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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the latest Dish DTVPal DVR Review