Here's my CECB story so far. (If you're only interested in the part about the Apex DT250, skip down four paragraphs to my review.) I made the mistake of ordering my converter box coupons in March -- I'm not usually an early adopter, but I was worried that the government would run out of coupons, and I figured that the CECB manufacturers would have most of their bugs worked out by June. Silly me.
After reading CECB reviews here and at CNET and Consumer Reports, I decided that I wanted to use at least one of my coupons, and maybe both, on a DTVPal. Unfortunately, my coupons expired just before the DTVPal became widely available, and in late June I found myself in a quandary with two expiring coupons. I decided to use one coupon on a converter box at a local store and allow the other coupon to expire, intending to re-apply for that coupon later if the government gives us that option.
So armed with that one coupon, I went to Best Buy and purchased an Insignia NS-DXA1 with a Nov. 2007 manufacture date. I knew from reading this forum that it had an audio glitch, so I decided to leave it unopened for a while and exchange it for a newer Insignia or an Apex DT250 when they became available. (Update: I did eventually exchange it for an Insignia NS-DXA1-APT; you can read my comparison in the "Zenith DTT901 vs Apex DT250" thread
.)My Apex DT250 Review
Well, the DT250 appeared in my local Best Buy stores early this month, and earlier this week I exchanged my Insignia for an Apex, which I've been using for the past few days. This is my first experience with digital TV, and it's been a mixed bag so far.
Inside the box, I found everything neatly packaged in plastic bags, with the cables tidily fastened with twist ties. I hooked up the Apex to my PC's video capture card using the included RCA cables, plugged in the AC and antenna, turned it on, and got... nothing. Next I tried hooking up the RF output -- aha, now we're talking. The RF and S-Video outputs worked okay. Not an auspicious start, but aside from that I've encountered no other manufacturing-related problems. (Update: About a week later, I tried hooking up the composite video out again with a different cable, and it worked. Turns out the supplied composite video cable was faulty.)
My experiences recorded here are based on viewing the Apex hooked up to my PC's ATI video capture card (using the RF and S-Video connections) and to a 10-year-old Sony TV (using S-Video). Most of the following observations have been made by other posters to this thread; my review is sort of a meta-summary with my comments thrown in.Positives:
+ Picture quality is impressive, especially when using the S-Video output.
+ Channels can be added after the automatic scan by manually entering them from the remote.
+ Remote control's button layout is intuitive, for the most part. There is enough variation in button shape and location to handle it in the dark with mild difficulty. (See Negatives for my criticisms.)
+ Information shown after pressing DISPLAY is fairly substantial: current channel number and name; miniature signal-quality graph; program title, rating, start and end times, audio type (e.g., Dolby Digital), and current date and time.
+ Program guide shows data for the current channel, including episode descriptions, as far as three days into the future (amount of data depends on the broadcaster).
+ Signal meter is informative, showing both a graphical and numeric (0-100) real-time readout.
+ The Favorite channels system is convenient: to add or delete a channel from Favorites, simply press the FAV button on the remote, and use the FAV+ and FAV- buttons to cycle through the Favorites. (The FAV button can also be a negative -- see below.)
+ Included are cables for RCA audio, composite video, and RF, as well as a pair of AAA batteries for the remote.
+ Build quality of the box is decent: metal housing with side and bottom vents. The remote, though, is another matter (see Negatives).
+ Analog pass-through is nice to have during the transition period, although I noticed a slight RF signal loss from the pass-through.
+ Smart Antenna port is another nice feature, although I haven't used it.
+ Sleep function is adjustable (1-4 hours or off).Negatives:
- No automatic zoom feature. Windowboxing (black bars framing the picture on all four sides) occurs on many programs in my area, including on some of my most-watched channels. A converter box should be able to compensate for windowboxing by automatically applying the appropriate zoom function. The Zenith/Insignia remembers the last zoom setting used on each channel, but the Apex doesn't. If TV Aspect Ratio is set to Auto, pressing ZOOM on the remote is useless, showing only the message "Aspect Ratio Cannot be Changed On This Channel". If TV Aspect Ratio is set to 4:3, then the picture can be zoomed using the remote, but this zoom setting then persists across all channels until it is manually changed again.
- Another zoom issue: on certain TVs, 4:3 images are stretched too much in the vertical dimension, causing excessive portions of the top and bottom of the picture to be cropped. This can cause the news crawler to disappear from the bottom of the screen, for instance. My PC's ATI video card can partially correct for this, but not my Sony TV. While I do not consider this a critical problem, it's annoying nevertheless.
- Remote control could be improved. The buttons are quite small, and button response can be finicky: sometimes I get no response from a button press, other times the button seems to send two presses. Also, the remote itself is a bit small (about the size of a stick of butter, but thinner) and is made of lightweight, cheap-feeling plastic. Regarding the layout, I would have switched the "-" and 0 keys so that the 0 is beneath the 8, enlarged the GUIDE button, and eliminated the FAV button. I don't see the need for a button dedicated to adding and deleting Favorites, as my TV-watching interests aren't that fickle. After the initial setup process, I found that the only times I hit the FAV button were by accident when I was trying to find the adjacent SIGNAL or GUIDE buttons. It also would have been nice if the remote could power the TV on and off.
- Tuner is good, but not exceptional. Although my antenna setup is partly responsible, I'm a bit disappointed that the tuner was unable to pull in weak signals that I was able to receive in analog, albeit in marginally watchable form. These stations are located off-axis from the directional antenna I have installed, so I knew they would be troublesome. But the Apex didn't register them at all on its automatic scan. I tried entering them manually, but the tuner was unable to produce picture or sound when tuned to any of these channels. I noticed the signal level readout would go from the 10s or 20s (Weak) up to 100 (Excellent) and jump back down to the 10s again in the span of a few seconds, suggesting that the box was receiving some signal, but not enough to decode it coherently. I might need an RF signal amplifier or a different antenna to receive the weaker signals with this box.
- Composite video cable included with my unit is non-functional.
- No buttons or controls on the converter box except for the power button.
- Digital closed caption text is too small to read easily, even at the largest font size. I stuck with my TV's built-in closed captions.
- Text for program info is also rather small, and the background isn't as translucent as I'd like.
- Episode guide shows info only for the current channel.
- Analog pass-through requires box to be turned off.
- The included RCA cables are thin and flimsy.
- No included S-Video cable.
- No user-upgradeable firmware.
- Audio level through the RCA connection is noticeably lower than through the RF connection.
- Channel changing: the delay when switching from one channel to another is about 1.5 seconds, the audio coming online sooner than the video.
- Box becomes fairly hot during use, which is worrisome, although after leaving the box on for several hours I saw no performance degradation.
- I was able to program my Sony RM-VL600 universal remote for this box using a code for Hughes digital satellite receivers, but some important buttons were not mapped, including MENU, DISPLAY, and RECALL. (Fortunately the VL600 has learning capability.)