OTA HDTV Reception Q&A

Updates on the DTV transition and how to receive over-the-air digital television for free.

Location: Richmond, IL, United States

Hello there! I created this blog to share the information about over-the-air HDTV reception you have been wearily searching the Web or calling technical lines for, whether you have decided for less expensive means to get your favorite TV shows, or still adjusting from the over the air broadcast DTV transition that occurred on June 12, 2009. After working for a leading antenna manufacturer for almost 5 years, during which time I've shared my expertise with those who asked on the phone and by email at work, I decided to do the same in the Blogosphere! Confused about getting your local HD channels? Just click through the archives, some of the most useful information is in the early posts from 2005-06. If you want to get in touch with me with antenna related questions, just leave a comment anywhere on this site.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

AND MY WINNER IS . . . THE ZENITH DTT900, or, How I Spent My DTV Coupon

At long last, I get to share my DTV converter box coupon story, and I can say that it is worth the wait and trouble to apply for one at http://www.DTV2009.gov/. I got my coupon early in April after sending out my application on the site for one coupon back in February, and last Sunday April 21st I cashed in my $40 coupon. I was considering the RCA DTA 800A because it was selling for only $49.99 at Wal-mart. However, Wal-mart stores sell either the RCA or the Magnavox, and not both. I wanted the RCA because it had generally solid reviews and it can actually stand on its end as a space saver. Well, it turns out the Wal-mart nearest me not only carried only the Magnavox, but they were also all out of stock. This by the way was the Thursday before I cashed in my coupon.

But after looking after several sites listing reviews by experts and customers alike, it seemed that the best choice available on the governmental approved list that comes with the coupon was the Zenith DTT900. It seemed in tests to pick up more channels and be more sensitive than the RCA, and that was my most significant factor in choosing a box. Also, looking at the pics of the RCA remote, while the buttons are large and easy to use by those who complain that the buttons on their mobile phone are too small, I could not see a button where you could simply change the aspect ratio of the picture. See, while I have a 4:3 screen, I like to watch scripted HDTV shows in letterbox, and then zoom in on sports, news, and other standard definition 4:3 shows which in letterbox mode have black bars surrounding a small screen.

The Zenith box sells in stores for $59.99, ten dollars more, but you do get what you pay for. In addition to the Zenith remote having that zoom button on the remote I wanted, the Zenith package included a video/audio cable and a coax to connect right to both my DVD recorder AND my TV set on channel 3. The RCA package does not supposedly include cables. The Zenith box is available at Circuit City, and so on Sunday I went to a Circuit City to get the Zenith box. This store had PLENTY of Zenith boxes in stock. I got the box and checked out, and I turned in my coupon, which works pretty much like a credit card/gift card. The difference was taken out of the $59.99 price plus 7% sales tax on the box, so after my coupon, the Zenith DTV box set me back $24.17, which is still half the price of digital cable service in my area that I have since disconnected, so I am still saving money even if the $39.99 Echostar TR-40 is not even available yet. In my case, waiting for the Echostar was not worth it. The store seems very aware of the coupon program, and I had no problem nor ran into any issues using the coupon. I did have to sign a receipt that I used my coupon since it was like using a credit card, but really was not an inconvenience as far as I was concerned.

By the way, I mentioned my DVD recorder, which is a Panasonic - while it does have an ATSC digital tuner, it does NOT allow me to zoom in and fill the screen on a standard definition show broadcast on an HDTV channel. It does have analog, but when that goes away, I am left with a small screen, so that I why I still needed a converter box. I should mention that at the time I got my coupon, there was no mention of a Panasonic converter box on the approved list, or anything else from their parent company, Matsushita Electronics, so this was not eligible for me to use a coupon to buy it. What is also great about the DTV converter box is I can record SDTV full screen now and watch something else, plus I can use picture-in-picture after the conversion date of February 17th, 2009.

So I come home to my place in that grey area between the Milwaukee viewing area and the Chicago viewing area, bringing home the Zenith box. I disconnected the digital cable box that I would return to the cable TV office the next day, and connected the Zenith box. I plug in the box, put the included battery into the remote, and powered on the box. My antenna was a Winegard SS-3000 SharpShooter on top of my TV set, aimed in the direction to receive the Milwaukee stations. Once I powered on the DTV box, it began scanning channels, and within only a couple minutes, the scan was complete, and I got all the major network affiliates and PBS HD in the box, as well as NBC, FOX, and MyNetworkTV from Chicago on the same antenna. Also with a bit of adjustment of the antenna I could get WGN Chicago, which carries the CW. So, I have all the networks on the Zenith on one indoor antenna. The picture quality was good, and I also get classic TV from MeTV Milwaukee on the DTV multicast from the Milwaukee CBS affiliate (see an earlier post about MeTV). The other good thing about getting NBC from both Milwaukee and Chicago is I get NBC Weather Plus from both markets, and instant weather conditions from both areas with it, for no fee.

There were also a couple great features of the Zenith box I enjoyed. One is that you could either do a full rescan and reset your channel list, or switch to a Quick Add mode in the menu and add any channels your antenna may have missed during the initial scan, which for me was the case getting WGN-DT. Second, with the remote you can jump back to the last channel, but then with the remote you can also scroll through the last four channels that were viewed with the box turned on, press Enter, and switch right to that channel, so switching channels, even multicast ones, is actually quite simple with this box. Also, it is possible by following an easy procedure in the manual to set the remote to power off the TV set you converted as well as the converter box, and adjust volume, mute, and closed captioning, essentially making the DTV box remote your new TV set remote.

The only disappointment I have with the Zenith DTT900 box is it has a so-called "Simple Guide" that just lets you see the current show on each channel and what is coming up next, but that's it; you cannot scroll ahead several days or even several hours to see what is coming up unlike some more high-end converter boxes. But that is no problem because I still have my Media Center PC with its on-screen guide that can show programming for the next 14 days, so I can plan my viewing that way. The Zenith box also cannot pass analog signals including low-power channels that will remain analog after February 17, 2009, but again, to me personally, that is a non-issue.

All in all, I feel I made the right choice in my converter box with the Zenith DTT900, and I highly recommend it to those who are willing to give up low-power stations and only $20 to $30 depending on sales tax rates in your area, that is, if you have the converter box coupon to use. Again, the DTT900 is available at Circuit City stores and possibly other locations if you are willing to look, but you must purchase them in the actual stores to use the coupon. Now Best Buy has the Insignia NS-DXA1 box, which may or may not be a private branded DTT900, I actually cannot confirm this, so I would stick with the trusted name brand. I will be interested to see what the reviews and comments are for the $39.99 Echostar TR-40; if the reviews are as good as the Zenith, then Echostar will be the big winner in the DTV transition. If not, then LG/Zenith will be the big winner. I will wait and see.