DTV Converters Rated

Consumer Reports tests 14 boxes
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Price doesn“t equate quality with digital-to-analog converter boxes, according to Consumer Reports, which tested 14 models. The tests were conducted at the magazine“s headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y., using a standard rooftop antenna.

The converters were rated first on picture quality, something the average shopper can determine, though CR“s press release about the tests offered a caveat on outside influences.

“When judging picture quality at home,” it read, “consumers should also consider other variables that can affect picture quality--the quality of the video transmitted by stations and the quality of the television set, either of which can often be the weak link in the picture quality chain.”

Features were also considered in the ratings--electronic program guide, analog pass-through and ease of adding channels. The last feature eliminates the need for users to do channel scans.

Tuner sensitivity was mentioned, but CR said that “all boxes performed comparably in tests of their ability to pull in digital stations.”

The $50 Tivax STB-T9 came out on top, with best picture quality, an EPG, configurable closed captioning, aspect ratio remote control, channel-adding capability, controls on the box itself and an audio/video cable included. (Surprisingly, most of the 14 did not come with an A/V cable.)

The Microgem MG2000 also fared well and shared the same features as the Tivax, except for the cable. Two others received the highest rating for picture quality--comparable to DVD images“the Lasonic LTA-260 and the Sansonic FT300A.

The Tivax and Microgem are among the converters approved by the federal government for its subsidy program, thus the models can be had for $10 with a $40 coupon from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The agency has approved nearly 90 converters, but CR said only about 25 are available.

“Consumers are finding few choices in their local stores,” said Joel Kelsey policy analyst for Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of CR. “This is a consumer Catch-22. Those who acted early in requesting coupons face limited or expensive choices in converter boxes, but can“t wait for more options because their coupons are expiring.”

The results of CR“s tests are available here.