Saturday, March 8, 2008

See the Future

Leap day only comes once in four years. What a day it was! I leaped into a new world of television technology and the federal government underwrote my adventure! I had just received my 'granny coupons' good for a two $40 discounts on digital television converter boxes. My two red credit card coupons, with nifty eagle holograms, had been received the day before in the mail. They would expire in 90 days. It was time for action!

Luck was on my side. I walked into my local Circuit City and asked about converter boxes. They had just come in, but they only had one model! By some divine miracle, they were actually the exact converter I wanted: The LG designed Zenith DTT900. I bought 40% of their stock. (They had only 5 of them. I bought two!)

Excitement filled the air. I had read about the LG's prototype in trade magazines and on Internet reflectors for months. This is the model of choice for DXers. DTT900s feature the very latest 6th generation chipset with cutting edge features and fun. I couldn't wait to get them out of the box!

You become impressed from the very start. The front panel display features an elegant two color display for power. While idling, the front panel LED is red. Turn it on and it turns to a deep blue. The deep blue LED will blink when the box receives commands from the remote control. It is a very appealing design.

You'll discover one clumsy flaw when you attempt setup. The box itself can only be turned on and off or change pre-determined channels with its three front panel buttons. Without the remote you will not go farther. There is no provision for manual entry. No remote? You simply can't activate the box. Beware as you install the provided Chinese AAA battery. It is wrapped in thin clear plastic that could easily not be seen. This had me going for a few seconds. Unwrap it and it works much better. Amazing, huh? Thankfully, these were the only negative features that could be found.

The initial setup was quick and easy. You select which language you'll use, a default aspect ratio and then you auto-search for channels. The search takes about one minute. The search software accounts for all the virtual channels received, so your final number may seem inflated. I have one broadcaster in my area that offers 10 virtual channels! Finally, you select your time zone and you are all set. Total time: less than two minutes. I've never seen one easier.

The on-screen display has the same classy look and feel as previous models designed by LG but better. All the graphics look refined and large. The automatic channel scan is much faster. My first scan produced 51 channels when my outdoor 8-bay bowtie antenna was pointed toward Manhattan. Not bad for almost 50 miles away! Picture and sound come on immediately when the scan is completed. A nifty new addition is a drop-down menu when you manually enter channel numbers. Finding channels becomes fast and efficient. Type '2' and you'll get all the virtual channels that begin with '2': 2-1, 21-3, 21-4, 21-5, 25-1, 25-2. Just arrow down and enter and you are there! Unlike many other DTV devices, the LG design also allows complete entry of specific complete virtual channel numbers, not just the overall channel. You can go immediately to 50-5 instead of going to 50 and then doing a cumbersome scan to get to 50-5. It's well designed for easy viewing.

Other nifty features are an automatic self-setting clock and an advanced broad display signal meter. Both can be accessed via remote control. The signal meter provides a fast-updating on-screen display combined with a beeping audio tone reminiscent of signal meters seen on DirecTV boxes. As the signal gets stronger, little beeps get faster and faster. My guess is that this was intended for antenna alignment when you can't see the on-screen display but you can hear the TV set's audio. The handy remote also includes an audio control. If you are using an old TV that did not come with any remote, this added feature is a welcomed blessing.

The deep menus provide even more fun and flexibility. You'll find a wide variety of aspect ratio settings to fit the received video to your screen exactly the way you would like to see it. You can quickly change the look with your remote. Fullscreen? Widescreen? Compressed? Cropped? No problem! You can adjust the audio to play in mono or stereo. It even has an auto-off feature allowing you to turn off the box after a certain amount of time, if you like.

You’ll find just as many options if you like to view closed captioning. Every variety of captioning and text pops up instantly through a flick of your remote. You can even choose between HD 708 captions and SD 608 captions. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to look around. If you set it for 708, and only 608 type captions are being sent, you’ll have to search around for results. The converter will not sense what is being sent and switch automatically.

Generation 6 chipsets provide one admirable advanced feature. When a received signal is weak, the picture content does not switch to black instantly. You’ll see the picture perform an interesting blurry tiling effect updating only the parts of the screen showing action until it gains enough information to go to full-quality again. It’s more appealing to watch, but creates some wild morphing effects on days when signals are not up to par.

So how is reception? It is better than older design digital tuners I have auditioned. Don’t expect miracles. The new Zenith will bring in distant reception better than ever before, but some new digital stations are still deficient in signal strength. When the actual transition to full digital broadcasts on February 17, 2009, some stations will move their digital signals from temporary UHF frequencies to the VHF channels they now use for analog. This may make all the difference for reliable reception in the future. Keep in mind any reception you receive will look simply beautiful. You will never see snow or ghosts ever again!

You will probably see more channels with the Zenith converter than you do now, but they may not necessarily be the same ones you were watching in analog! In my particular case, fully switching to digital removed NBC, the CW and one PBS affiliate from my roster. I started with four analog PBS channels. I now have 9 digital PBS channels to choose from. I gained a host of oddball digital virtual channels with sometimes entertaining content. For instance; I can now see an all-Anime animation channel perfect for teenagers.

All in all, I’m very satisfied with this little converter. It is obvious that it is the product of several generations of development. It is concise and well-brewed. The price is right. Even if you pay full list price, the Zenith DTT900 may cost you $20 plus tax using a government provided ‘granny coupon.’ Apply for free ‘granny coupons’ by calling 1-888-DTV-2009. Keep in mind, this converter needs an old fashioned TV antenna! You really can’t go wrong. Go have some fun and go digital today!


Anonymous said...

Yay! A new article! :D

Anonymous said...

Thanks Karl. I got my coupon this week and was thinking about getting the LG/Zenith unit. You have swayed me once again.