Pros: Consistent performance. Easy setup. Channel-selection buttons included on both the box and the remote.
Cons: Limited electronic program guide to scheduled shows. Signal-reception not quite as powerful as I'd like.
Prefatory note #1 To see an enlarged photo image of this product, use the following URL:
Prefatory note #2: Like most, if not all, of its competition, this product is "made in China."
The transition to all-digital television broadcasting, formerly scheduled for February 17, 2009, is now scheduled for June 12, 2009. Although most of the TV sets in my home are connected to AT&T U-verse and, hence, won't be affected by the June transition, I've got a couple of analog TV sets in "spare" rooms that are still merely connected to amplified "rabbit ears." Therefore, I went ahead and used my two government-supplied $40 coupons (see https://www.dtv2009.gov/ApplyCoupon.aspx) to purchase a couple of digital-to-analog converter boxes, one of which is the subject of this review.
At $49.99 (or, factoring the forty-dollar coupon, about ten bucks plus tax), this "RCA" product ["distributed by 'AVC Multimedia,' Markham, Ontario (Canada)"] was among the most affordable converter boxes available in my suburban-Kansas City neighborhood. Thus I bought it--not to mention the competing Sansonic FT-300A (about five bucks, using my second coupon)--at a nearby Target store. At the time I purchased this product largely for review-writing purposes (as well as occasional, auxiliary use in the event that my AT&T U-verse ever significantly malfunctions--which has never happened during the 15 months I've been a subscriber). However, in hindsight, I wonder if I should've chosen a competing model that included a more extensive electronic program guide. As it stands, by pressing the remote's "INFO" key and then the right-arrow key I can view an on-screen description of only the very next scheduled program for the currently selected channel. [Also see the final, "Upshot" section below.]
The RCA STB7766G1 converter box itself weighs 10.8 ounces and measures (in inches) about 6 & 1/2 (D) x 5 & 3/4 (W) x 1 & 1/4 (H). The console is molded of "adequately" thick and durable plastic (i.e., I suspect it could crack if dropped onto a hard floor--but this is more or less equally true of many such products). The overall color is black; but the front panel comprises a black-and-silvery (two-tone) treatment and a concave (inward-curving) shape, all of which makes for a somewhat boxy or stodgy stylistic effect that I fairly well like but don't quite love.
The left and right sides (edges) of the console are largely perforated with many oval holes providing air circulation. There are no holes on the uniformly black plastic top, bottom and back of the unit.
The front panel features not only a power (on/off) button but also two channel-selection buttons labeled, respectively, "CH-" and "CH+ ". Thus this console provides more options than the competing Sansonic FT-300A, whose front panel has only one (power on/off) button.
The AC power adaptor's hard-wired cord is about 64 inches long--sufficient for the majority of installations.
By contrast, the "RF cable" is barely over 39 inches long--perhaps not quite sufficient for unusual installations (however, in such exceptional instances, you could affordably replace it with a longer cable via Radio Shack, Wal-Mart, etc.). This cable has "push-on" rather than "screw-on" connectors.
Connected to AC power via the included 9-volt-DC adaptor, this converter box's front panel's LED (near the far-right edge) glows a rather bright (potentially distracting) red whenever it's in "sleep" mode (i.e., the unit isn't switched on). By contrast, that LED turns a not-quite-so-bright green whenever the unit is switched on. Personally, I'd prefer a somewhat less intensely red LED--or, better yet, no illumination whatsoever--whenever the unit is switched off at night and I'm in my "sleep mode." [Tip: A teensy piece of black tape could prove helpful to certain consumers.]
The mostly black remote handset measures (in inches) about 4.75 x 1.5 x .75, which means its overall dimensions are identical to those of the competing Sansonic FT-300A. It's thus small and fits the hand very comfortably. I found it easy to move my thumb to reach any of the keys. The remote, typically "cheap" though it is, is molded of fairly thick and durable plastic. The color of the enclosure and the rubbery keys is generally black, with tastefully legible, white characters on most keys. However, the power (on/off) key at the extreme upper-right is instead gray with white characters, and the two "VOLUME +/-" keys (for adjusting the audio-output level), as well the two "CHANNEL +/-" keys (for changing to higher or lower channels), are likewise gray with white characters. Nearly all of the keys bear printed white characters, with the exception of four black keys ("MENU", "EXIT', "INFO" and "SIGNAL") demarcated by gray labels adjacently printed on the housing's black plastic.
Note that while the RCA remote can control the volume to your TV, it can't switch your TV on or off. Thus you might opt to substitute a "universal" or "learning" remote to control not only the RCA converter box but also your TV, etc. [Alternatively, you might opt for a competing converter box model having a more multifaceted remote handset capable of controlling all your TV set's most essential functions.]
Toward the end of the main section of this review, I'll also discuss several auxiliary function keys on the remote.
Initial setup is pretty simple. After connecting the converter box to electrical power and to your TV via the aforementioned cables, you should make sure your TV is set to channel 3 (or, optionally, channel 4). Then turn on the converter box. Press the remote's "MENU" button; use the left/right cursor-control keys to select the "CHANNEL" menu; press the "down" arrow key to select "CHANNEL SCAN;" and press the remote's "ENTER" key (or the "right" arrow key) to start scanning. The unit will begin scanning all available broadcast channels. During this process, which only takes a minute or so, you'll notice in the right portion of the TV screen the number of "found" channels clearly displayed. [You can also press "ENTER" again (or "EXIT") to cancel the scan.]
After the "auto scan" of channels is completed, you can press the remote's conveniently conspicuous gray "channel up" or "channel down" keys to change to a higher or lower channel. (Alternatively, you can press the numerical keys to jump to a particular channel.) Channel changing is somewhat annoyingly sluggish: about a two-second pause occurs before the screen fully changes from the currently displayed channel to the newly selected one. Nonetheless, I noticed that that delay was at least very slightly shorter than the analogous (albeit still tolerable) delay with the competing Sansonic FT-300A.
During that roughly two-second interval, most of the TV screen turns black, except for a small gray-and-white panel that is temporarily displayed at the upper-right. Within that panel the target station's channel number and call letters are displayed.
One of the especially noteworthy keys on the remote is labeled "INFO." When you press that key, two mostly gray panels are temporarily displayed on the TV screen. Within the smaller panel (at the upper right) is white and pale-blue text indicating the primary channel number (plus the subchannel number, if any) and the station's call letters. Within the smaller panel (at the upper left) is mostly white text indicating: the title of the current TV show; the current time (e.g., 12:40 AM); the day and date (e.g., Mon, Apr 8, 2009); the program's time slot (e.g., "12:30 AM -1:00 AM"); a "closed caption" indicator; a screen-display-mode indicator (e.g., "16:9"); a program-content rating indicator (e.g., "TV-G"); and a brief description of the current TV show's content. Those panels linger for nearly 20 seconds after the screen has begun displaying the newly selected channel; alternatively, you can make those panels disappear more quickly by pressing the "INFO" (or the "EXIT") key again.
Along with a power (ON/OFF) button, the RCA converter box's front panel includes two channel-selection buttons that complement the analogous channel-selection keys on the remote. By contrast, with the competing Sansonic FT-300A you must rely entirely on the remote for all functions other than powering the unit on or off.
For my initial test of this converter box, I connected an old AOC 19-inch analog TV and (more to the point) a circa 2005 Philips model MANT510 Amplified Antenna located in the topmost bedroom of my split-level house. All channels were properly "found" during the "auto scan" process; and the only problem I encountered turned out not to be primarily the fault of the RCA converter box itself. My local PBS affiliate (UHF channel 19) didn't display acceptably (i.e., instead of continuously normal video and audio, there was generally only "frozen or fractured" content). [Note: On that occasion I likewise tested the competing Sansonic FT-300A converter box with that same TV/antenna setup, and it likewise was unable to receive that particular station acceptably.] However, after phoning that PBS station, I was informed they were simply broadcasting their digital signal at about half strength until the "official" changeover (to all digital TV) in June.
For my second test of this converter box, I connected a ten-year-old Broksonic 19-inch analog TV and (more to the point) a circa 2002 RCA (model ANT200B) indoor amplified antenna located in my fully underground, finished basement. Not only did the aforementioned channel 19 not display acceptably, but also several other channels were comparably unwatchable. Sometimes a tiny "NO SIGNAL" indicator popped up (against a black background), and other times the selected TV show momentarily displayed but then distorted or froze.
Hence I conclude that this RCA converter box exhibits, at least, typically good capability to receive digital broadcast TV channels and to convert them to eminently satisfying displays on typical analog TV sets if you use it with an antenna--and in a location--reasonably conducive to signal reception. However, in a less than optimal location it didn't receive certain channels quite as impressively as the slightly cheaper Sansonic FT-300A converter box that I likewise tested.
I don't like this RCA product's on-screen "antenna level" indicator ("signal meter" display) as much as that of the competing Sansonic FT-300A. Unlike the latter unit's ample, dual "signal meters" (one labeled "signal strength," and the other labeled "signal quality" [i.e., signal-to-noise ratio]), the RCA's smaller, single meter (ambiguously labeled "signal") quite audibly and continuously beeps at a relatively loud, unvarying level. That incessant beeping is not only quickly irritating but also basically pointless, and I can't imagine why this product's designers elected to associate it with the self-sufficient, on-screen meter. [Of course, this shouldn't prove a major issue, for you'll rarely want to press the remote's "SIGNAL" key to activate the "signal meter" display anyway.]
The on-screen "signal meter" display comprises merely a smallish panel containing a bar (demarcated into three segments) horizontally fluctuating from left to right, with the word "Bad" at the extreme left and the word "Good" at the extreme right. By contrast, the Sansonic FT-300A's larger, dual signal meters comprise not only analogously fluctuating horizontal bars but also adjacently displayed "signal strength/quality" numbers (percentages) providing a somewhat more impressive evaluation of a given channel's signal.
The remote handset also includes a few other auxiliary function keys:
Unlike the identically sized remote for the competing Sansonic FT-300A converter box, the RCA remote includes a handy "last channel" key for quickly and conveniently returning to the most recently viewed (previous) channel.
An "EXIT" key lets you back out of various on-screen menus or modes.
A "MUTE" key, obviously, lets you mute the unit's sound output to the connected TV set.
Moreover, the on-screen menu (that appears when you press the remote's "MENU" key) encompasses various selectable functions, including:
Manual scan and a channel edit function to add or remove particular channels;
Aspect ratio (TV-screen display mode). The options under this heading include (to quote the user manual):
Auto: "Displays all programs based on the aspect ratio of the program;"
Letter Box: "Displays all programs in 16:9 aspect ratio;"
Cropped: "No change on the ratio, but the picture is cropped;"
Squeezed: "All programs are displayed to fit on the screen."
Language. English, Spanish, or French can be selected for the system's on-screen text.
Audio Language. With some TV programs, you can listen to the audio in an alternate language (choices include English, Spanish, and/or French).
Power-save mode. This is factory-set to switch off the unit after four hours of inactivity (i.e., a period of time without user input). However, you can change the setting to "OFF," "1 hour," "2 hours," or "8 hours."
Lock system. Keeps the unit from receiving channels until user enters the correct four-digit password (factory default is "0000").
Block channel. Keeps a specified channel from being received. (Works in conjunction with the aforementioned password.)
TV rating--children. "For classifying the age level of TV programs for children."
TV rating--general. "For classifying the age level of TV programs by the general criterion" [sic].
Movie rating. This works in conjunction with the aforementioned "Lock" function to restrict user access to movie broadcasts. The "lock levels" pertain to the following ratings: G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17, and X.
Downloadable RRT. This is for downloading and displaying "Region Rating Table" TV-show ratings.
There is no "analog pass-through" feature to let you watch analog broadcasts without disconnecting the converter box. However, this fact will surely be of little or no importance for the vast majority of users, especially after the official transition to all digital broadcasting on June 12, 2009.
The 20-page, entirely English user manual (measuring about 5" x 7") is, generally, reasonably well written. The numerous illustrations comprise line drawings of the hardware and shaded gray-scale images representing screen shots of the channel scan and other modes.
Basically, all I originally sought was a converter box that came with a remote control and received and displayed broadcast channels clearly and reliably. Bells and whistles (extra features) were of scant concern to me. Accordingly, this RCA product has, at least, satisfied me.
However, if I had it to do over again, I might have chosen a competing model that included a more extensive "electronic program guide" allowing me to see an on-screen schedule of upcoming programs several hours into the future. This unit only allows me to see the very next scheduled program for the currently selected channel. For only about ten dollars more, the competing Insignia NS-DXA1 and Zenith DTT900 models are available elsewhere; reportedly, the latter two models have program guides that display program titles and run times for the current and upcoming programs for all channels (not just the currently selected channel). [Note I haven't personally tested either of those competing models.]
As long as you (like me) find the RCA STB7766G1's aforementioned limitations pretty easily tolerable or even insignificant for your purposes, you'll likely feel that this product is not only dependable but also well worth its roughly ten-dollar cost--assuming you use your government-provided, $40 coupon.