Samsung SIR-TS160 DTV/DirecTV receiver & SIR-T151 DTV receiver Page 2

A Warning
I have reviewed almost every DTV set-top box made since the first one, released by Panasonic four years ago, in fall 1998. For a while, the preeminent factor in every review was performance—the ability to pull in digital channels. But in the last year or so, the performance of receivers has improved dramatically across the board; it's become easy to take for granted their ability to pull in every digital channel with little effort. As newer receivers offer more and more features, overall ease of use has taken on more importance.

Still, the ability to defeat multipath interference and pull in stations with ease remains central to the evaluation of any receiver. Multipath—the receipt of a main signal and then, a moment later, a "ghost" of that signal that has bounced off a building or other obstruction—is the most effective signal-buster for digital transmissions. Samsung makes a chipset that pulls in digital signals, and uses it in both the SIR-TS160 and SIR-T151.

Before I discuss how well that chipset worked, I offer a warning: A receiver may work well or poorly in my house, but its performance in yours may be entirely different. Your proximity to transmitters, the terrain surrounding your house, the type of antenna you use—these and other variables will affect any receiver's performance. As a reviewer, what I can offer is a common test bed. I have a rooftop antenna with a rotor, and evaluate every receiver I review under exactly the same circumstances.

Only recently have digital television receivers become sensitive enough to be able to pick up any signals at all with an indoor antenna, and none has been able to receive all seven digital channels here in Washington that way. I first used the TS160 upstairs, where I have an indoor antenna made by Terk. The Samsung's channel-search system located only three of the seven channels with the indoor antenna—a respectable performance. The best I've experienced under this condition is four, although I don't recall which receiver it was.

I then set up the TS160 in my studio, hooked up my rooftop antenna, and ran the channel search. This time, the TS160 located all seven channels and incorporated them into its program guide; when I called up each one, I got a banner giving details about the channel. But the TS160 was able to display the actual programming from only three channels.

Sometimes, weather or other factors affect digital television reception. Sometimes, for one reason or another, a digital station simply goes off the air. So I waited a few days and tried again. The weather was clear and calm, but this time, again using the rooftop antenna and rotor, the TS160 was able to pull in only three stations. I adjusted and readjusted the antenna position, but to no effect.

Minutes later, under the very same circumstances, I plugged the antenna lead into my Sony SAT-HD100 receiver and tried again. The Sony was able to display all seven channels without faltering. I tried the TS160 twice more, on different days, and got the same results: three stations.

Oddly, the SIR-T151, which uses the same digital-receiver chipset, performed better in this regard than the $200-more-expensive SIR-TS160. Using the rooftop antenna, a channel search found five of the seven stations, and the T151 was able to display all five. But nothing I could do would coax it to receive all seven.

The prices of Samsung's SIR-TS160 and SIR-T151 are unbeatable, and their feature sets are superb, but their performance did not live up to what I've come to expect from present-generation DTV receivers. It is possible, however, that in your home theater, the results will be different. The TS161 is a fine DirecTV receiver with an excellent set of features. But the lackluster performance of both units as terrestrial receivers prevents me from recommending them.