We have two Channel Master CM7000 converters -- THE deciding factor was S-Video. Our main TV, and DVD recorder, both have S-Video inputs, and the difference between Composite and S-Video is staggering. Our TV is an old RCA 32" "curved glass" CRT that we bought for $20 at the local Goodwill, looking like-new. It accesses the S-Video and Composite inputs by assigning them channels, which makes "A/B" comparison tests very easy, and, obviates the need for passthrough (at least for this television).
Sending the DTV outputs to both inputs (S-Video and Composite), and then "tuning" from one to the next, provides an eye-popping improvement, EVEN with the *lousy* ("IMO") image quality that DTV is selling us via their satellite (I'd call it "good VHS quality" -- not even *close* to DVD quality).
The best (IMO) demo for the difference in image quality is to tune the satellite receiver to the channel guide, and then flip it from Composite to S-Video input. When I did this for my wife, she at first *insisted* that she was seeing a very good picture -- and then went *WOW* when I flipped it to S-Video.
OK, that's the background.
I also got a second DVD recorder -- this one's an LG -- I forget the model number, but I recall that they made it in two versions, one with a built-in VHS deck, one without. Ours is the "without" version. We got it for about the same price as the Channel Master converter, but of course, no coupon could be used.
I figure that even if we never use the DVD portion of the thing, it's still a very good converter. It has digital audio output (which we at this time have no need for), and S-Video output (which we do have need for), and IIRC, Component Video (don't recall for sure, we have nothing that uses it), and, HDMI output (it's an upscaling DVD, again, something we have no use for at this time).
It does not have analog passthrough, but it DOES have a complete analog *tuner* -- and it's a very good one. With nothing more than a cheap "amplified rabbit ears" inside the living room in this partially-aluminum-sided house in a very rural "RF dead zone" (seriously -- can't hardly even get AM radio in here! -- either "local" stations *or* "skip" at night; need an outside antenna for FM radio, and even police radios won't work out here -- something about the combination of geography and huge high tension distribution lines a mile away, I think) .
Anyway, with the rabbit ears, the LG's analog tuner picks up about a half-dozen stations (VHF and UHF), some of which we couldn't get with our *roof* antenna (currently out of commission, plan on putting up a tower within the next month or so). It also gets *one* digital station, Channel 13 from Grand Rapids (about 100 miles away).
It gets the main channel, and one subchannel (weather), and it also picks up the "real" Channel 13 (analog), which comes in *very* poorly -- weak, snowy picture. The digital is critical -- the antenna has to be aimed right, "ears" to right length, and "tweaker knob" set right -- at which time the signal (digital) is rock-solid, looks pretty much like DVD quality (on the small 17" set we've got it hooked up to -- it's my 3 year old's "Disney and Veggie People" set).
The Channel Master's reception of Channel 13 is about the same as the LG's reception. The Channel Master has a much better user interface, easier to navigate, easier to set up, better zoom function, and *much* better channel guide -- but, at the moment, the only converter we're using is the LG. This is because it's already there in the machine we're using for my son's DVD player. We only use it (the digital TV converter section) for weather reports. This will likely change later on, when we get our real antenna hooked up, and maybe some other stations put out decent signals.
Several months ago I checked the online coverage maps, and as I recall, where we live, we shouldn't expect *anything* without a GOOD outside antenna *with* a pole-mounted amplifier. Sheesh. (And even *with* a full-house setup like that, we *still* shouldn't expect to be able to get the "local" CBS affiliate (Channel 9, Cadillac), which we *can* get via rabbit ears (analog), albeit a really lousy picture. (Good enough for weather reports, but that's about it. Weather reports are a biggie here, we live in a kind of natural storm track, and during "storm season" things can get really ugly really fast.)
BTW, the LG has real nice *output* connections on the back panel, but the only *input* it accepts is RF coax, or Composite (RCA jacks). There is NO provision for S-Video or Component *input*! What were they thinking??? (We have the other recorder -- a Phillips -- which *does* have S-Video input, but no digital tuner (analog-only, no big deal IMO), so it's not a big issue for us. But still, I can't figure what they were thinking. (Maybe they figured that the main application would be for over-the-air recording, in which case it would go straight from the tuner to the DVD drive? Maybe they thought that it would be an incentive to buy their more expensive model, i.e., VHS internal, no need for S-Video? Heck if I know, but I *do* know that it's impossible to hook it up to the DTV satellite receiver OTHER than via Composite or RF coax, which is less than desirable.)
I am happy with our Channel Master purchase -- we got them from Stark Electronics, and got excellent+++ service from them. Our coupons were expiring, they were out of stock, but they put the order through for us so that we wouldn't lose the coupons. And, they did NOT use "shipping and handling" as a profit center. They gave us a real good deal on shipping, got both of them into one box to save on the cost, etc. Very good people to work with.
I haven't seen any of the other converters, but I'd get the Channel Master and/or the LG again in a heartbeat (presuming the price was right, of course; the original price on the LG was a LOT more than we paid for it, but at the price we paid, it was IMO a no-brainer).
I'd like it if the LG had the CM's superior interface -- and I'd like it if the CM had the LG's analog tuner and (should we ever need them) digital audio and HDMI outputs (will upscale DVD and analog broadcast TV). But, the main function under consideration -- analog conversion of digital broadcast TV -- both of them are excellent performers, pulling in a perfect image via a perhaps 20-30% level signal, using rabbit ears, at about 100 miles from transmitter, in a *really* lousy reception area.