Unfortunately, the Samsung box does not offer parallel video output, which is found on the competing Humax HFA100. Parallel video output allows you, for instance, to output a high-def signal to your TV, while simultaneously outputting a standard-def signal via S-Video or composite video. This is particularly useful for owners of a VCR, a DVR, a DVD recorder, or a Slingbox-style device that cannot accept a high-def signal. With the SIR-T451, you are forced to make a compromise. You must watch everything on the TV in standard-def 480i and be able to use standard-def devices, or you can watch TV in high-def and give up the ability to use standard-def devices. We think this might be a deal breaker for a lot of people. We put the Samsung SIR-T451 up against a number of other tuners. Our first test pitted it against the internal HDTV tuners of the Vizio GV42L and the Samsung HP-R4252. Traditional wisdom made us expect the stand-alone SIR-T451 to best the integrated tuners, but that wasn't the case. In terms of reception, both integrated tuners topped the SIR-T451 by a channel or two, using same antenna in the same position. The greater difference was in the speed of the tuners' ability to pull down channel data, navigate the EPG, and change channels. The SIR-T451 was considerably slower than the internal tuners, enough so that most people would probably find it annoying. When we reviewed the similar Humax HFA100, we found overall performance to be much snappier.
The SIR-T451 also handles QAM signals, which means it can decode unscrambled digital cable signals without the need for a cable box. We compared the performance to the Toshiba 62HM196's internal QAM tuner to see if there was any difference in performance. Again, the internal tuner of the 62HM196 tuned in considerably more channels than did the SIR-T451. While the SIR-T451 still picked up the majority of channels, we can't give our full recommendation for QAM performance. Furthermore, the 62HM196 did a much better job of filtering out channels that weren't there, such as encrypted digital cable signals. For example, where the SIR-T451 would spend a few seconds trying to descramble a channel, the 62HM196 skipped right over it, correctly identifying it as impossible to receive.
Image quality, as with all HD tuners we've tested, was excellent. HD channels looked at least as good, if not better, than their counterparts on HD cable. Standard-definition channels looked great, too; free of the interference that often creeps into analog reception. Using the same antenna to pull in analog stations yielded unwatchable results, which speaks volumes about the benefits of digital over-the-air reception.
In the final analysis, the Samsung SIR-T451 isn't a bad product, but some fine-tuning would greatly improve the overall experience. We'd suggest waiting for the T451's replacement, the Samsung DTB-H260F--but despite repeated appearances at trade shows, that product has yet to become available for sale. In the meantime, the SIR-T451 is a decent over-the-air HD solution, especially if you can find it for less than $150.
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