Could it be this easy? Could this be the first multi-faceted device that actually installed easily, delivered more than promised and is something I can rave about after ranting these last few weeks?
Well, the Zenith converter box (along with an added attraction: a new fangled RCA flat panel indoor antenna) solved some problems and made it seem to me that the Digital Transition next February might not be so hard. (Assuming, of course, that the cable companies, federal government and all sorts of moons, stars and satellites come in line well before that fateful day.)
Tens of millions of consumers with analog TVs that receive their broadcast signals using an antenna can use the Zenith converter box (and many other boxes) to receive the new interference-free digital TV broadcasts when full-power analog TV broadcasting ends on Feb. 17, 2009. But first things first. In a little town in New England where I can barely get cable, the nearest big town with regular TV stations is about an hour away and, since there’s too many trees, satellite can’t even be a thought, I decided to test the Zenith box.
In reality, the analog to digital transition came here in Connecticut years before the FCC sold out its bandwidth to establish the new directive for TV watching and buying. There are very few TV stations available here, and when the actual transition comes next February, there’s going to be a lot more people than the national average who will have no TV reception at all. Some cable companies have already turned off analog stations and some local network affiliated stations are no longer available, even with rabbit ears.
We chose the Zenith Digital TV Tuner model DTT901 digital-to-analog converter box – one of those officially certified by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration digital-to-analog converter box program - because it is the leading seller amongst the slew of famous brand and new branded converters.
While back-ordered in many brick and mortar locations and on-line, it is one of the first of those boxes to be used as a “coupon-eligible converter box” under the government program that will provide up to two $40 coupons per household to go toward the purchase of a converter box. The Zenith box is also available, but selling out under other brand names, at Best Buy and other stores.
But far away from any stores, in a room with no other electronics, I use a 15-year old Sharp 12-inch color set to occasionally watch TV. I use 40-year old rabbit ears to get one public TV station and a barely visible Fox network station watched in an emergency or when the cable goes out here, which is often. Once I took the Zenith DTT901 out of the box, I was worried that the old Sharp would not have the right inputs and outputs, but the box had a coaxial output amongst other accessories. Using the supplied coaxial cable I connected the box to the TV, but dumb me, I forgot to follow the rest of the directions. Turns out, if you have an old rabbit ears antenna, master antenna or roof top antenna, you need to attach the antenna to the box and then to the TV. This mistake was only a momentary glitch as I found my old rabbit ears, connected it to the Zenith box and voila, I could see the roughly defined picture of an on-screen set up page.
I checked the manual again and placed the TV on channel 3 (it could be channel 4 in your geographic area). There was a clear and easy setup and simple navigation. The box includes trilingual (English, Spanish and French) on-screen menus and a simple electronic program guide. Once connected, the on-screen directions advised me to scan for channels (via a icon on the little remote) and in literally 20 seconds, I now had 10 stations on this old TV….which previously had two. If you have a newer TV, there is included RF input and the RF outputs to the TV; along with for stereo TV sound, left and right audio connectors and cables are included.
My big surprise came when I connected my new RCA 1500 indoor antenna (about $59), instead of the rabbit ears. This doubled my channel reception. This antenna, which looks like something out of a stealth bomber, has no moving parts, yet in a fraction of a second located a lot more stations (with or without the converter box). Because of the antenna’s shape and handlebar stand, it might not properly fit atop your TV.
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Richard Sherwin is a former syndicated technology columnist and TV/Radio analyst, who has also been a marketing executive with IBM, Philips, NBC and a chief advisor to several manufacturers and service providers.