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Digital TV Deadline

$40 Rebate Cards - Yay FCC 

With the FCC switchover set to go February 17, 2009, I figured I should check out how the unwashed masses will be getting their television signals.  I've been using either cable tv or a form of satellite tv for the last 20 years or so.  The TV I have sitting in my garage still runs on a rabbit ear antenna setup, I so registered on the FCC DTV Voucher site for a $40 USD off coupon for a set top box.  When I received the coupons, I did the search online for vendors, only to find that it would be cheaper just to go down to a neighborhood Wal-Mart and pick up the box.  The following is an account of what I think...  

Update 4/14/2008 - The SF Chronicle has done a nice review of the same boxes, as well as several more.  It is worth taking a look if you are having a hard time making a decision.

Link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/04/14/BUV11045KT.DTL 

I purchased two units at a local Wal-Mart:

  • RCA DTA800
  • Magnavox TB100MW9

I got sidetracked for a while, but the week after I purchased these boxes, I opened them up and gave them a test drive.  Being that I don't normally watch over the air TV, I don't have a real rooftop TV antenna, so I used a mismatched Arrow 2M/70CM J-pole amateur radio antenna to do the reception.  This is a far from optimum receiving setup.

The first unit tested was the RCA DTA800 Unit.  Without reading the manual it was up and running in about 10 minutes.  After the channel scan, everything was pretty much plug and play.  The box was able to receive 7 stations with mild pixelization of some stations in San Jose, about 25 miles to the south with severe multipath from the hills above Fremont.  Overall the box was pretty slick with key features such as: Channel changing controls on the box and a faux-Satellite signal strength meter for aiming the antenna.  

The second unit tested was the Magnavox TB100MW9.  Without reading the manual, getting the box to power on took a few minutes, as there is a sneaky little hard power switch on the unit.  Overall this unit was amazing with a great setup wizard and better receive quality (10 Channels on this one and less pixelization on the fringe stations).  Don't lose the remote on this one, or you'll never change the channel again!  


In a nutshell, you can't beat the subsidized price of about $9 USD for either of these.  While the Magnavox seems to be superior in signal quality, the RCA unit is incredibly small, has an easier to use remote and buttons on the front of the unit.  Either of these would be a great pick to take your nasty looking old wooden console Sony Trinitron into the next millenium.  Make sure to use your TV converter box before they expire in May 2008!

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