I got this box about a year ago, not so much in direct anticipation of the coming analog-to-digital switch, but because I wanted access to the extra channels and the benefit of the improved video and audio that comes with the digital signal. I use it with a 27-inch, standard ... Read full review
I got this box about a year ago, not so much in direct anticipation of the coming analog-to-digital switch, but because I wanted access to the extra channels and the benefit of the improved video and audio that comes with the digital signal. I use it with a 27-inch, standard def tube TV (which I unfortunately bought a few months before all new models started including digital tuners, but then my old set had just gone belly-up).
I knew from reading up on it I had to use the component connections, at minimum, to get full use of its features, so I was fortunately not caught off-guard in that respect. I plugged my rabbit ears into the back of the box, and then connected the box to my AV receiver using the component video outputs and the optical audio output.
So now watching TV is more or less like watching DVDs, meaning more boxes to switch on and more remotes to use, but the picture is great, I get true Dolby 5.1 sound on shows that have it, and the program guide is a great add-on. I have the regular RF output from the box connected directly to my TV, too, so if I'm feeling lazy and just want to catch the news without worrying about quality I can just switch the TV on like the old days. As a bonus, if the box is even just on, the old analog signal seems to get a boost. I also have the composite video/audio outputs plugged into my VCR (I call it my TiVO) so I can make really clean off-air recordings if know I'm going to miss a show.
I have not used the HDMI output at all since none of my gear supports it. I'm assuming that the box was made primarily for use with HD sets that pre-date the mandatory inclusion of digital tuners. That said, even on a standard def TV, the video quality is leagues beyond that of analog off-air signals.
For those of you in Chicago, I do receive ever-fickle CBS (channel 2) with the rabbit ears, but just barely.
Sometimes the program guide is slow to respond, and can be annoying since the in-menu picture and sound cut out while the data loads. And, it would be nice to be able to check the signal strength without having to go three layers deep into the menu. Sometimes wrangling several remotes just to watch TV can get old, too, but getting a universal remote would likely solve this.
My biggest gripe is with channels broadcasting 4:3 content on a 16:9 signal. This leaves me with bars at the sides as well as the top and bottom of the screen unless I want to watch stretchy people. I can't really use the box's zoom because it cuts of not just the bars on the side (part of the broadcast) but part of the image's top and bottom, too. It would be better if it had a horizontal stretch feature. If the source material is 16:9 formatted for 4:3 (think of a widescreen VHS movie with letterbars) that is then broadcast at 16:9, then I can fake it with a combination of the zoom and my TV's vertical compression feature. Really, this problem has less to do with the box than with the broadcasts themselves, so hopefully this will be less of an issue as stations get there act together a little better after the switch.
Overall, the improved sound and video, plus the expanded channel availability outweigh the problem areas (and the twitchy channel 2). Plus, I'm less bothered by turning so many things on and using so many remotes just to watch TV as more time goes on and I think of the TV less as a fully functioning television and more as just a monitor.
I would recommend it to users accustomed to using an assortment of AV equipment and/or who care about getting the highest quality audio and video capable from off-air broadcasts. I would definitely not recommend it to older folks, or anyone who just wants to stick it between their rabbit ears and TV with RF cable and call it a day.