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Consumer Reports Issues Ratings for DTV Converter Boxes

Although it doesn't list receiver sensitivity or immunity to interference, theConsumer Report's Guide to DTV converter boxes rates 24 models. The report highlights important features, including analog output picture quality, analog pass-through capability, ease of adding new channels, program guide information and closed captioning options.

Rather than recommend two or three boxes, Consumer Reports lists more 20 boxes on its Recommendation and Notes page. The ratings also include information such as whether a unit provides aspect ratio changes via its remote control and/or auto aspect ratio.

Looking at features alone, the Insignia NS-DXA1 and the Zenith DTT900 (same unit, different name) come out on top, lacking only analog pass-through, according to the Consumer Reports table. Zenith has said it is adding analog pass-through to its boxes, so this table could be out of date.

The Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) has also been testing converter boxes, but it isn't clear if or when their test results will be released to the public. I saw some of the boxes under test at the MSTV offices this summer and was surprised at the differences in capability.

One major concern is some boxes do not allow users to manually add a channel. If the antenna isn't oriented correctly during the channel scan, viewers may have a tough time finding your channel. This could be a major problem for stations located outside the main antenna farm in a given market or for digital LPTV stations, whose transmitters often aren't located at the main antenna farm.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.