On Monday I was handed a box that arrived at our station. It was a Zenith DTT900 Digital TV Tuner Converter Box.
The package proudly proclaims "Eligible for $40 coupon from U.S. government. Call 1-888-DTV-2009 for details." The box also entices the potential purchaser with:
* Enjoy digital TV channels and a better picture on your current TV with no subscription
* More Programs - see new and different TV programs on "sub-channels" available from many digital TV stations
* Clear digital picture - say goodbye to "fuzzy" analog channels...your old TV has never looked so good.
Inside is an STB that is approximately 8.5" wide, 6.5" deep, and 1.6" high. On the back there is are two female F connectors (Antenna in and RF out) and three female RCA connectors (one video out and stereo left right audio out.) Inside the cardboard box one will find an infrared remote control, powered by a single AAA battery (included.) Also included is a 75 ohm F-connector patch cord, stereo audio RCA cables, and an RCA video cable, all appropriately color-coded. Just about the only feature not included that would still make this unit coupon-eligible is an S-Video connector.
I connected the unit to my office television, opting to use audio/video line inputs. When I turned on my TV then turned on the STB, I was greeted with a very nice Welcome Message on the television.
The Welcome Message invited me to press the right arrow > button to continue. The next page asked me to choose a language. The next step asked me the TV Aspect Ratio of my receiver. The next page began an automatic tuning procedure. After scanning the bands, the next screen asked me to choose a Time Zone (but curiously it did not ask me if I observe Daylight Savings Time.) The final menu was a simple "Thank you."
So what did I have for my efforts? Well, the box found 4 of the 6 DTV broadcasters in my area, but claimed it found 8 "channels." What it counted was all of the sub-channels associated with each broadcast. So I flipped through the channels. The first thing I did was to grab the Silver Sensor that was feeding the Zenith and moved it. The picture remained locked. So I turned it a bit. Still solid picture and sound. With the older Samsung box (SR-T151) that I normally use, moving the Silver Sensor
would immediately cause the image to freeze, only returning when the antenna was at rest again.
Intrigued, I picked up the Silver Sensor and rapidly waived it about. Only the slightest breakup, and no loss of audio at all. I am impressed! I rotate the Silver Sensor a full 360 degrees, something guaranteed to cause me to lose lock of all channels with the older Samsung, but the Zenith remained locked solid.
There were still two channels that I never received with the Samsung, but my boss could receive with a Silver Sensor and an ATSC USB dongle in the office next door. I aimed my antenna out of my office window towards the distant towers. Unfortunately, there is a four story parking ramp right outside of my window, blocking my view of the two distant towers. I went into the menus looking for a signal strength meter. I did find one there, and I manually punched in the RF channel (as prompted) of one of the stations, and with just bit of aiming got a solid lock on the remaining two channels. However, I couldn't get the system to "memorize" those channels.
But then I found a menu entry labeled "EZ Add." I selected that item and the box began a second RF search, only this time it said "adding channels." Great! You can scan for stations several times with the antenna pointed in different directions, and not lose previously found stations.
After I finished with programming all the stations, I turned my attention to the remote control. There is a sleep timer button, and a button for SAP. Pressing SAP will cycle through all of the alternate audio programs available with any video service. There is a dedicated ZOOM button that allows you to alter the video output in the following manner:
If you told the box you have a 4:3 display, and the program you are viewing is 16:9, you can choose between Letter Box, which will letterbox 16:9 material (on a 4:3 display,) Cropped, which will display the center 4:3 portion of the 16:9 display, or Squeezed, which will fill the 4:3 area of the display with the 16:9 video, giving the typical "tall and skinny" people look.
If you told the box you have a 16:9 display, and you are viewing 4:3 material, the zoom button will let you choose between 16:9, which fills the entire 16:9 display with the 4:3 material, giving the "short and fat" people look, or you can choose 4:3 which will pillarbox the video, or zoom, which will display a center 16:9 cut out of the 4:3 image, which is perfect for letterboxed 4:3 video.
The unit seems to remember which zoom mode you set for each subchannel, and will stay in that mode when you tune away and tune back. So for instance, if you have one station that does nothing but upconvert 4:3 into pillarboxed 16:9, you can set that channel to always ZOOM, but allow other 16:9 channels to be displayed as letterboxed (assuming a 4:3 display.)
There is also an Electronic Program Guide, but it only displays the current program and the next program. Nothing further in time than the next program is available. However, if you had channel surfed in the previous few minutes, the box will snag and remember the PSIP information for those channels, and display it upon demand.
There is also another dedicated button labeled "SIGNAL." Pressing this button will give you a bar graph on the bottom of the screen that is expertly and precisely calibrated with "Bad" on the left, and "Good" on the right. You also hear a beeping noise in the program audio that changes in repetition rate along with the bar graph. Handy for one person to aim a roof antenna while listening to the audio beeping through an open window.
To sum up:
Strong points: Very good DTV reception. Remembers zoom settings channel by channel.
Weak points: No S-Video out. Very limited EPG. No option to choose observance of Daylight Savings Time.
RF mod/demod can: Sanyo UBA00AL
ATSC chip: LG DT111D
All in all, I am very impressed with the RF performance of the unit, and the degree to which I can abuse the antenna position without losing video lock, or at worse inducing some macroblocking but never losing audio.