Style 7, large size, black translucent background
Abstract: The DigitalStream DTT 9900’s largest captions are still much smaller than those provided by one’s analog TV. There is no caption preview and the menu is poorly designed and laborious to use. However, most of the font styles were legible on a 25 inch analog TV. There are no raised dots on the buttons of the remote control, but there is a CC button and an audio button. The remote control was unpredictable in its responses due to a hair trigger response.
My set-up: I used the DigitalStream’s composite video cable with my Series 2 TiVo and then used the TiVo’s two composite video outputs to connect my 25 inch analog Magnavox TV and my 20 inch Sharp HDTV (with built-in NTSC tuner). I generally used my analog TV as the basis for my evaluations.1. Describe the layout of the caption menu, including all the advanced closed captioning features and the number of colors available, and whether there are problems with the design of the menu.
The DigitalStream can decode both analog (CEA-608) and digital (CEA-708) caption data. Contrary to the Zenith/Insignia and Artec CECB, it did not offer the option of adding an edge to make the closed caption text thicker (which would have made the text look bolder).
So far, none of the CECBs I’ve evaluated have offered the option to change the alignment of the captions, including this CECB.
Only the standard eight colors are available for the text and for the background: Black, white, red, green, blue, yellow, magenta, cyan.
The full caption menu was accessed only via the Menu button on the remote control. There are then five menu choices: Display, CC Service, CC Option, CC Text, CC Background. (The design of this menu is very poor since you cannot see all the important selections on one single screen as you can with the Z/I and Artec CECBs.)
Because some other people trying the DigitalStream may not have activated the advanced closed captioning features correctly, I’ll provide instructions near the bottom of this evaluation to explain exactly how to turn the captions on after getting into the Caption Menu.
The following is the layout of the Caption Menu:
a. Display (On or off)
b. CC Service (CS1 to CS6, CC1, CC2, Text1,Text2)
c. CC Option (User or Auto)
d. CC Text:
Font Style (default, Style 1 through 7)
Font Color (Default, Black, white, red, green, blue, yellow, magenta, cyan)
Text Opacity (flashing, translucent, transparent, solid)
e. CC Background:
The menu design is very poor for several reasons; it is too easy for novice users not to realize that they need to select the “User” option instead of the “Auto” option, and if the “Auto” option is selected, there is no indication from the menu itself that the custom features are not operating. One has to dig into all five menu options to see all the settings, whereas the Insignia/Zenith menu provides two different screens to show what has been selected (and a caption preview). There was also no clue about what the various font styles looked like, in contrast to the Magnavox, which actually uses the different font styles that corresponds to each label. It is thus extremely and unnecessarily slow and cumbersome to manipulate the advanced caption features on the DigitalStream.2. The availability of a CC button on the remote control
The remote control has a CC button on the right side of the remote control underneath the channel rocker button.3. The choices of the menu activated by the CC button and your rating of the usability of these choices.
The menu activated by the CC button only brings up the following one at a time: CS1 to CS6, CC OFF, CC1, CC2, Text1,Text2. Upon pressing the button, the response is the display of the current service setting at the bottom of the screen; pressing the CC button advances the service to the next one. The CECB could be considered hypersensitive to presses on the remote control, so it’s possible to press the CC button quickly to select what’s needed (but one can easily go too far and then have to cycle through everything again).
Unlike the Zenith/Insignia CECB remote control’s CCD button, this CC button overrides the caption service for all channels, not just the current channel. Thus if one chooses the analog CC1 setting for a digital channel that isn’t broadcasting digital captions, the analog captions will stay on for all other channels that are viewed until one remembers to change back to CS1. When all TV programs required to provide captions actually start providing digital captions on all their digital channels as they are required to do by law, I think this universal application of the CC button would be okay.Usability of the CC button:
Fair. There seems to be little use for switching among the different services as no TV stations locally seem to be offering any service other than CS1. However, there may be a need to switch to CC1 as some stations may provide only analog-style (CEA-608) captions, not the customizable CEA-708 captions. At a minimum, the menu should have provided a quick way to turn off the captions, to switch between digital and analog caption equivalents, and a shortcut to a better designed Caption Menu in order to change the advanced captioning features more easily (especially since it is so cumbersome to change them).4. If analog captions can be decoded by the converter box, the ease of reading the font provided for those analog captions (if present)
The analog captions are smaller than the captions provided by the TV, but look relatively clear and sharp for CECB captions when composite video is used. The design of the font style used for analog captions appears acceptable. However, this is likely to be a reflection of how my television, produced in the 1990’s, processes the video. Older TVs that lack comb filtering may not improve the captions as much as my Magnavox TV did.5. The ease of reading the eight different fonts available for digital captions, particularly the default font
My impression was that if the captions had been designed to be larger, most of the font styles would have worked out very well, with the exception of Style5 and Style6. Keep in mind that I used a fairly large 25 inch TV; the small captions may be illegible on much smaller TVs. Also, most of the captions were only compared using all capital letters.
Interestingly, captions did looked sharper on my HDTV, which has 3D comb filtering, than on my older analog TV, which does not have 3D comb filtering (but which may still have some advanced video processing).
I evaluated each font style by setting the background to translucent and the font size to large, and looked for any letters that lacked definition, using my 25 inch analog TV (which does not have 3D comb filtering). In my opinion, most of the styles were still legible on my 25 inch TV despite the small size.
However, as a captioned TiVo user, I discovered I could not depend on being able to read any font, including the analog caption font, when I fast forwarded at the “one arrow” speed using my TiVo. This meant that my TVs were actually improving the appearance of the captions, but my TiVo was showing the true images of the captions. This was a definite drawback compared to the Zenith/Insignia CECBs. TVs that do not have any comb filtering thus may produce much worse displays of the captions.
Here's a picture of the (illegible) captions paused on the TiVo:
Comments about specific styles follow below, though most styles were evaluated on the basis of capital letters (all caps) being used:
Style1: T’s, M’s, N’s, W’s not well-defined (still legible, but fair)
Style2: Legs of N too thin, arms of Y too thin, T too thin (legible)
Style3: W’s smudged. More uniform thickness for each letter than from Font1 and Font2, and easier to read than
Style1 and Style2
Style4: Each letter appeared relatively clear. (Ps and Rs have short legs and might look like Ds to some people; Ns looks too thin in middle). Lower case was good.
Style5 and Style6: Much too difficult to read and to use on a regular basis as captioning
Style7: Best of all the font styles. W’s, Ts, Y, were clear. (Upper case.) The legs of the lower case, small cap capital Rs and Ks were thin, as were the middle of the Ms and Ns.. This font style still was not legible when forwarded via the TiVo.
Pictures of the captions (and glitches) can be seen at:http://picasaweb.google.com/dana.mul...lStreamDTX9900
I tried various text colors on a transparent background. Only two worked fairly well: green and yellow. The other colors were too difficult to read against the background:
(Text colors against translucent black background)
Green okay (bright olive)
Red (worst of all colors, much too thin)
Blue (visible but too difficult to read against background)
Yellow okay (orangish)
Magenta—poor, more purple than pink
Cyan (visible but hard to read against background)6. The availability of a "caption preview" of some kind when changes are made in the settings for the digital captions, and how well this predicts the largest font style.
No captioning preview was made available, which made the selection and comparison of font styles much, much more difficult. It was difficult to see differences among the first four styles until I looked closely for problem letters and then noticed differences among the styles.7. How large the digital captions are actually capable of becoming (useful for low-vision viewers or for being able to watch the TV from a significant distance): do the longest lines of the largest captions fill the entire width of the screen, and if not, please estimate what proportion of the width of the screen is filled by the longest line of the largest captions.
The captions were small even when set to the largest size. The different styles appeared to be similar in how large they could become. The longest lines only covered roughly five-eighths of the width of the screen compared to the Zenith/Insignia’s, which could cover the entire width of the screen.8. How usable the optional translucent background is in providing sufficient contrast to the characters used in the captioning (if it is too transparent, it will be difficult to read the captions)
The translucent background was dark enough to provide sufficient contrast, but would probably be considered too dark by many people who would want to be able to see more of the video behind the background.9. Whether there are any bugs associated with captioning, such as a failure to detect analog captions automatically if there are no digital captions, jerky movements of captions, cut-off captions, unexpected changes in the background, etc.
None known to be connected with captioning.10. Whether the remote control has an SAP or audio button to switch to a second audio channel (for descriptive video services), a raised dot on the 5 button, raised dots on the Power button or other buttons (useful for low vision or blind users), or other accessibility issues.
The remote has an Audio button, which is the second button from the left underneath the Volume rocker button. There was no raised dot on the 5 button or on other buttons. The power button is at the top right by itself, however. I found the remote control very difficult to use at first, however, since pressing it slightly “too long” resulted in multiple entries: a firm push on the channel button could result in skipping two channels ahead, and a firm push on the 2 button could result in 2222 showing up on the TV instead of 2. I think the relative hypersensitivity of the CECB coupled with the lack of feedback about what is “too long”would be frustrating for blind people and people with manual dexterity. The remote control of the Zenith/Insignia is more predictable.11. How well the user manual explains the different digital closed caption settings; please indicate whether it advises choosing Service 1 or explains how to choose it. If you have found the user manual online, please provide the URL if it is not already provided in the first posting.
The owner’s manual is a very large foldout, not a booklet, so if it is available online, it would be difficult to navigate via either HTML or pdf format. It shows images of each screen, but did not explain which CC service to use or that CS1, CS2, etc. referred to digital captions and that CC1, CC2, etc. referred to the analog captions.
I would rate the manual as poor. It did not add enough information beyond what was already available on the onscreen menu. It did explain in very small text that the user option needs to be selected in order to activate the CC text and background.12. Whether the CECB has crashed or otherwise malfunctioned, and what the circumstances were; this question is best answered after extensive use of digital closed captioning with different channels. Please indicate how many hours or days you've been testing the CECB with digital closed captioning turned on.
There was one glitch that occurred and which came back even after the channel was changed. Visual garbage containing caption menu images slowly came up from the bottom of the screen and obscured the video.
I used the CECB for four weeks. To be candid, the small captions made up my mind pretty quickly that this CECB would be too limited for me, so I wasn’t very enthusiastic about evaluating this further.
General Observations: The DigitalStream CECB was laborious to set up for advanced closed captions; there were far too many steps required to make each change, and the lack of a caption preview was very frustrating. (The unpredictability of the CECB’s responsiveness to presses on the remote control made changing the features even more difficult.)
Due to the impractically small size of the captions, the captions did not compare favorably with my analog TV’s own captions, and the small size thus almost defeated the purpose of having digital captions at all. People with TVs much smaller than my 25 inch TV would have much more trouble reading the captions. I also couldn’t read the captions while fast-forwarding on my TiVo.
A serious flaw with the menu system of the CECB is that even if the Auto option was selected, the ONSCREEN MENU DID NOT VISUALLY INDICATE that making changes in CC features would not work. The CC text and CC background menu options should have been grayed out when the AUTO was selected to indicate that these features were non-operational at the time. Many people could thus think they were seeing customized digital captions when they were only seeing the default captions.
The advanced closed captioning arrangement I found the best was Style7, large, with white text and a solid black background; however, a translucent background also worked well.
If the manufacturer of this CECB would make improvements by enlarging the captions so that the longest line filled the width of the screen, this would be a much better and more flexible CECB for users of captioning. Improvements in the menu design are also needed. There are other CECBs that seem to be better choices for people who want advanced closed captioning features and the extended EPG that the DigitalStream offers.
I would definitely not recommend this CECB for people with small TVs or with both visual impairments and hearing loss due to the small size of the captions, the lack of tactile indications on the remote control, the unpredictability of the remote control, and the difficulty of navigating the menu system. Although the DigitalStream offers an extended EPG, other CECBs such as the Artec and the Dish TVPal do also.How to Activate Digital Captions via the DigitalStream
Press the Menu button, then press the down button once, then the right button.
The “Display” (of captions) needs to be turned ON by navigating to the “ON” choice, and then pressing the blue OK button on the remote. Hit the Menu button once to back out one level after making any choices.
Navigate to the CC Service option, press the right arrow button, use the blue OK button to select “Select” and then choose the CS1 service for digital captions or CC1 for analog captions. (However, the CC button on the remote can also be used to change the service for captions on all channels, unlike the remote on the Zenith/Insignia.)
IMPORTANT STEP: Navigate to “CC Option,” then choose and select “User” if you want to view changes in the font size, style or other features. (The “Auto” setting would result in the captions remaining in the default settings, which are likely to be too small.) It is very important to choose the “User” setting as none of the changes made later will affect the caption display otherwise. The design of the menu is severely flawed since the Auto setting can be on even though it appears the CC Text and Background choices are still operational. Most menu designers will disable and gray out functions that aren’t actually working so that you know there’s something else you need to do to make those functions work.
The “CC Text” is where one changes the font size, style, color and text opacity. As the default size is too small, I found it important to change the font size to Large.