Head to head comparison between the Zenith DTT901 vs. DISH's DTVPal digital tuners.
The Zenith being popular because of it's wide local availability and reputation,
faces the DTVPal with it's excellent program guide and being the only CECB currently having event timers.Your results may vary depending on your antenna system and geographical location.
I tested with two TVs. One newer Panasonic 27" and a mid 80s Mitsubishi 25". I tested with both rooftop and rabbit ear antennas.
I am not in a fringe area. I am close to an antenna farm in flat terrain. (I did do testing at a later date 40 to 50 miles from the towers)
The Zenith DTT901 is a June 2008 build. The DTVPal's tested were F100, F101 and F103 firmware versions.First impressions:
Both brand units are packaged well. The Zenith does include the RCA composite cables, the DTVPal doesn't.
The Zenith remote is cheap looking, being thinner and squared off. The DTVPal remote uses two batteries, the Zenith's remote uses one.
The boxes themselves are just the opposite. The Zenith box is metal and has a quality look, while the DTVPal box is plastic and cheap looking.
The DTVPal has a small green power indicator light. The Zenith has a large red light when off, that turns to blue when on.
The DTVPal does have an external power supply at the end of the power cord where it plugs into the outlet, allowing the box to be much smaller in size.
Initial setup was easy and fast for both brands. Initial channel scans took about one minute for each unit to find 24 channels.
Running temperature for both boxes was very low. The DTVPal will stay slightly warm when powered off, as it does maintenance. (No vent holes)Now for the main things that concern most shoppers. Picture, sound quality and reception.Picture Quality:
The average viewer not doing a side by side comparison, may have a hard time distinguishing much difference in picture quality depending on the TV input used. When viewed through the RF (coax) connection the DTVPal generally looks very similar to the TV's built in analog tuner. During SD source broadcasts the picture looks slightly less clear compared to my TV's tuner. During HD source broadcasts, the DTVPal's picture quality is noticeably sharper. The DTVPal does show some echoed shadows noticeable behind text and some dot crawl like flickering around text.
The Zenith when viewed through the RF connection generally looks like a better picture. It is definately a slightly sharper focus compared to the DTVPal and has less shadow and flickering behind text. There are however two reasons the Zenith picture generally looks, what some might consider better.
The color saturation is a little on the high side and the brightness is on the low side. So much so, that it hides some details in shadows. Both of those things can be adjusted on your TV to bring them inline with your preference. Same for the DTVPal, you may want to bring up the color a little, drop the brightness and give it a little more sharpness. If you made those adjustments on both, the Zenith PQ would still be very slightly better viewing up close.
The DTVPal when viewed through the RCA composite connection looses a slight bit of color saturation and gains sharpness.
(Typical for this type of connection.) This connection eliminated most of the echoed shadows behind text in the DTVPal.
The Zenith when viewed through the RCA composite connection looses a lot more color compared to the DTVPal. That brings it's picture quality more in line with the DTVPal in a side by side comparison. Again, the Zenith being very slightly better overall. Screen flicker was seemingly the same for both brands.
One complaint from users of various digital tuners is that a "Cropped or Zoomed" HD source picture is shifted from it's analog counterpart. That is the case with both brands tested. The DTVPal being the worst offender with the picture shifted about 1/4 inch to the left on a 25 inch screen, and the Zenith about 1/8 inch to the left. The letterboxing on the Zenith seems accurate compared to an HDTV, while the DTVPal has more real estate of viewable picture top and bottom when letterboxed. A whopping 7/16 of an inch at the top and 1/4 of an inch at the bottom on a 25" TV. The black masks are in the wrong places. This may be the cause of some VBI in the picture when viewing "postage stamped" format 4:3. Something I don't generally do except during testing.Sound Quality:
As for sound quality, both are very good and no noticeable irregularities were heard. Both brands were also tested while being connected to an A/V control amplifier. The sound issues of Zenith's 900 were addressed in this update of that model.
Using the DTVPal through the RF (coax) produces a lower volume than the TV's built in analog tuner. (To low in my opinion.) The DTVPal's volume through the RCA composite connection is noticeably louder and seems more correct compared to my TV's analog tuner volume.
The Zenith's sound volume through the RF (coax) connection is much louder than the DTVPal's. Through the Zenith's RCA composite connection the volume was also tested by me to be louder than other similar audio video devices connected to an amplifier. The Zenith's internal volume was set at 85% to match the same analog channel on my TV's tuner.
In both units, the RF (coax) connection is mono and combines the right and left channels. If you have a mono TV with RCA composite in, choose "mono" in the audio setup. That will combine the right and left channels in the audio RCA output. If you hook up the RCA audio out to any stereo device, select "stereo" in the audio setup. Some Zenith users have noticed little difference when switching between mono and stereo using a stereo TV.Using headphones, my unit did obviously give mono and stereo.Remote control conflicts:
Both brands had remote control conflicts in my situation. The DTVPal remote conflicts with certain model DISH satellite receivers. The satellite receiver remote can have the address code changed. That cures only half of the problem. A replacement remote is being issued by DISH to cure that issue.
The following link describes the fix: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...5#post14729255
That fix actually gives a far superior multi-function remote, not available on other CECBs, similar to using an after market universal remote.
The Zenith remote will conflict with other Zenith / LG receivers. For example, it conflicts with my LG LST-3510A HDTV receiver.
I did have a problem with the Zenith remote (Power button only) being sluggish when the unit was behind glass.
The DTVPal remote didn't have that problem and never failed to connect, even when not aimed precisely.Program Guide:
The extended program guide (up to 7 days depending on your local stations) in the DTVPal places it way ahead of any other CECB on the market.
If you are familiar with using the program guides that satellite services provide, then you will appreciate the DTVPal's guide. If you intend on connecting a CECB to a recording device for multiple events, the DTVPal provides up to five timers that change channels. Those people wanting to continue using guide services such as TV Guide On Screen and Guide Plus, can configure those services to work through the DTVPal.
The Zenith's simple guide shows you what you are currently watching and the next event. You can move through the channels in the simple guide to see what is on other channels and tune to another channel from within the guide.
If the DTVPal's program guide and timers don't excite you, then both brands have very similar features, with only slight differences in exactly how you can use the tuner. The Zenith may be easier in some aspects of set up and tuning channels.Signal strength:The first thing to do if signal strength upstream of the tuner is a concern, is to discard the Zenith supplied quick connect RF connector and use screw on RG 59 or RG 6 coax. You loose about 10 percent signal strength with the Zenith RF cable.
I tested with a rooftop antenna, and with rabbit ears so I could see the results of a weaker signal.
With the rooftop antenna both brands tuned in all of the stations in my area and continued to receive them. I didn't find much difference between the two in signal strength at my fairly close distance to the towers. Both fluctuated in signal strength more so than I would have thought at my proximity. With the rabbit ears the signal strength was witnessed to be considerably lower. Both brands continued to seemingly have similar signal strength and I had one low power station that would come and go in both. At a greater distance from the towers, you may notice more difference between the two brands.
Both brands have a quick way to check the signal strength from the remote, as well as signal strength shown when manually tuning. The DTVPal signal strength appears with the program title banner and quickly disappears. Using the browse button, keeps the signal strength meter visible longer. The Zenith signal strength meter will disappear after one minute if you allow it to. The Zenith also an audible beep that speeds up with a higher signal so you will know how you are affecting the signal without seeing the meter.Update.
Tested reception from two sources at a distance of 40 miles and (50 miles antenna backside), with rooftop antenna. Somewhat flat terrian without structural obstructions.
First of all your results may vary considerably, depending on your terrain and more importantly, the quality of your antenna system.
Your antenna system also includes mast mounted pre-amps and the length and quality of the wiring.I have not had any success with older mast mounted pre-amps used with digital tuners
. In fact, they seemed to weaken the signal strength on all channels and block certain channels from obtaining any signal at all. It seems as though some channel's signal does not make it throught the pre-amp circuits, even though they are moderately strong signals without the pre-amp installed. Both pre-amps tested were old and not advertised as being compatible with digital broadcast.
Secondly, a UHF only antenna gave the strongest signal even on the "VHF Hi" frequency channel 8, because it is not loosing any dB by being connected to VHF elements. You can check your particular area at www.TVfool.com
for the actual broadcast frequency existing now, and for changes after the transition. Most are in the UHF band.
If your antenna system is not ideal, the Zenith may be a slightly better choice, as far as locking some stations. The DTVPal on a marginal antenna system exibits more fluctuation in the signal and some marginal channels may not be watchable. However, with an efficient antenna system, the DTVPal signal strength became slightly more stable and higher than the Zenith. Both brands pulled in all of the stations from a city 40 miles away and a couple from another city 50 miles away on the backside of a UHF only antenna. The pre-amp went into storage.Warranty:
Zenith 90 days labor / one year parts. With problems after 90 days, you might as well trash it. Shipping and labor would be more than a new box.
DTVPal 90 days parts and labor.Note:
If you have these on a power strip that gets turned off regularly, the DTVPal needs more time to boot and then update the guide before it can be viewed.Features comparison.Guide:
The DTVPal program guide data is saved. The Zenith looses guide data when turned off. Has guide data only for current channel when turned on.
You must tune to any of the other channels to load the guide data for that channel before it becomes available in the simple guide.
DTVPal - Guide layout looks like a printed TV guide or satellite guide. You can set timers, tune channels and access current and future program descriptions while anywhere in the program guide. You can access a program description while using browse and viewing the current channel.
Zenith - Simple guide shows currently tuned channel "Now/Next" only. You can tune channels from the guide. Allows access to current program description only. When in the guide, you must tune to another channel to see another channel's program description, resulting in your leaving the guide. While in the Zenith's simple guide, you can browse other channels while seeing some of the picture and hearing the sound.Aspect ratio:
Both effectively give the same modes. The Zenith has an additional choice of "Letterbox" that appears to be the same as the "Set by program" mode.
Zenith - Remembers picture format (aspect ratio) for each channel.
DTVPal - Picture format retains the last used setting for all channels, but does automatically give a full screen 4:3 picture for SD channels.Remote control notes:
Zenith has a favorites list button. Although with a program guide, channel surfing is more effective in the guide where you can see the program titles.
Zenith has a programmable TV power button to control your TV. This I would use regularly.
Zenith has a convenient method of selecting sub-channels from a dropdown list after first inputting the main channel number. This I would use regularly.
Zenith has a sleep timer on the remote. The box will turn off, but your TV will not. I found that all the sleep timer does is adjust the inactivity timer.
If you set the so called sleep timer for 1 hour and it shuts off the box, the next time you use the box, it will still be set to shut off in 1 hour.
Zenith has an SAP (alternate audio) button on the remote. The DTVPal SAP selection has to be accessed from the menu.
DTVPal has an analog pass though button on the remote. Although it is faster to just turn off the unit to get pass through, like the Zenith.
DTVPal allows browsing other channels titles and descriptions while watching the currently tuned channel.Somewhat the same in the Zenith guide, but you can't access other program descriptions.
DTVPal allows searching the guide for program titles and descriptions and saving search results.Closed caption:
Both brands have similar customizable closed caption function.Conclusion:
Both brands were easy to understand and use. The DTVPal printed user manual did have a better alphabetized index for finding page numbers in the manual. Both brands performed as expected during my testing.
Once I had both setup the way that I would use them and stop playing with them, there wasn't much difference in actual usage for me.
I do use the extended guide a lot, so I missed not having that on the Zenith.
When using the DTVPal, I would have used a TV power button if available on the same remote.
For the average person not doing much recording and having a printed TV guide, the Zenith would be a good choice. Although most printed TV guides don't currently have listings for sub-channels, the DTVPal guide would have a greater amount of those listings available.
I tested the DTVPal's event timers, and they worked correctly for me, as long as each channel's PSIP clock time was close to being accurate.
The DTVPal currently has some issues with the timers for users in some areas. One of which is related to some station's PSIP clock time being inaccurate. And another, related to getting an abnormal guide download at power on that affects set timers. The F103 firmware has fixed the later issue.
Incorrect PSIP time from your local stations will affect the accuracy of the program info in the Zenith as well.
BeeperSpecifications subject to change. Not responsible for errors or omissions.