Digital Television (DTV) Converter Box Review & Where to Buy
Untangling the choices in DTV converter boxes, here is a
short and sweet cheat sheet
By: Bruce Bahlmann - Contributing Author (your
is important to us!)
Created: March 28, 2008
NOTE: For more information about over-the-air antennas, check
out our article:
"Are Over the Air Antennas Now Obsolete?"
The winners and losers of the race to supply, build, and sell Coupon
Elegible Converter Boxes (CECB) or also known as NTIA certified Digital
Television Converter Boxes, or DTV Converter Boxes, or Digital TV
Converter Boxes are upon us. With February 17, 2009 conversation date
set in stone, the
Converter Box Coupon Program started, retail outlets for consumer
goods are beginning to finally stock meaningful quantities of DTV
converter boxes. This article is a summary of the chips (tuners and ASIC)
used in the construction of these boxes, the leading manufacturers of
these boxes, and finally which boxes are initially being stocked by
retailers as well as reviews of earlier adopters of these boxes.
Some of the early winners of the DTV Converter Box parts
supply are LG and Sanyo (See Table 1.0). LG has not only the most used ASIC
but also manufactures the two of the three leading DTV Converter Boxes.
Sanyo's UBA00AL tuner is the dominate tuner (most design wins) among retail stocked DTV
Converter Boxes easily beating out Microtune and Thomson which thus far have
shown very little progress in terms of being actually stocked in retail
shelves to sell to consumers. The green areas represent DTV Converter
Boxes receiving the most positive feedback thus far from early adopters or
have experienced materially significant retail distribution by way of a
||Power Use [on]
||Power Use [sleep]
|Channel Master CM7000
||STx7707nuc & STv0373
||Circuitboard from Deltacom
|Digital Stream DTX9900
||LG TDVG-H051F or
||LG TDVG-H051F or
||208 pin chip?
|Zenith DTT 900
||LG TDVG-H051F or
Table 1.0 Breakdown of Tuner and ASIC chips among
the leading DTV Converter Boxes (source AVS Forum)
With nearly 219 million televisions in the United States, a $50-60 DTV
Converter Box can ring in some pretty meaningful revenues. However, its not
likely that all 219 million televisions will need converter boxes. A good
way to look at this is if you add up the number of
current digital television subscribers (60.95 million), multiply that by
the average number of televisions per household (2.1), and then subtract
that from the 219 million you are left with about 91 million televisions
that are most likely in need of a DTV Converter box between NOW and February
17, 2009. Selling ~90 million of anything regardless of whether you are ASIC,
tuner, or DTV Converter Box manufacturer will be significant. A fair "guess"
would be that 60% of these 90 million TVs go the converter route, 20-30%
just upgrade the TV to a new (or used) digital TV, 5-7% subscribe to a TV
programming package, and the remaining just dispose of the non-working TV.
Since these are the "free TV" hold-outs, I do not suspect this population
represents a significant opportunity for cable or satellite TV so the 5-7%
number is likely on the high-side.
Coupon Details: There are
22.25 million coupons available to US households, and once used an
additional 11.25 million coupons available for households that solely
receive their TV broadcasts over-the-air using antenna. Each coupon is
redeemable for $40 towards the cost of a certified DTV Converter Box and
up to two coupons can be given to each US household (while supplies
TV Signals Post Cut Over:
The current VHF 2-13 channel range still exists for DTV after Feb 17,
2009. The current UHF 14-69 channel range will be trimmed to UHF 14-51
for digital TV broadcasting after Feb 17, 2009. UHF channels 52-69 (698
to 806 MHz) will be sold to the highest bidders for emergency and next
generation wireless communication use. UHF Channels 70-83 were already
reallocated years ago to pagers, cell phones, public safety, etc. Many
stations will revert back to using their previous VHF frequencies to
broadcast their digital signals. Their UHF allocations are on loan
(unless they chose to keep them and rather give up their VHF's post that
date) so they could be simulcast with their analogs. Any unused VHF
frequency left unused will be auctioned off.
As retail consumer electronics stores have begun to shelve these DTV
Converter Boxes, the following table (Table 2.0) is a summary of the early
feedback from various individuals who have purchased and tested out these
boxes. Most interesting among Table 2.0 is that among the more than 60 DTV
Converter Boxes certified by NTIA, only 7 have thus far stocked by retail
stores and only 6 have indicated that they are capable of passing analog
signals to the television set (analog pass through). Note: * next to prices
below represent products that are only in the store.
Table 2.0 Breakdown of DTV Converter
Boxes by Review (pros/cons) and Where To Buy (source AVS Forum)
Many DTV Converter Boxes offer perhaps unusable features such as "Smart
Antenna" or "Advanced Guide". Smart antenna provides an integrated rotor for
supported antennas and automatically adjusts the antenna to an optimal
location based on signal strength. Advanced guide allows users to see up to
7 days of programming. However evident from early feedback while these
features do work they may not work or be supported in the area where the
customer lives. For example, a smart antenna may have limited applicability
if the consumer lives in a valley and advanced guide is dependent on
broadcasters who thus far only send 48 hours of shows, so those DTV boxes
with 7 day advance guide features can seldom be used to their fullest.
What remains unclear is how many different models will retail stores
stock? Walmart and Radio Shack are in the early minority by stocking two
different models: Walmart stocking (RCA and Magnavox) and Radio Shack
stocking (Digital Stream and Zenith). Interestingly, both have one highly
rated model and one not so highly rated. Other retail store such as Best
Buy, Circuit City, HHGregg, and Sears only stock one model but its a highly
In another poll conducted on the
TiVo website of only 40 people (so take that with a grain of salt), the
three most popular DTV Converter Boxes were: Echostar TR-40 (41.67%), Zenith
DTT900 (36.11%), followed by a tie between DigitalStream and Magnavox.
NOTE: For more information about over-the-air antennas, check out
our article: "Are Over
the Air Antennas Now Obsolete?"
Thanks for the review of digital-to-analog converter boxes. It was an
excellent start on a tough topic. In fact, there is so little out there,
that I was surprised to see your site listed somewhat down on the search
However, I wonder about the other units that are on the government
list. Also, I wondered why there isn't a listing with those that do have
pass-thru rather than those that don't. Analog pass-thru is a big plus
and should have always been listed as a "Pro" item. In fact, I would
just list all of those first, and the ones without last.
Thanks for the feedback...
I looked at it more from an "investment prospective"... parts
suppliers (mainly chips), and whose products are on retail shelves.
You are correct that there are many more products out there that
have been certified which were not detailed in this piece; only very
few of those are even being actively sold to consumers or have
nailed up distribution relationships with retail stores.
Analog pass through is a pretty important feature (least from now
until the cut over) and it has even been a highly suggested feature
by NTIA, but why few vendors chose to implement it remains a
mystery. If you look at this from an investment perspective however,
analog pass through is insignificant because from a buyer's
perspective either the product is available for purchase or not.
Since a majority of the currently available products don't support
it, and it's only available on otherwise lower rated currently
available options, this feature is not enough to overcome other
Louis R Briones
There is going to be a major problem with having this converter
boxes, due to the fact that most of the Apartment Associations, and Home
owner's Associations will not allow consumers like myself to have used
with an "Over-The-Air" Rooftop Antenna claiming that these types of
antennas are real Eyesore, which to me doesn't make since what so ever.
When trying to use a pair of rabbit ears, or a amplified Terk
antenna, we come to find that these antennas of this type failed to
faction within these type of buildings. Most of the folks that live in
some kind of apartment dwelling are for sure going to be left out of the
realm, for not having access to the television and radio airwaves. This
something that the government does;'to think about.
Someone from the FCC should forced the Apartment Associations and
others to install come kind of a "Rooftop" antenna, so in this way when
these converter boxes are used, these receivers will faction properly.
Thanks for the feedback.. Having rented recently, I'd agree with
you... and this probably falls into UNSERVABLE areas.
One "better" option over Terk (which are notoriously terrible) is
a Winegard antenna which has a powered high density HDTV antenna
(SS-2000). While HDTV quality might seem like overkill, the
sensitive to receive HD would certainly help your ability to operate
a standard def digital tuner such as a DTV Converter Box through
walls, etc. Note you don't have a lot of options, so this might be
You can purchase the Square Shooter from any of the following:
From: Donna Koone
Sent: Sunday, April 13, 2008 6:23 PM
We have two analog televisions that are not connected to our cable
supplier and thus need Digital Converters. I purchased an RCA converter
box and after installing one I get the message - no signal, unable to
tune to this channel. Both of these televisions have indoor antennas,
but they are UHF/VHF/HDTV compatible. What is my next option? (We live
in a rural area)
All of the information that I have read and heard on the television
newscasts indicates that all you have to do is buy a converter box, hook
it up, and you will be ready for the switch over. However, things are
not working that easily for me since the converter box is not receiving
a signal. It would be much simpler to just replace the analog sets, but
financially that is not an option at this time.
Also, we currently receive local channels on our television sets that
are connected to our cable supplier, but we
also have an analog antenna that we switch over to during inclement
weather if our cable reception is unable to transmit (during heavy rain,
etc.). After the digital switch over takes place next year, what option
will we have available if our cable reception is unavailable?
Traditional indoor antennas just are not going to pull in the
signal you require to get past the annoying “no signal” issue you
are reporting. Rabbit ears worked well for very small screen analog
TVs as they required very little signal to display an acceptable
signal. In the case of digital, you need to invest in either a
quality indoor “powered” antenna (suggest Winegard SS-2000 ~ $70),
or get a decent house antenna such as a Winegard HD7082P which runs
about $90 – both prices are through a discounter but retail for
either would be around $100 or more.
It would have been nice if the FCC would have forced stations to all
go to UHF as you could have bought a single quality UHF antenna to
pull all of them in. However, since over the air stations can now
spread across both VHF and UHF you really need a pretty big antenna
to do a decent job across all available spectrum where over the air
stations could reside. If you paid less than $100 (retail) for your
antenna, I would not be surprised you aren’t getting enough signal.
Also, keep in mind your DTV’s tuner may also be the problem. It has
yet to be reported that the RCA had a better than average tuner
(meaning average or worst would require MORE signal to obtain an
acceptable picture). I’m waiting to see how the Microtune tuners
perform as no real test results have come in from them (available
from Sansonic and EchoStar), but in the mean time your best bet is
either buy a better than average house antenna or return your DTV
Converter for one with a more sensitive tuner. Hope this helps?
Sent: Sunday, April 13, 2008 8:35 PM
I think there is a federal law regarding rooftop antennas and they
CANNOT be banned. I notice someone mentioned the following:
"most of the Apartment Associations, and Home owner's Associations
will not allow consumers like myself to have used with an "Over-The-Air"
Rooftop Antenna claiming that these types of antennas are real Eyesore,
which to me doesn't make since what so ever."
I'm pretty sure you can put up an antenna and no one can stop you
based on federal law.
Section 224 of the Telecom Act states that a utility or local
exchange carrier "shall provide a cable television system or any
telecommunications carrier with nondiscriminatory access to any
pole, duct, conduit or right-of-way owned or controlled by it."
However, it does not conclude that the FCC has the authority to open
rooftops for antenna placement.
It gets worst:
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 preempted local regulations,
particularly zoning regulations, which prohibit telecommunications
antennas subject to exceptions where reasonable health or safety
regulations are involved. Nonetheless, in many cases, special zoning
variances, building permits, FCC licenses or other governmental
approvals are required for the installation and operation of a
telecommunications antenna. The tenant will want to have its
obligations, particularly the obligation to pay rent under the lease
or licensee agreement, conditional and effective only upon the
tenant obtaining the necessary approvals. While a reasonable period
of time must be allowed for this process, the property owner must
protect himself/herself by setting a definite deadline by which: 1)
the tenant can exercise its right to terminate; or 2) the tenant
must begin to pay rent - approvals or no approvals. While setting a
deadline might not result in rent actually being paid on time, at
the very least, the existence of the date can institute a dialogue
between the landlord and the tenant about the status of the approval
process and the project in general.
I'd never thought about this until you said it, so I looked it
Bill C.S. Ho
Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 4:38 PM
You cited the
Section 224 of Telecom Act in response to the rooftop antenna
placement. I think you should quote the Section 207 instead which is
directly related to the OTA reception devices (antenna and dish).
This FCC rule became effective in 1996 and has since then been
amended a couple times. Basically, landlords or local community or
association cannot restrict the placement of antenna in private area
(rented or owned) that would lead to degradation of reception signal
or increase in cost of installation. Putting an antenna on the
rooftop of an apartment (which is not part of the rental agreement)
may be prohibited by the landlord but not on the patio or balcony
within the rental property exclusively used by the renter.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008 10:25 PM
Superb web site. I have a decade old Panasonic 27" TV with
simple thin frame about the TV picture. On NTSC it produces a
stunning picture, better than with the Insignia DTV converter box
(which I agree is pleasant to use). The Channel Master CM7000 via
s-Video is the only converter box I have found in limited Salt Lake
City which yields a better picture. But the Channel Master looks
like something that should sell for $12, has very small print in the
program guide, and buttons on the remote and an input on the back
which do nothing. It seems to me like a shabby effort other than
the superb picture it yields. Do you know of any convert
box which gives a sense of quality and the quality picture of the
Channel Master? In particular have you seen the Samsung
SIR-T451? I am about to return a Sony SAT DH-200, which I assumed
would be good because of the Sony name and the original price of
$899 to be sold for $799. It yields a very poor picture. Regards.
Sunday, December 28, 2008 10:49 AM
Thank you so much for putting together this informative web
site! I have been in the guts of the analog TV business for 30
years, and this site provided almost exactly what I needed to know
(the tuner and ASIC IDs).
I've bought a Zenith DTT901, and it works fine...but the sensitivity
seems mediocre. I live in a rural area, about 70 miles line-of-site
to San Francisco. But channels pumping out a megawatt (analog)
don't come through the box at all in digital. I get exactly one
channel. Any clue if there is a truly high-sensitivity box out
there? The available information seems to indicate that the Zenith
is in the good-to-very-good area...obviously, not good enough for
The Zenith should do fine (your only upgrade path would be to
choose convertor box that has a microtune
tuner in it). I suspect your main problem is likely your
antenna. For as far as you are away from San Fran, I’d suggest
the following Antenna.
Winegard HD 7698 Platinum
It’s the one I have and it works like a charm. Note, you can’t
just get a UHF antenna as some stations can go back to VHF so
this antenna accommodates that as well as addresses signal
issues in fringe areas. When signal strength is an issue, always
go with the best antenna you can buy and then work towards the
TV (using high quality cable like:
Belden 7916A Single Quad-Shied RG-6 Coax Cable
Which has a very low loss per foot (perhaps the lowest in its
class), and only split of you absolutely have to or purchase a
powered splitter which doesn’t introduce any splitting loss.
Winegard HDA-100 Distribution Amp
Note post Feb 17, a number of stations have submitted
“maximizing applications” which will allow them to boost their
power level, so while they may be temperamental signal wise
currently – after Feb 17, they will be fine. Especially if you
have a good antenna.
Hope this helps, Let me know how it turns out…
Sunday, January 11, 2009 7:31 PM
I learned more from
your website than all the other sites I visited combined. Thanks for
the information. I have a question regarding the DTV converter boxes
discussed in Bruce Bahlmann’s article. Bruce, I saw your recommendation
to use an RF amp on the output of the antenna if you need to split the
signal. Is it possible to split the digital signal out of the converter
box instead? I want enable my three TVs to watch over-the-air
stations. When my satellite signal drops during bad weather, I need to
watch the local channels to be sure a tornado isn’t bearing down on my
humble abode. I’m trying to save a few bucks upgrading an already
obsolete video setup. A digital splitter, if such a thing exists, is
likely to be less expensive than 2 additional converter boxes.
output of a single converter would mean that all three TVs view
the same channel. If you want this to happen, I’d suggest buying
a converter with three different outputs and just running these
outputs to the different sets unless the three sets are
considerable distance apart.
If you want
all three sets to operate independently, then you’d need three
different converters and decent coax cable to connect them to
the antenna. Ideally, you should run all three coax cables to a
central location and perform the antenna splitting there. If you
are 60 or more miles from the broadcast antennas you are trying
to receive on all three TVs, I don’t recommend un-amplified
splitting – as a 3 way splitter will mean that each of the three
outputs will get 1/3 of the original signal. So, unless you are
starting out with a great antenna source, you will likely be
disappointed with the results.
amplifier won’t make up for a bad antenna – rather it will just
amplify noise. So, my best advice is upgrade the works (add new
antenna, a quality amplified splitter, and make sure you
home-run all cables running to your converters from the
splitting point). In this way, even when the weather turns bad
(note that poor weather will negatively impact the quality of
signals received over the air), you will still receive clear
signals so you don’t miss any weather or other warnings. Better
safe than sorry.
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