In this report
Overview
Keep an older TV working
Get a coupon
Best digital converters
Antennas and setup
If at first you don’t succeed...
Digital dead zones
Beware of marketing ploys
Cut cable costs
Also in This Issue
This article was featured in the March 2009 issue of Consumer Reports Magazine.

Best digital TV converters

Tivax STB-T9
Tivax STB-T9
$50
ChannelMaster CM-7000
ChannelMaster CM-7000
$80

Several dozen digital-to-analog converter boxes are available online and at stores including Best Buy, Circuit City, RadioShack, Sears, Target, and Walmart. The boxes cost about $40 to $80 before coupon. You pay sales tax and, with online retailers, shipping fees. Most stores have only a few models; some Web sites carry more.

What our tests showed

We've tested 35 or so models, and all were comparable at pulling in the digital stations available at our Yonkers, N.Y., lab, and in tests with progressively weaker signal levels. We received digital versions of all the stations we get in analog as well as others offered only in digital format. That includes HD channels, which the boxes converted to lower resolution. Your reception will depend on distance, terrain, and more.

When supplied with a strong signal, all the tested boxes provided picture quality at least as good as a typical analog broadcast, and most had clearer, crisper images. Some were much better, approaching DVD quality. Audio was mostly fine.

Notable features

About a dozen tested boxes have analog pass-through, which sends analog signals and converted digital signals to the TV. To view digital channels in that setup, tune the TV to channel 3 or 4. (Most users won't need this feature because full-powered broadcasts are now all digital.) Several models we've tested have a VCR timer, enabling them to automatically switch channels to record from different stations. (You also have to program the VCR to turn on and off at the set times. Set your VCR to line-in, or channel 3, to receive signals from the box.)

Converters to consider

Among the models with picture quality approaching that of a DVD: the Zinwell ZAT-970A, $45, with analog pass-through and a VCR timer, and the Tivax STB-T9, $50, and STB-T8, $65, which adds analog pass-through. If your TV has an S-video input, consider the ChannelMaster CM-7000, $80, which had the best picture quality of any tested model. Two other boxes with a VCR timer are the Dish Network DTVPal, $60, and TR-40CRA, $45 (essentially the same as the DTVPal but at a lower price while quantities last). Picture quality was a bit lower than for the models above but better than analog. The program guides were among the best.

Posted: February 2009 — Consumer Reports Magazine issue: March 2009