S&V Shootout: 3 DTV Converters Page 2

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THINGS YOU'LL LIKE ABOUT DTV

If you're buying one of these converters, you might not know about the advantages of digital TV. Allow me a brief aside to fill you in.

A digital converter box will bring in lots more channels than the tuner in your old analog TV can. Digital TV includes a feature called multicasting, which lets broadcasters send several channels in the space of one. For example, channel 4 here in Los Angeles offers the regular NBC feed, a 24-hour local weather channel, and a local news channel called NewsRaw. PBS stations often offer two or three programs at once.

All digital TV converters pull in a crystal-clear, noise-free picture that's far better than anything you've ever seen from an antenna. If they work at all, that is - digital converters are fussier about antenna adjustments than the old analog tuners were. If you have reception problems, there's help available at AntennaWeb.

Digital TV can carry extensive program information. You can get the name of the program, a synopsis, and the schedule of upcoming programs on whatever station you're watching. But it doesn't work unless your TV station puts that information into the signal. From what I've seen, most major network stations do, most independents don't.

3 Ditgital TV Converters

The Zenith's info screen tells you what's next, and lets you scroll to find out what's on other channels.

THE CONTESTANTS

While my quick review of some websites found more than 40 models supposedly available, I settled on three of the most prominent ones: the Digital Stream DTX9900, the RCA DTA800, and the Zenith DTT900. Websites typically list the Digital Stream and Zenith models for about $60 and the RCA for about $50.

At first blush, there doesn't seem to be a dime's worth of difference among these humble boxes. All have an F-connector for antenna input; RCA jacks for composite video and stereo audio output; and another F-connector for channel 3 or 4 output (for use with ultra-low-rent TVs that don't even have composite video input). All deliver a standard-definition picture; if you need a high-def tuner, that'll cost you a lot more. All have a power button and channel up/down buttons, though the Digital Stream has them on top instead of on the front. All come with a remote that also controls your TV.

They do look a little different, though. The Zenith verges on cool, with an LED power indicator slashing across its front. The Digital Stream resembles a smaller version of a $50 Chinese DVD player. The RCA looks like something you stole from a Motel 6.

One more minor difference: The RCA has an extra jack for a Smart Antenna, a new class of product that automatically evaluates signal strength and adjusts itself for the best reception. Though these products are supposedly available now, I couldn't find one for sale. Some websites list an RCA model, the ANT1500, for about $30, but I couldn't find it in stock.

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