04 June 2008

[liff] Dr Strangetube, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The DTV


17 Feb 2009 is less than a year out, and if you have a good ol' analog TV, if you don't do something about it by then, what you'll have after that is just a TV monitor.

We're not the type to really get too excited about TV ... most of our entertainment comes from YouTube these days anyway. But we do partake of the morning news and our TVs allows us to partake of things like Hell's Kitchen, so we'd like to be able to use them rather than just have them taking up space.

When it was announced that the government was subsidizing purchase of up to $40 of set-top converter boxes on boxes that were expected to cost not less than about $60, we were irritated; if Unca Sam can front us $40/box for 2 boxes, why not make 'em free, if having digital TV is so darned important to have? But, we couldn't justify the cost of a new TV much less afford it, so it was off to the government to apply for those coupons they were giving out (also apparently limited).

We got our request in early, and got our coupons about two months ago. They were set to expire at the end of this month.

And they weren't paper coupons ... they were nifty little plastic cards, gift/credit card-sized, complete with a cute little anti-counterfeit hologram on one end of them. Very upmarket. Wish I could have kept one just to show off.

Now, we were going to do our buying through Radio Shack. We just like the Shack, and if you need something and don't need help to be shown how to use it, the Shack is the place to go ... you just walk in, find what you want, and walk out the door (provided you've paid for it first). And they had two models to choose from that were supposed to be fairly good.

One was a Zenith, the Zenith DTT-900, the other a brand called Digitalstream, the DTX-9900. I had a good impression of the buzz, and it was that the Zenith was the better product by a nose, but were harder to find. This much was true. The only two Zeniths we could find the the greater Portland area were at the Radio Shack in ... Canby. Which actually wasn't a bad thing; the drive was quite lovely today.  Both boxes had the exact same price points ... $59.99 ... so by buying the two now we paid about $40 for the both whereas if we had waited and bought them full-ride price, that's $120.00 down the hole.

Once we got them home I connected one up to the TV in our bedroom. After misconnecting one lead and troubleshooting that, it was up and running. It takes no time at all, really, to connect these up: plug in the box to the mains, connect the antenna (in this case, a dusty ol' pair of rabbit ears) to the antenna input, and the antenna input from the TV to the TV output on the box.

And we were up, just like that. The onscreen setup made it all very easy, and scanned the airwaves for all digital broadcasts. We had 22 channels on our TV. Yes, just like that.

But what was amazing was the way it made me feel like we'd gone out and bought a new set. From a simple, beat-up, dusty, old set of rabbit-ears we were getting clear signal on every channel. On-screen menus and program guides made me feel almost as though we had cable. It was astounding. This TV set – a 19" model – was bought at Stuff (you know, the 'lectro-pawn place down on SE 82nd and Otty, next to the 7 Eleven store and the Krispy Kreme) some years ago for $50 or so. It's still going strong, and will continue to be useful. Our big 36" living room set will have its life extended similarly.

I'm actually quite pleased at the quality of the broadcast signal we're now getting.

I'm still a bit skeptical that DTV isn't, in some way, a way for The Man to carve a few extra bucks out of my thin wallet. But we are getting value for money here. DTV is bringing us more content (watching Bob Ross on OPB's digital subchannel at 10 pm was something else again) and better picture all round. Mind you, the quality of that content still tends to vary, of course.

And I wouldn't call myself a DTV "believer" ... it is television, after all.

But I think anyone who's thinking about the upcoming switch and doesn't feel like getting a new TV really should seriously get round to getting one of these boxes. They're really pretty cool, and when 17 Feb of next year rolls around, you'll be good to go.

We recommend the Zenith, of course. Has just one light in the front of it. Looks kind of like an old-school Cylon there.

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