Here's my evaluation of the Insignia digital-to-analog converter box, which I purchased at Best Buy on 2/14/08. (This is the same CECB as the Zenith, but is simply produced under a different name.)
NOTE: I have used some pictures here, but it should be understood that these pictures are not high resolution (the camera used had only 4 mb pixels) and do not accurately represent how the captions actually look in reality. The pictures should only be used as an approximation of what the captions look like. I would much rather see pictures from professional photographers of these captions, so if someone else can take better pictures, please do so. (What would be even better is for the manufacturers to provide pictures of different captioning options on their web sites so that customers can judge for themselves what they might expect to see.)
I copied the list of issues from the first post and inserted my answers between the numbered issues:
1. The availability of digital closed captioning features:
Yes. The Insignia offers the following features for customizing digital captions:
Style, Size, Font, Text Color, Text Opacity, Background Color, Background Opacity, Edge Type, Edge Color.
Eight font choices were available, with Font 0 appearing to be the one for receiving font styles selected by the program or broadcaster.
Eight colors were available: White, Black, (bright) Red, (bright) Green, (dark) Blue, (light mustard) Yellow, (bright) Magenta, (bright) Cyan.2. The availability of a CC button on the remote control:
Yes (marked as CCD)3. The usability of the menu activated by the CC button:
Poor (changed from very, very poor because other remote controls for other CECBs may be worse!). The first push of the button shows the current setting at the bottom of the screen. If using Service 1 (the setting for English digital captions), each push steps through the next Service (up through Service 6), then through CC1, CC2, CC3, CC4, Text1, Text2, Text3, Text4, Off. It thus takes FOURTEEN pushes of the CCD button to go to the OFF position, and there is no way to go back one step if you've gone too far. When the channel is changed, the captions go back to what was programmed (i.e., Service 1 if using digital captions).4. The ease of reading the font provided for analog captions decoded through the converter box:
Poor to Fair. I think a font with clean lines is much easier to read. See the picture of the analog captions below (darker than normal due to flash from camera):5. The ease of reading the eight different fonts available for digital captions:
Many of the fonts are too thin and seem to flicker, even when they're large, so I would judge them as poor. There are about three out of eight fonts that I would judge as very usable when using a solid black background:Font 0Font 3Font 76. 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:
Yes. However, the caption preview doesn't accurately indicate how large the size of the captions would actually be, and there can be significant differences in size according to the choice of the font. The preview showed the effect of making changes in the edges, in the color of the text, etc., which is very important, since the process of making changes in the settings already takes a lot of steps.Caption Preview of Font 7Font 7 (You can see the maximum number of 32 characters take up the entire width of the screen, which is actually good; other fonts didn't seem to get this large)7. How large the digital captions are actually capable of becoming (useful for low-vision viewers):
Font 7 appeared to be the font that could become the largest and spanned the entire width of the screen (see picture above). The large-sized characters were much bigger than the ones provided by my Sharp HDTV.
8. How well the optional translucent background provides a contrast to the characters used in the captioning:
Poor (for basic fonts). However, one can compensate by adding a uniform, depressed or raised edge to the characters in the same color of the font, which provides better contrast. Otherwise, it is difficult to read the characters against the translucent background, in part because the fonts tend to be too thin and can't provide enough contrast.9. Whether there are any bugs associated with captioning, such as a failure to detect analog captions if there are no digital captions, jerky movements, cut-off captions, unexpected changes in the background, etc.:
a. The Insignia did not detect analog captions automatically when there were no digital captions (from the SD channels produced by a local PBS station). I either had to switch manually to CC1 in order to get analog captions decoded, or I had to turn on my TV's captions in order to see the analog captions.
b. When there were long sentences using Font 7 in large size, there would be sudden, jerky movements of all the captions to the left so that they could all be seen. This was because the captions would start off indented but then have to be jerked back to the left margin when the lines of text got very long. (I don't know if this is a converter box problem, a transmission problem, or simply an oversight in standards for captions.)
c. The Insignia would display captions so low on my convex Magnavox TV that the captions on the left and right would not be completely visible on the bottoms even when using letter-box. (However, the captions were still legible, so this would not be a deal-breaker for me.) This might not happen with flat TVs.
d. When I took pictures of Font 0 and Font 7 captions, a close examination of the pictures showed that the solid background behind some characters had unexpectedly become transparent or clear, which made some of the characters illegible. I only noticed this in the pictures, and not during live viewing. I'm not sure how much of a problem this is or will be.Font 0: Look closely at last word
Font 0: Look at the background behind the "T" in the last word; it's missing but a faint "T" can be seen.Font 7: Look closely at "21st" and "Century"
e. There is no option to specify the alignment of the digital captions, although my Sharp HDTV provides this option. This would have allowed the viewer to move captions away from an area that is important to watch (such as the bottom of the screen during football games).10. Whether the remote control has an SAP button, a raised dot on the 5 button, and dots on the Power button (useful for low vision or blind users):
The control has an SAP button, a raised dot on the 5, and dots on the Power button. The remote looks usable by low vision and blind users as the buttons are well spaced. The SAP button shows the current language of the audio on the bottom of the screen. I personally have not yet verified whether the SAP button actually worked to provide a secondary audio program.11. How well the user manual explains the different digital closed caption settings.
This user manual takes less than half a page of the manual and doesn't explain that most users should select "Service 1." I've now seen some other user manuals that do much better job explaining the different features, such as that of the CASTi CAX-01. I'd judge this manual as poor.12. Whether the CECB has crashed and what the circumstances were.
The Insignia crashed five times within three weeks. I was able to take pictures of three of the crashes, and it appeared that commercials were showing during those crashes. During the last crash, there was a black screen, so I'm not sure whether a commercial was happening or if there was a transition to a commercial. I think three crashes occurred on the my20 channel, and another occurred with WJLA (local ABC affiliate) and either WTTG (local Fox affiliate) or WETA (local PBS affiliate using SD channel). All those stations have problems transmitting captions over digital channels in some way, so I suspect that something about the way those stations transmitted captioning may have precipitated the crashes (though of course, the CECB shouldn't be crashing anyway).Overall opinion:
In my opinion, the most important thing to evaluate about captions is how easy they are to read on the screen and whether it's possible to come up with an arrangement that works well for the individual. (Having the ability to use a translucent background can be important for people who don't want the captions to block out information on the screen, such as that present during a football game.) With enough tweaking, I was able to get fairly good captions.
I liked that the large-size captions actually are fairly tall and much larger via the Insignia than they are on my Sharp HDTV (which seems to do a poor job in this respect).
Font 0 worked well with the following setting: white text, white uniform edge, large size, translucent black or blue background.
Font 3, despite my earlier description of it being usable, still isn't perfect. Uppercase "M"s and "W"s look polluted by nearby black pixels and "busy" due to "dot crawl." It looks much more even in large size than in standard size, however.
Font 7 did not work well in the large size because the automatic indentation from the left side present for some channels required long sentences to jerk suddenly to the left margin when the words reached the right side. In the standard size, which I hadn't tried until 2/20/08, the "T" is below the height of the other letters and makes the text look uneven.
Thus I'd probably end up using Font 0 unless I was at a significant distance from the TV, in which case I might switch to Font 7.
The menu for the Insignia's CCD button is far too cumbersome, but it is still better to have a CC button than none at all. When there were no digital captions being transmitted, I would click the CC button seven times to get to the CC1 setting to see whether there were analog captions available. (My analog TV's remote does not have a CC button at all, so the Insignia's remote was better for getting to analog captions.)
The converter box doesn't automatically display analog captions when there are no digital captions. (However, TV stations are supposed to broadcast both digital and analog caption data for their digital programming, though at least four stations in the Washington, DC area are not doing so. )
The manufacturer did a poor job of selecting fonts for the captions, but at least there are some fonts that can be tweaked to be okay, and at least the captions can actually be large. It is troubling that the background apparently dropped out partially for the Font 0 as this font (probably the one that defaults to the font used by the program) may be the most popular one used, but this does not seem to be happening often at this time.
Another problem with the Insignia (not related to captioning) was that it didn't seem to automatically detect the best way of showing the picture, unlike my HDTV. I would frequently have to hit the Zoom button to pick a better display for the picture. However, this problem seems to have gone away the longer I used the Insignia, perhaps because I ended up manually setting channels to letterbox.
The picture quality is marvelous, but hopefully other converter boxes will do a great job with this as well. I'm hoping that converter boxes from other companies have been better designed to address the captioning issues. Unfortunately, despite all its problems, it could be that the Insignia is the best converter box out there for users of captions----because engineers may have done even worse at addressing captioning issues in other brands of converter boxes.
I returned the Insignia on March 13th, but also evaluated the Zenith, which has the same chip and remote control and functions just like the Insignia. As other people have noted, the Insignia and Zenith are the same products manufactured under different names; the only difference is in the user guides.
As of May 7th, the Insignia/Zenith CECBs appear to be the only CECBs I know of which can provide digital captions larger than the analog captions provided by my TV.
When I fast-forward a Tivo'ed program, the digital captions from the Zenith remain legible, while the captions from the DigitalStream CECB become incomplete and illegible.
Thus if I want to hurry up through a Tivo'ed program, I'm in luck if I'm using a Zenith/Insignia CECB but not if I'm using the DigitalStream CECB (which may depend on comb-filtering to look sharper).
Here's a link to a video of the 708 captions provided by the Zenith DTT-900 CECB:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OORS0tC8JFw