HD DirecTV Tuners Page 2

The major differences between the Zenith and Sony tuners lie with the remote controls, although Sony does include a free DVI cable (worth $20). Sony's remote, as I mentioned, can change the output-format option on the fly. You may not need this function beyond initial setup, though. You can also code the remote for a particular receiver, if you have more than one. Unfortunately, none of the remotes provides discrete power-on and -off commands or aspect-ratio settings, which might make it difficult to program a macro-based remote control like the Philips Pronto or an automation system from Crestron or AMX.

I connected each box's component high-def output to an Extron switcher, which was connected to our reference Runco DTV-991 CRT projector. According to signals from our HD test generator, the DTV-991 is capable of a full 1,920:1080i resolution. I made direct comparisons of the tuners' signals by switching inputs and comparing the image quality. All three tuners looked excellent. The Samsung's picture was slightly more flushed than that of the other two tuners and seemed to make colors bloom somewhat. The Sony and Zenith tuners, which created identical pictures, provided a slightly sharper picture than the Samsung. This perceived detail may be due to the fact that these tuners have less color. Unfortunately, we have no way to know which box is accurate, although I'd venture to guess that all three tuners hover on either side of the line. In most cases, you can adjust the color level to some extent through your display. When I used each tuner's DVI connection with the Sharp XV-Z10000U projector, I noticed a slight increase in detail and clarity over the analog connection. Differences between tuners were even more difficult to see.

Comparing analog audio levels is considerably more difficult without a reference level, and comparing digital outputs is harder still. If you use an HDTV tuner, you should use the digital output, in which case your external audio processor will mostly determine the audio quality. If you're using the analog audio outputs (get with the times), all I can say is that the Sony and Zenith models are a hair louder.

Tired of my current, first-generation RCA DTC-100 and its particular ergonomic hang-ups, I'm eager to get a new HD-capable tuner. I'm torn, however, between the options presented here. Samsung's dual-output capability, which will feed both my main system's HD-capable projector and its peripheral devices (VCR, PVR, etc.) and a second display, is enticing. For those people who don't have a CRT projector, this is a good fit. For those who do, the Sony or Zenith tuner's native outputs might be more useful, and these tuners' ergonomic features are an excellent bonus. As the tuners' street prices are likely to be very similar, choosing one over the other will depend on availability and brand preference.


Sony and Zenith:
• Front-panel channel readout
• Native output rate

• Concurrent HD and SD outputs allows for extremely flexible installation
• Includes video games!

SIR-TS160 HD DirecTV Tuner $700
Samsung Electronics America
Dealer Locator Code SAM

SAT-HD200 HD DirecTV Tuner $799
Sony Electronics
(800) 222-SONY
Dealer Locator Code SNY

HD-SAT520 HD DirecTV Tuner $700
Zenith Electronics
(877) 9-ZENITH
Dealer Locator Code ZEN