I'm creating this thread to try to help anyone who might be a potential buyer. I don't work for any of these companies, and I'm not getting paid to do this.
When I killed off cable (saving $90/month), I knew I'd need some converter boxes. These forums helped me decide which ones, as well as the antenna I'm using to pick up the signal. I had several choices - do I get 6 of a certain one, 3 sets of 2, etc. Because these boxes are used on different TV's with different needs, I chose to go for six different boxes. Here's my setups, in order of usage (parenthesis = the box I'm currently using):
1. Family Room - box is outputting video to projector (Epson 1080ub) and a 5.1 receiver (Denon AVR-988). Obviously, picture quality is paramount here. (ChannelMaster CM-7000)
2. Master Bedroom - box outputting to a 27" TV. (DigitalStream)
3. Living Room - box outputting to a 63" rear projection TV. (Apex)
4. Guest Bedroom #2 - Box outputting to a 19" TV. (DTVPal)
5. Guest Bedroom #1 - Box outputting to a 13" TV. (Tivax)
6. Basement/Workout - Box outputting to a 19" TV/VCR combo. (Zenith)
As you can see, I have a diverse set of needs. Here are the converter boxes I purchased:
Dish DTVpal+ (K-Mart)
ChannelMaster CM-7000 (Amazon)
Tivax T8 (Amazon)
Here's my conclusions about each one:---DigitalStream -The Good:
What makes this box great is the fact that its remote can be configured to control the TV. While others have this ability (the Zenith), what makes this superior is that it can control TV volume as well as TV input. This makes it the perfect box for use in a bedroom. It's also great for someone who doesn't like to use multiple remotes.The Bad:
The box looks rather cheap, with the old-fashioned red light for on/off. I have also found that the signal meter isn't the greatest. The EPG sucks, too.---Apex -The Good:
I have found the Apex's video quality is quite good. Therefore, it worked well with my projector. I liked the fact that it uses s-video for an interface. Also, the EPG was quite nice, showing the next 3 programs. This makes the Apex the perfect companion for my old 63" rear projection TV.The Bad:
The remote is somewhat confusing to use. Some buttons are setup as if they were + or - buttons (volume/channel up or down). I could see someone easily getting confused and frustrated. My main beef - sensitivity to remote doesn't work that well. My family room a/v setup is off to a wall on the right, so when I go to change channels, I had to make sure the remote was in front of the box. This often meant contorting myself to odd angles in order for it to work. Frustrating!---Zenith -The Good:
I read a lot of people really liked this unit. I thought it was decent in some areas, but not in others. The greatest advantage to this unit is the menu system. It seems easy to navigate, and most text is easy to read. Also, the remote can operate a TV (on or off only). It looks nice, too - that blue light is spiffy! The EPG is nice, but it didn't make me go "wow!" I also liked how the box's signal meter also makes a loud beeping noise which can be used to determine signal quality. As I'm up in the attic, if I hear a faster rhythm, I know it's getting better. Sometimes it's easier to use this than the wife The Bad:
Honestly, this wasn't too bad. Perhaps what makes this unit so loved is the fact that while it doesn't have any specialties, it does rather well in each area.---Dish DTVPal+ -The Good:
The EPG is great. I really like how it looks just like Dish Networks' setup. Makes me feel like I have cable again! Since I have parents who like to come visit, this makes the ideal box for them to use. Therefore, it sits in Guest Bedroom #2.The Bad:
LAG! Often, it takes a few attempts to turn the damn thing on. I've found the remote to be a little clumsy. If the unit is unplugged for a while, it takes a while for it to start up.---ChannelMaster CM-7000 -The Good:
Everyone says greatest picture quality. I have to agree, though I didn't see a ton of a difference between the Apex and this. Again, s-video output is nice. The greatest thing about this unit - the range in which it picks up remote signals is INCREDIBLE! I can be almost 90 degrees horizontal (left and right) or vertical (up and down) of the box and it gets the signal. No more twists and contortions to change the channel! I also like how it displays the channel readouts - the broadcast resolution, signal strength, etc. This box also picked up a channel or two that I never knew existed! I've also found that browsing through the channels w/the EPG on is quite nice - you still get the audio feed and some video in the background. Detailed info is automatically displayed next to the program (I found some other boxes require you to hit a button on the remote to bring up detail).The Bad:
It looks somewhat cheap! The rear has one (maybe two) ports that are completely useless! One is under the video port, and even says "not used" So why the ____ did they bother to even put it there in the first place?! My guess is it's to cut down production costs. The remote control also has a useless button. WHY?!!!! I REALLY dislike the remote's setup, too. The buttons aren't laid out too well - particularly the FAV button - it's right below the power button, meaning you might change the channel by accident instead of turn the unit off! Fortunately, I have a Logitech Harmony, so I'm using that instead
Updates: I've also noticed that changing the channel brings up the info bar which stays on until removed using the remote. Annoying! From creakndale: "The physical buttons on the box are not properly debounced. So turning the box on/off and changing channels with those push buttons is a crap shoot. Also, the Closed Caption font size is way too small even at the largest setting."---Tivax -
I also read a lot of positive reviews of this unit. What do I like the most? Its zoom function. The "Cinema" zoom is perfect for when programs are broadcast in "postage stamp" size - aka there are black bars on top, on the side, and a 2nd set is on top. This also makes the unit perfect for a smaller TV. You'll lose some on the outside, but you get to see things easier at the same time. I also like the signal meter - very precise, it seemed. The tuner also picked up a channel I never had before.The Bad:
Since I just got this, I haven't messed around with it TOO much. I'd say this is similar to the Zenith in that it doesn't have many negatives.
Hope this helped! In layman's terms, here's what I'd recommend for each type of user:
Techie/Home Theater - ChannelMaster by FAR. Second place - Apex.
Guest/people who like to browse - DTVPal (Guide); DigitalStream (Remote)
Average - Zenith (better appearance/basic TV controls)); Tivax (zoom/signal meter)
Any thoughts are welcome. Please feel free to ask questions and I can try to get back to you for any of these.