demise of the 50+ year old analog television broadcast standard called NTSC has become a reality as TV stations convert to new digital equipment. The move towards this transition
has been going on for years and television manufacturers have been forced
to include digital ATSC tuners in the larger consumer displays for some time now. Digital
broadcasts have already taken the spectrum where analog channels once existed and unless you have a digital ATSC tuner for your older set, you will miss out on this fantastic new
technology. Compared to their analog sister channels, digital broadcasts
look clearer with lower noise levels. In addition, several standard definition
(SDTV) channels can be squeezed into and take the place of a single high definition
manufacturers have introduced low-cost converter boxes for this specific
application. Channel Master (a division of PCT International, Inc.) has
released their new CM-7000 converter box that is designed to convert
all digital broadcasts
so that they can be viewed on older NTSC televisions. What is nice about this unit is that it includes
an S-video output for improved video quality, which is not offered on many of the other
set-top boxes we have seen. In fact, the picture quality
of the CM-7000 is significantly better for those who have televisions
with S-video inputs. The unit is easy to install and configure. The front panel has a
button for power and channel controls (up and down). There is also
an IR window for use with the included remote control.
The CM-7000 converter box is designed to accept an RF antenna signal containing
ATSC modulated digital information. Once decoded, the modulated RF output uses channel
3 or 4 to display the picture. A composite video, s-video and a pair of audio outputs
are provided for compatible televisions. The real benefit is when the s-video output is used. This will provide users with superior picture quality over the composite output or RF modulated output. Video will be limited to 480i, yet we found the quality to be very good. For those interested,
the design uses a Thomson digital tuner and Thomson ASIC chipset (STi7707
& STV0373) for decoding and processing the signal.
The CM-7000 includes a full featured remote control. The layout is great
and the buttons are large enough and well spaced to make it easy to operate. The remote is thin and not quite as heavy as some of the other remotes we have used, but is still well designed. A full set
of numeric keys are provided along with navigation, volume and channel
controls. Other dedicated buttons include Mute, Option, Info, Page Up/Down, Favorites, Exit, Back, Wide, Subtitle, and Text. Pressing the Guide button invokes the Electronic Programming
Guide (EPG). Pressing
the Info button displays channel information. A full set of numeric buttons and volume and channel up/down controls are provided. The MENU button is
used to configure the converter box. Several layers of controls are available
for the user to set up the box.
There are five sections in the menu GUI that include Channel Edit, Channel Scan, Setup, Closed Caption, and Parental Control. The Channel Edit section allows the user to add, delete, or lock any channel. In addition a set of Favorite channels can be grouped. Channel Scan is used to automatically scan for terrrestrial channels that are being broadcast and save them in the unit. The Setup menu allows the user to set the time and date (manual or auto) along with the language (English, Spanish, or French) used for the On-Screen Display (OSD). The Closed Caption (CC) menu lets the user select the type of CC as well as font size and style along with edge effects,
foreground and background color/transparency. The Parental Control menu is designed to block program
material that exceeds the set rating limit. TV and MPAA ratings are both supported.
The Information banner provides channel information (major and minor), station name and the current time. The banner also displays program name, program description and duration, video resolution, audio language,
rating, cc information and signal strength. All this information is invoked with a single button on the remote.
The CM-7000 is easy to setup and configure. We
connected our large Terk
TV-38 rooftop antenna to the unit and the reception was excellent. Signal strength was almost always near 100% for all channels we watched. During the setup we pulled in over 60 digital channels for our local broadcasters. What surprised us most was the picture quality we saw over the s-video connection. This unit blew away all of the other non-HD set-top boxes we have reviewed thus far. The digital channels
looked so much better than their NTSC (analog) counterparts.
The CM-7000 is a great performer and is one of the few set-top boxes to offer an s-video output. This interface gives the CM-7000 an edge over other DTV boxes we have seen. If you happen to have a television that supports s-video, you should be looking at this unit to maximize your picture quality. The remote and user interface is intuitive and easy to navigate. Short of going full HDTV, this is the box to get.