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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: Tivax Digital TV Converter Box

Because I don't watch any TV, I never bothered with a cable subscription. A few years ago, Lisa indicated she wanted to watch PBS or NPR once in a while, so we bought an indoor amplified antenna (a pair of rabbit ears), and the signal was so bad that we immediately gave up and returned the antenna.

Thanks to the stimulus package, we applied for and received $40 coupons to buy a digital TV converter box, due to the impending switch-over to digital TV. Since the converter box would have been useless without an antenna, we also bought a matching amplified antenna. According to the Amazon reviews, this was a consumer's report choice, so I bought it. The total cost after coupons: $25.

The box is surprisingly small, about the size of an external 3.5" HDD. It comes with an IR remote, which inexplicably wouldn't teach my 4 year old Sony Universal Remote. It takes as input the RF cable from the antenna, and you have a choice of outputting to an RF cable to feed into the TV, or composite + audio cables on the TV. Since those slots were taken by a Wii, we opted for the RF cable. There's a selector that lets you choose between Channel 3 and Channel 4.

The device powers up slowly, but once it comes up is fairly easy to use. The responsiveness is slow --- it takes about a second between button pushes for each change to happen. The first thing to do was to take about 10 minutes to scan for digital TV signals. I was surprised at the number of digital TV channels it found! Then we started to see pictures. This was quite interesting because we had never seen TV so clear before! (Remember, we're on an ancient Sony analog TV!)

Then there was a few minutes of frustration as I tried to deal with a black box that filled the bottom 1/3rd of the screen. It turned out that we had close-captioning on, but set to an incompatible setting. A quick adjustment on the TV's menu fixed that. We took a look at the various channels, and checked the signal strength --- it was apparent that our input signal was mediocre at best, with only one of about 12 channels showing a strong signal. With the amplification on the indoor antenna turned down, we would get stuttering or a frozen picture, so the amplification was clearly necessary. But when watching TV, we saw no sign whatsoever that our signal was so attenuated --- clearly this digital stuff works!

I probably still won't watch much TV, but with $25 for a one time charge for the KQED, I guess this is not a bad deal, especially since we're unlikely to upgrade any time soon. This is literally the first time in 9 years we've had a working TV set in the house, so if you're like me, go apply for that coupon already!

1 comment:

md said...

I've had a set of rabbit ears for about 10 years now.

I got a Zenith DTT901, $20+coupon. It didn't take long to scan for signals, so far as I recall, not that it matters since you don't do that often.

The converter box is slightly less responsive than my old VCR was. (Previously, I almost always flipped around using the VCR remote.)

Overall, I'm perfectly happy with the box.

The only real complaint that I have is that, practically speaking, I can no longer use the VCR programmable functionality. This was a major item for me. Since the converter box is in charge of what channel is playing, if I want to record something while I'm away, I now have to set the converter box to the correct channel before I leave. And I almost always forget to do that. If I'm gone for a week, I will no longer be able to record a full week's worth of programming.

So what happened is that I just don't watch programming on my TV+VCR much anymore. Most of the programs I followed are broadcast over the internet now. Now, I watch them on my PC while rowing. Unfortunately, I'm exposed to more commercials this way (all part of "their" evil plan, I'm sure). Online TV has shorter commercials, so far, so it's bearable. If they go longer than 30 seconds I'll take the trouble to turn off the sound, but I can't FF the way I used to with my VCR (did I mention evil plan already?).

BTW I think a lot of PBS shows are broadcast over the internet as well. I sometimes watch Moyers and NOW that way.