Good to know that at least two people (at least on this thread) approve of what seemed to be the most logical choice I had (other than buying the DS and hoping that its so-called negatives/deficiencies weren't as problematic as some board members have described).
Perhaps one reason why the Artec was completely out of my awareness (other than last year when I wrote down a list of available CECBs including their pros and cons) is that the thread devoted to this make had such few posts. I got a sense of which boxes to look for by the number of posts commenting on the box - that told me that others knew which boxes were the ones to get, such as the CM, Zenith, and Pal Plus (along with a few others). I concluded that the fewer the posts per a make, the less desirable that product was.
But when I quickly perused the Artec board and got a sense of the pros and cons, I realized that its strengths were what really mattered to me - decent reception, a better than average EPG (not as extended as that of the PP, DS, or Apex, but acceptable), control buttons on the box, small footprint, a strength indicator (a simple one, but at least some something, and with an audible sound I think), and most important, the ability to have stations added/deleted manually.
I remember when I tried to setup the CM just prior to the final conversion to digital and I was unable to manually punch in a desired station that hadn't already been scanned in. I would not want to repeat that inconvenience. With the other boxes I have, I can simply enter in a station as desired. What's nice about the Insignia and PP (maybe the Zinwell does this, too), is that when a new subchannel becomes available, those boxes AUTOMATICALLY add that channel in. My PP notified me the other day of "new program added" or something like that when I turned on the box. I thought, "what? I didn't add anything." To my surprise, one of the PBS stations added a fourth subchannel and the PP not only picked it up, but notified me of the addition and automatically added it to its program guide listing.
With the Channel Master, in order to add a new station, a re-scanning is required.
On comments regarding the occassional problems with the PP ... the main problems I have had with it involve the box either not turning on (has happened three times on two different boxes) or not turning itself off. I simply pull the plug out from the outlet, wait a short time, plug it back in and the box is back in operation. The other problem happened twice, involving upon event turn on time not getting past the program downloading guide process. I have never had the box turn off or freezer while I am using it to watch a program.
A few times, my Zinwell 950 has done some unexplainable changes with my favorites grouping. I haven't used this in awhile so I can't recall exactly what the problem was, but it was a problem unique to the Zinwell format. Yes, the abbreviated tv description on the Zinwell is not as good as that on the Insignia or the PP. I think I read that the Artec provides a decent program description.
Even my Insignia occassionally will display a station number that doesn't exist. I simply choose a different station number, go up and down a few times and the "erroneous" number disappears.
As has been noted before, the advantage with the Apex 502 is that if the box is kept on, you can select a station from the program listing guide to "change to" at a desired time (once). I'd rather have the box be turned off to begin with and only turn back on as desired (and then turn off again so as to avoid any "burnouts"). Both the Zinwell and PP function in this way. If I am away for a length of time, I wouldn't want my box turned on until whenever I get back.
If a person already has other CECBs and is looking for another box with a very helpful EPG AND IS WILLING to cope with occassional power on/off problems, I strongly recommend the Pal Plus. It is worth the extra dollars for the convenience of being able to view upcoming programs from multiple stations at a glance as well as to program them within five seconds from that guide. No other box I have comes close to the ease with which that is done.
I saw a You Tube explanation of the Digital Stream product and its program listing looks decent and better than average with its ability to go out in time (I think it is 12 hours) as well as to describe the content of the program. From what I saw of the remote, it looks better than average and easy to use with function dedicated buttons that are color coded. I am not sure if that box or some other required rescanning due to the inability to have stations added manually. Also, one board member commented on the overly large window box that appears upon a station change with no program name listed, without being able to change that format.
At first I despised the way the Zinwell and the PP would always provide a window with status information upon a station change, but then I found that info very helpful. If all I was seeing was a large number alone identifying the station, I might find that undesirable.
When I first plugged in the CM, its station change info bar surprised me due to its tiny size. So, as has been said, no box has all the right features. You learn to live with the pros and cons, and with the diminishing supply left, you choose the box whcih has the most important features for your use - for me, the most important feature was a better than average EPG, and an acceptable level of quality with the other features. I have not used the Artec, but from what I read, its pros just outweighed the pros of the DS - AND I was seriously thinking about getting the DS due to its great looking remote and Radio Shack's reputation for carrying products that are very user friendly (greater than average "tweaking" features on its products). The other interesting feature on the Artec (and one poster commented very negatively on this feature) is its ability to allow the user to "tweak" various aspects of the picture quality.
I wonder if the popularity of various boxes has to do with their availability and presence in stores or from reputation. I think the Zenith and Channel Master's reputation inspired people to buy them quickly at the beginning. I think the Magnavox, RCA, and Apex got bought because of their visibility in stores like Best Buy and Walmart.
I had discounted the Zinwell when I first saw it being sold at Acme (who would buy such a product at a supermarket?) Then I read about its event timer feature and its "improved" tuner, and found myself buying it at the supermarket due to its availability there as well as its lower pricing than online!! (Plus, I have found that most salespeople even at the other stores specializing in electronics knew little about the boxes, so the fact that a supermarket employee was simply the sales agent for the box didn't concern me. I should note that the advantage of buying the Insignia at Best Buy was very purposeful, because one Insignia box I bought developed a bad antenna lead, and they allowed me to exchange it for another Insignia hassle-free.)
Other makes like the Tivax, Artec, and Pal Plus (unless you had seen the PP at Sears) are largely unknown by the public. Interestingly, when I first checked Sears for this product, the salesperson told me that the Magnavox CECB had sold much better than the PP (I think it was at least $10 cheaper.) In other words, most shoppers seemed to be buying on price determination vs. value for their dollar. I can't imagine the number of people who had no idea of how good an EPG display can be, as executed by the Dish engineers on their box.
Then again, for some tv viewers, all they want is a set that allows for reception and the ability to change channels, no interest in "extra tweaking features" or having to "figure out" more complicated functions with operating their tv. (Even I had difficulty figuring out how to enter a "search" for a program using the virtual keyboard for the PP given my never having used a keyboard on a cellphone to text and knowing that repeated pressing of a button sequences through the various letters on a button. I can normally figure out how to work and program recording devices and set up boxes without having to consult a manual, but at times I get stumped, too. I'd guess that most users simply want to press a button or two and watch their tv vs. "tweaking." I got a kick out of the PP's feature of allowing the viewer to "tweak" the appearance of cc.)