Product Review (August 2008) - Dish Network
DTVPal Digital TV Converter Box

The demise of our 50+ year old television broadcast standard called NTSC is soon to become a reality. Beginning February 19, 2009 the FCC will pull the plug on all over-the-air analog TV broadcasts and reclaim the spectrum worth billions of dollars. The move towards this transition has been going on for years and television manufacturers have been forced to include digital tuners in all of the large displays. As of this writing there are only 200 days left of analog broadcasts and many consumers don't even know about it. The U.S. Department of Commerce at the www.dtv2009.gov is providing up to two coupons worth $40 each towards the purchase of converter boxes.

Digital broadcasts have already taken much of the UHF spectrum with the major networks carrying both analog and digital versions of the same content and unless you have a digital ATSC tuner you will miss out on the new technology. Compared to their analog sister channels, digital broadcasts look clearer with lower noise levels.

Many manufacturers have introduced converter boxes for this specific application. Dish Network, a leader in satellite television, has also entered this market with the introduction of the DTVPal. This small converter box is designed to take a digital broadcast and convert it to the old NTSC analog standard so you can watch TV programming on your older analog TV. There are no controls on the unit and the remote is needed to perform all of the functions. Special features include an excellent electronic program guide, parental controls, VCR timer, signal strength meter, and pass-thru capability. The DTVPal measures H: 1.3” x W: 5.9” x D: 4.2” and weighs less than a pound.

The DTVPal package includes the converter box, IR remote with batteries, AC power adapter, 3-foot RF patch cable and the User Guide. Surprisingly, no A/V cables are provided for the RCA outputs. The 38-page User Manual covers all the operating aspects of the converter box. The DTVPal has a surprisingly large number of features that are covered well in the documentation.

Interfaces
The converter box is designed to accept an RF antenna signal containing ATSC modulated digital information. The modulated RF output uses channel 3 or 4 to display the picture. Composite video and a pair of audio outputs are provided for compatible televisions. The power input comes from the switching AC adapter that produces 5VDC at 2 amps. For those interested, the design uses a Thomson digital tuner and Thomson ASIC set (STi7707 & STV0373) for decoding. This simple design offers no fancy outputs, but provides the essential interfaces for older television sets.

Remote
The remote included with the DTVPal is a full size design (Thank you!) that is easy to use and runs from a pair of standard "AAA" batteries. There is nothing worse than getting a product that lacks a full size remote, making it difficult to operate the equipment. Dish did their homework on this one and made the remote simple and easy to use. Large navigation buttons occupy the center of the remote with surrounding buttons for MUTE, GUIDE, RECALL, INFO, VIEW TV and CANCEL. The remote can control the audio output level from the converter box using the Volume + and - buttons, but cannot control the TV volume level nor the TV power. A SYS INFO button display information on the DTVPal unit. The Picture Format control selects between Normal, Full, and Zoom picture modes. The Normal mode essentially displays 16:9 content in the letterbox format to fit the 4:3 display by adding black bars on the top and bottom of the display. The Full mode fills the entire screen which makes people look thin and tall on 4:3 displays, but correct on 16:9 displays. The Zoom mode maintains the correct aspect ratio on 4:3 displays when viewing widescreen content. However, the sides of the original picture are cropped off to fit the display.

Pressing the Info button displays channel information. The MENU button is used to configure the converter box. Several layers of controls are available for the user to set up the box.

Setup
The DTVPal has an extensive number of controls for setting up the box. The Setup Wizard is designed to walk the user through the basic setup features. The Point Antenna option shows the user the signal level and frequency for a given channel. This can come in handy when pointing the terrestrial antenna. Once a good signal is verified, it is time to find all the local channels.

Channels
The box is ready to scan for all available channels. This takes a few minutes to run and has a progress bar on the screen. Our scan yielded 60 digital channels available in Los Angeles. This is significantly more than I recall and is a clear indication that more channels are going digital in this area. Once the channels have been defined the user needs to set the time zone, day light savings option, channel (3 or 4) for the modulated RF output, and zip code. The updated Electronic Program Guide (EPG) is then downloaded into the unit, which take a few minutes.

Main Menu
Pressing the Menu button on the remote displays the Main Menu screen. The user can select Program Guide, Event Search, Setup or Cancel. The EPG is one of the best we have seen and greatly resembles the interface on the Dish Network satellite receivers. Those who have Dish Network will recognize the interface. Selecting the Event Search menu allows the user to search for programs in the EPG. The Setup menu configures several functions of the converter box including Locks, System Setup, Audio Setup, Timers, and Close Caption. There are so many options in this one little box that it seems more like a full blown DVR. The flexibility is great for such an inexpensive unit.

Performance
We connected our large Terk TV-38 rooftop antenna to the DTVPal to provide a good signal from Mt. Wilson where our transmitters are located. During the setup of the converter box we were able to pull in a total of 60 digital channels. Picture quality was limited due to the composite video signal. However, most televisions using this or the RF input will not have the resolution to tell the difference. The digital channels looked much better than the older NTSC (analog) channels we are used to seeing.

The features included on the DTVPal are unexpected on such an inexpensive unit. The ability to schedule programs for recording is a nice feature for those still using VCRs or other video recorders. The full-size remote works well with the ergonomically placed buttons.

Conclusion
The DTVPal is clearly intended for relatively simple televisions with only composite or RF video inputs. The unit has some great features and an extensive menu system. The Electronic Program Guide (EPG) provided extensive channel information and was quite helpful when trying to find something interesting to watch.The DTVPal converter box is targeting those individuals with older televisions that still want to get good use out of them. The box not only converts the new free digital broadcasts so that older televisions can benefit from them, but it also includes the program guide features often seen on paid services.

The DTVPal can be ordered directly from the Dish Network website where the government coupon code can be entered and credited towards the purchase. Dish makes it very easy to order ($59.99 + $8.95 S/H) and after using the $40 coupon credit, it is a steal.

- Kevin Nakano

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Review System

Display: Mitsubishi LT-52148 Full 1080p 120Hz High-Definition LCD Display
Video Processor/Scaler: Anchor Bay Technologies DVDO iScan HD+ A/V Processor
Preamplifier/Processor: Parasound AVC-2500U THX-Ultra DTS/DD Preamp/Processor
Amplification: Parasound HCA-2205AT THX-Ultra Five Channel Amplifier
Bass Management: Miller & Kreisel BMC Mini 5.1 Bass Management Controller
Front Speakers: Miller & Kreisel S-150THX (L+R) and S-150AC (Center) Speakers
Rear Speakers: Miller & Kreisel SS-250 Tripole® Surround Speakers
Subwoofer: Two Miller & Kreisel MX-350THX MkII THX-Ultra Push-pull Subwoofers
Room Treatments: Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box: Dish Network ViP622 HDTV Satellite and Terrestrial Receiver with HDMI
Blu-ray Player: Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray Player with HDMI
HD-DVD Player: Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD Player with HDMI
DVD/CD/SACD Player: Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD/SACD Player
DVD Audio/Video Player: Kenwood Sovereign DV-5900M 400-Disc DVD Changer
DVD Player: OPPO Digital OPDV971H DVD Player with DVI Output
D-VHS VCR: JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
Media Server: Kenwood Sovereign MRH1 Entre
Remote Control: Remote Technologies Inc. T4 Controller
HDMI Video Switcher: Atlona AT-HDMI41 4:1 HDMI Video Switcher
HDMI Cable: Atlona 5-meter Flat HDMI 1080p Cable
HDMI Cable: VizionWare Hi-Wirez 20-meter Active 1080p Cable
HDMI Cable: Accell UltraRun 45-meter 1080p Cable
DVI Cable: AudioQuest DV-1 20m DVI-D Cable
A/V Cables: Ultralink Platinum and Advanced Performance Series Cables


Review - At a Glance


Dish Network - DTVPal Digital Converter Box

Features

Analog pass-through - Switch between digital and analog channels with the push of a button

On-screen program guide - See what’s showing on every channel with the FREE on-screen program guide

Event timer
Set a timer to turn your DTVPal on and tuned to the desired channel before your favorite show starts playing

Programming search
Search by name for the shows you want to watch

Alternative audio
Receive second audio feed in alternate language (broadcaster dependent)

Closed-captioning
Easily turn on closed captions using your DTVPal remote control

Parental controls
Block programs you deem inappropriate based on rating or channel

Stereo audio output
Enjoy enhanced sound when connected to your stereo TV

Setup Wizard
Automatic channel selection and easy setup

Specifications

  • Size (approx.): H: 1.3” x W: 5.9” x D: 4.2”
  • Weight (approx.): <1 lbs.
  • Color: Black
DTVPal User Guide and Manual


Company Information
Echostar Satellite L.L.C.
DISH Network
9601 S. Meridian Blvd.
Englewood, CO 80112

URL: DTVPal Website

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