I finally got myself organised for digital TV, including Thursday night’s launch of ABC News 24.
(The opening minutes of ABC News 24, posted by Adam Dimech)
I’d been putting off buying a set-top box, remembering the rule that technology always gets cheaper over time. I was waiting for an HD set-top box with USB recording to get under $100. Kogan has come close: its PVR is $95 including delivery. But it hasn’t had outstanding reviews.
An HD tuner was critical because ABC News 24 is the first channel to be exclusively available in HD. The ABC’s FAQ mentions why:
The ABC only has a specific amount of digital spectrum in which to broadcast all its services. To launch ABC News 24, we need the spectrum currently being used to broadcast our ABC1 HD channel. By law the ABC also must provide its main channel, ABC1, in standard definition.
So while I was looking around for a suitable box, Zazz, the mob who sell one thing every day, came up with their offering, at $78 (including delivery), the DVBT3858 from some unknown brand called Proton. I couldn’t find any reviews online, but one thing I do like about the Zazz guys (apart from their funny sales-pitches) is that they are fairly forthright with their comments on what they’re selling. Discussion in their forum led me to the conclusion that it was worth a punt — for instance, they noted that the pause live TV function is “somewhat limited” and “a wee bit quirky”, but they reckoned the channel change response time was good, and the recorded files can be transferred over to a computer (thanks in part to a lack of Freeview certification).
Since it’s arrived, I’ve been very happy with it. Installing was straightforward, and the only change to the configuration I had to make was to switch it from NTSC to PAL. (My TV works with NTSC, but PAL is understandably less fuzzy.)
Apart from the manual being next-to-useless (but the menus are pretty easy to understand), and one attempt to record MythBusters that didn’t seem to work (haven’t looked to see why yet), it’s been smooth sailing, happily browsing the digital channels, and I’ve got it and the media PC collaboratively recording the news each night in case I’m not home. It also plays files from elsewhere, so is also effectively replacing the media player box I also got off Zazz, though it seems to lose sync on some of the files I’ve tried.
I’m pretty happy with this purchase, and it’ll keep us going if we still have the old analogue TV after the analogue shutoff reaches Melbourne in December 2013.
Zazz, of course, don’t have it on sale now, but may do so again in the future, and of course it may pop up elsewhere.
And yes, I’ve been enjoying the extra channels, including ABC2’s just-started repeats of The Goodies. And ABC News 24, of course.
- Dec 2010: Update on the Proton digital STB — there are a few niggles with it that I’ve found over the months. It doesn’t appear to properly handle summer time; you have to set the time manually. Occasionally there’s a few seconds of lag between sound and vision when switching channels (esp to an HD channel).
- Another issue I’ve found (probably not a STB problem per se) is that the .ts files it produces are difficult to convert into other formats. They all seem to play on Windows 7 Media Player, but conversion programs I’ve tried sometimes have issues. In the worst case scenario, I’ve resorted to playing the file in Media Player and capturing a new video file of it in CamStudio. With the right settings, the quality from this is surprisingly good.