or 4. This box cannot be used to view digital channels on a TV that has only an antenna-type input. However, you can connect one of the analog A/V outputs to a VCR or DVD recorder to record a standard-def version of the high-def programming that's currently playing on your HDTV.


BOTTOM LINE

The Samsung DTB-H260F costs much more than a basic converter box, so it doesn't make sense to use it with an analog TV that can't take advantage of its capabilities. But with an HD-ready TV, it's a different story. It will enable you to get free over-the-air HD broadcasts with quality that's as good as anything you'll get from cable, if not better. Most of the networks already broadcast their prime-time programs, sports, and news in high definition. While this box is expensive, over time it will cost you a lot less than paying a monthly bill for cable or satellite.