Software Ver. X1.00-06132008
Hardware Ver. 001
Loader Ver. 11230
- I've been using the DT502 every day for a couple weeks now, here are my notes.
- The number one complaint I have is that the digital converter boxes in general cannot be programmed to turn on, select a certain channel at a certain time of day and then turn off. We can no longer program our VCRs etc. to record multiple shows in a repeatable format. Seems like it would have been such a simple thing to implement - it's only firmware. On the DT502 there's the epg/'program reminder' thing that requires manual choice/setup every time every day and requires that the unit be on all the time generating excessive heat in the process. The ability to program and record shows in a table/list format was around 20+ years ago, why was this capability not built in to the CECB spec. Only about 1% of all the converter boxes out there have any kind of 'feature' for VCR programming.
- Overall the channels are much clearer of course than analog. I live in an apartment complex that is surrounded by other commercial buildings and the traditional analog tv signals were a royal pain to try and 'tune-in' every day. When a signal does briefly fade, I do prefer the digital effect of the picture standing still for a few seconds rather than the analog fuzz-out audio-buzz snow, rolling picture double images etc. etc. etc. goodbye analog.
- The converter box volume control feature is nice to have.
- The aspect ratio features are nice once you get them to work. On an older 4:3 tv the feature to 'zoom' is nice but doesn't work out-of-the-box defaults; you have to make sure you tell the box you're on a 4:3 tv.
- At least the box itself is a rectangular/square shape instead of some fancy-mickey-mouse rounded etc. shape that you can't stack anything else on top of. Too many product designs are market-driven instead of quality and usability-driven.
- Picked up 20+ channels pretty quickly with a regular RCA pre-digital-era antenna.
- Overall, I like the layout of the remote buttons, but see 'annoyances' indicated below.
- Good price. Best Buy gave me a price-match deal on the box a couple weeks ago.
- With this Apex unit, you have to press remote buttons two or three times for about half of the user actions. The remote improperly requires 'firm' 'exact-center' button presses each time and is NOT a strong-signal 'forgiving' remote like the majority of products on the market. I'm getting a much stronger thumb-workout lately. The remote has to be fairly close to box unit and the remote has to be pointing exactly straight at the box. Checked the remote's batteries, both are at 1.6v so it's not the batteries, it's the "design". About 25% of the time the remote buttons are not 'accepted' by the unit and if it's not pointed straight-on it performs a different random function other than the button you're pressing.
- The converter box runs hot. Hard to believe that after all the laptop battery recalls the past five years, that in 2009, products are still being released to the public that run hot. The bottom of this unit is reaching untouchable 115+ deg. F temperatures after only two hours in a normal ambient 75 deg. F room. In my experience, products that run hot are a result of an inefficient design typically produced by junior engineers. I too had to add double-thick sticky-feet pads on the bottom of the unit so it would have more airspace underneath.
- The converter box is slow to react to remote button presses. Common channel change operations take an annoying 1 to 5 seconds to actually show up on the screen. Hard to believe it takes that long to gather one-screen's worth of data, perhaps it's unavoidable.
- The "Program Guide" is displayed in Eastern Time Zone EST, even though I already have the box configured to my time zone which is Central, CST. The "Program Guide" indicates info for only less than one day in advance. Can't 'choose' reminders for a program while in the full guide, have to 'exit' and go to the 'simple' guide only then you can 'choose' a 'favorite' 'reminder'.
- The converter box is apparently not internally shielded well. I have several other VCRs TVs etc all in the same proximity and this converter box is the only unit that generates wavy-line visual noise on the screen (the picture looks good, just has this line-noise imposed on it) - not a problem with my existing 'analog' tv/vcr devices. Had to move it further away from a UPS unit.
- The power on/off LED is annoying. It's 2009, have they not learned yet that RED is for indicating emergencies, problems, and warnings. A red led should not be used for power-off status, and it's too bright i.e. not adjustable. I have clock radios that were built 20 years ago that have adjustable LED brightness. The power led should go from green/on to blue/off for example - with brightness control.
- Visually the converter box has a problem with 'bleaching' anything that is white or almost white on the screen and adjusting contrast does *not* improve this problem, it must be happening at the D/A level within (not properly calibrated) circuitry inside the box. Since as of this writing we're still pre-Feb. 17th I can quickly switch back and forth between Digital and analog and sure enough, any thing very white becomes overly-white and 'bleaches' out any detail within the 'white' image - kind of the effect you get when you try and video tape a tv screen with a camcorder. It's happening internal to the box and tv contrast settings don't fully correct it.
- When viewing the 'program guide' it's in the wrong time zone, and it displays 'no data' every single time even though 2 secs. later it *does* display data for the selected channel. This is all to common, poorly/lazy designed firmware - rather than test for a no data condition, just display it anyway and eventually write the data on top of that 'no data' text. Lazy firmware programming. Annoys the user.
- The remote again. Just about every other remote and or telephone keypad on the planet has the zero "0" positioned below the eight "8" - but not Apex, perhaps they have to reinvent the wheel and place the "0" below the "7", please, adhere to long-time known standards.
- If you inadvertently press the wrong channel or wrong button on the remote you're scolded with 'WRONG CHANNEL !!" on the screen - really, do we really need exclamation marks here? A simple 'Channel not found.' message would not only be more appropriate but would suffice. For pete's sake, let us select a "wrong' channel. On my vcr I could always select ch. 33 for example whenever I wanted a quick temporary blank-out of the screen *and* volume mute.
- More EPG nonsense. Apparently the 'reminder' "feature'" is unreliable. I've selected that feature numerous times each day over the past week so I could program the vcr to record a show and apparently if the broadcaster updates the EPG data, the box loses the "reminder" and it will *not* therefore switch to the channel you selected as a reminder. Very disappointing.
- The 'Sleep Timer' is not useful for VCR recording since 4 hrs is not long enough. Why a fixed list of choices. Why not a text box where the user can just enter the # of sleep timer hours desired i.e. 20 hours if desired. Seems it would be just as easy to code in firmware as anything else.
- The OSD font is way too small. You have to have better-than-perfect 20/15 vision to read it. For another 50 cents they could have implemented an easy OSD font-size feature and choice in the setup menu.
- I've noticed that the sound level varies up and down randomly on it's own on some channels at unpredictable times. Never had this problem w/ analog. Don't know at this point if it's due to the box, or the broadcaster(s).
- I personally do not like the 'ergonomic' rounded-bottom shape on the remote. A remote does not have to be 'rounded' on the bottom, it makes it impossible to stack any other remote on top of it on the table. It rocks side to side and can't stack-up my remotes like usual (to take up less space).
In conclusion, compared to analog reception, the picture is really great on every channel, works well with an existing old-fashioned 'analog antenna', the converter box has nice 'features' but it seems to be a somewhat sketchy or untested design perhaps a result of a junior design team that lacks experience, lacks testing, and a result of keeping the price low.
From online research I gather the Apex DT502 is probably overall better than half of the other converter boxes out there but I won't be buying another one, I'll be trying a different brand next, probably the DtvPal which apparently has pseudo timer-programming features. Hope my review and notes can help someone make an informed purchase, but before anyone gets ambitious about commenting on my write-up please keep in mind I have ~30+ years' experience with consumer electronics.