I just found out about this new receiver yesterday and read this entire thread with great interest last night. I've been searching for a replacement for my archaic Panny TU-HDS20 STB for several years. Despite some less than glowing comments here, I checked and eventually found one at a local CC which I bought today (their only one in stock.) I hope you'll all indulge me a bit since it's been a bit of a journey to get to this point.
I'm a "late" early adopter of HDTV. As I was current DirecTV subscriber, back in 2000 I decided to purchase a Panasonic TU-HDS20 to use with my new Pioneer Elite 510. The irony here is that I've only ever used it for OTA HD. I waited probably a year for all the issues with this box to be worked out and when it finally hit store shelves at $999 I waited until my local Tweeter had them discounted to $799. There weren't many choices available for STBs at that time, pretty much RCA DTC-100, a Panny TU-DST50/51 (if you could even find one), and the HDS20. No way was I paying $2k for Pioneers plug-in HD tuner which was mediocre at best. Several years ago, and after many antenna/pre-amp upgrades, in an effort to improve my reception I took a chance and purchased a TU-DST52 (OTA only) from 1-call. For now, suffice to say its been sitting, practically new, boxed in my basement for 3+ years.
But after reading this thread all those years of dealing with lousy reception, constant reboots, quirky slow menus, and returns for HW/SW upgrades finally boiled over and I decided to try this one out.
I'm in New England, so the terrain is very uneven, lots of trees and of course, weather. I'm on the north facing slope of a valley, about 1/3 way from the top, which is roughly 25-30 miles from the towers which are due south. As if that weren't enough there's a several hundred foot high "hill" directly in my LOS (if you can even call it that!) so all I get are reflections and multipath signals. Currently running a CM4228 in the attic using a Winegard AP-4700 19dB moderate gain pre-amp, all mounted on a CM rotator. Even with all this setup to say my reception is challenging is an understatement. If air traffic gets routed so its flying over my house, even at several thousand feet, it creates enough multi-path interference that the HDS20 drops out. Wind and rain? Fogettaboutit. If I had a dollar for every time my wife nagged me to just "switch to satellite already!" because of the constant dropouts....
The DST52 I tried out several years back offered no real improvement in reception capability for me and was an utter disappointment in terms of PQ. A quick A/B comparo with the HDS20 revealed a horrendous amount of over-sharpening and lack of high-frequency response which made the picture lose all its three dimensionality and did horrible things to fine detail. Call it a $369 failure. (BTW, if anyone wants it, I'm open to any and all reasonable offers.) So back in the box it went and I returned to using my HDS20 as my OTA receiver, bugs and all.
I thought about trying another STB, but recently there haven't been many around as all new HDTVs are shipping with integrated tuners. Dual 8VSB/QAM interested me, especially after installing my folks new Panasonic plasma and seeing that the bandwidth limited QAM stuff actually looked pretty good. (But then again, it is only a 37" set so that will help out in that area.)
So when I returned home today I hooked it up alongside my HDS20 and began some critical viewing and evaluation. Please keep in mind I've had this unit for a grand total of about 8 hours at this point so my observations here are based on only my use in that time period.
Reception - To say I've been amazed would be putting it mildly. The tuner in this unit blows away the HDS20. Stations I could only receive before if my antenna vector was perfect (within 2-3 degress) now hold lock +/- 40 degrees!! Signal strength meter is a plus, HDS20 has none. It even picked up every station out of NH with my antenna facing the Needham towers (due south)!! Weather conditions are very good today (no wind or precip) and I've had no dropouts to speak of at all. The HDS20 on the other hand has been its usual finicky self, even more so being 3dB down on signal due to the splitter. But at the same signal levels the Samsung has been flawless. The only issue I've had was early on the box did hang when I tuned to a sub-carrier on one particular channel and required a reset to clear, but I was unable to reproduce this. As one previous poster commented, it won't pick up any QAM channels from my local cable operator but I'm not to sure about their availability in my town. I tried all three cable modes but something tells me the fact that no unscrambled channels above cable ch 25 are available is the reason. Or could be they're using the high band and this box can't tune those frequencies. I need to do more investigation here, I've got no real experience with QAM short of using the auto-program functionality which "just worked" on the Panny plasma at my folks house. (Incidentally, their cable system does deliver ch 26-125 unscrambled so now I really wonder if this is it. A quick check of cable frequency mappings would seem to indicate this is the problem, I get nothing beyone ch 23 - 217MHz.) But the OTA reception is so good if it keeps up I'll be happy to just use that. Besides, I found using an A/B coax splitter decreased the sensitivity enough that some stations wouldn't scan and its a pain to switch back and forth anyway. If I can get it working for QAM that will just be gravy, certainly not returning it with such superior OTA reception.
Menu/GUI - Anything would be an improvement over the HDS20 here. I've found it to be perfectly usable. Never had Dish-anything so its new to me. Response is good and things are nicely organized. Does what it needs to do.
Features - I like the aspect control, although as others noted I wish it would be smart enough to memorize a mode for each source signal type. (480i SD in full doesn't make much sense.) I'm ambivalent about the volume control, although glad I found it since it explained why my audio was sooooo loooow, but I do like the mute feature. Saves me a macro on the Pronto to mute every possible audio device I could be using. Freeze is neat, but I wonder what this will ever be useful for. Info provides more info than the HDS20. I'm also intrigued by the guide, my current receiver is probably so out of spec in terms of PSIP SW that I had no idea stations were actually sending out scheduling info beyond the current program! That said, some do still report "No information." Boot time seems a little on the long side, about 7-8 seconds, but no big deal.
Picture quality - Ah, at last we arrive at that great conundrum which has dogged me until this very day. You see, even though the HDS20 sucks at pretty much everything, the one area where it completely excels is analog component video. At $1k MSRP in y2k, this was a high-end unit and it was designed accordingly. Digital interfaces hadn't yet been standardized or even offered on HD-ready sets. The HDS20 was designed and marketed at the early adopter videophile. It uses a custom reference design video ASIC. It incorporates a high-end scaler capable of any of 6 different modes using any input format. It even includes an option to use RGBHV if to be connected to a high-end RPTV or CRT projector. With an ISF'd Elite 510 and the HDS20, when I do get HD reception, I've been basking in reference quality HD component video for the last 6+ years. As I've watched the digital interconnect revolution grow at astonishing pace, I've been resigning myself to the fact that I'd probably never get to replace the HDS20 until I ended up replacing my 510 since quality analog component video just wasn't available in consumer grade video gear these days - it simply wasn't needed. The DST52 proved that. But this is where I was pleasantly surprised by the Samsung unit. When I saw that ATI was at the heart of this unit, I held out some guarded optimism that the analog video quality would be very good since their video cards are constantly reviewed as having some of the best video quality available today for PCs. I wasn't disappointed. While not able to match the exacting fine detail of the HDS20, it does offer about 90% of the PQ at nearly 20% of what I originally paid for the HDS20. There's no excessive EE like the DST52 and while there does seem to be some slight high-frequency rolloff which dulls the finest details ever so slightly by comparison, by no means is it poor in any regard. Color is quite good. So, not on par with the HDS20 but a very admirable performer indeed. Of course, if you're planning to use the HDMI output, you really don't care about any of this analog video stuff....
Sorry to ramble on a bit, but I thought this might be a good opportunity to give a little perspective. Its always the negative or not-so-perfect stuff which seems to get emphasis around these parts, and that's not a bad thing. But I hope my experience helps illustrate how good these devices have actually gotten in the last 5 years. I got more functionality, 1000% better reception, and 90% of the PQ for about 20% of what I originally paid for the "reference quality" HDS20 only 6yrs ago, and that's saying something!