Digital Stream DTX9950
The Digital Stream DTX9950 was popular on some forums early on in the digital TV box race. This unit is available from Radio Shack but my store was out so it needed to be special ordered. It is the smallest in the shootout and has a good sized remote and comes with batteries and a coax cable in addition to the tuner itself. The manual with the box is very comprehensive and covers any questions users might have.
Appearance – 3/5
Other than its small size the actual box is black and very plain. There are no buttons on the front, only a green power LED and the IR sensor. The power and channel buttons are on the top right of the box near the front. The front is also slightly glossy.
Ports – 4/5
From left to right, the rear of the box has coax antenna in, coax TV out, CH 3/4 switch, composite/stereo A/V jacks and a hard wired power cable. This is the same configuration as most other TV converter boxes we've seen on the market.
Remote – 2/5
This remote is well balanced and easy to hold and use, for the most part. The volume and channel buttons are placed in the middle and surround an A/D button. The A/D button switched from digital mode to allow an analog pass-through for the antenna. For all intents and purposes, it just turns the box off and puts the words "Analog Pass Through" on the screen first. It's very irritating to have a big Power Off button in the middle of essential controls. There are programmable TV power, input, and volume buttons on the top. The method to program the TV into the remote seemed very frustrating as I had to hold down each button in the key code sequence for about 1 second each. After a few codes and no results I wondered if it was actually working. Finally, the fifth code for my RCA TV worked to turn the TV off, but not back on. A few codes later, the TV power button worked correctly, but the TV Input button didn't work. With two sets of volume controls, one for the TV and one for the box signal level, many users may have a bit of confusion. Our recommendation is to set the box volume and then simply use the TV volume for your volume needs. Other buttons include EPG (Electronic Program Guide), Favorite Channel, Back, Previous, Mute, Audio, Zoom, CC, and Meter. The Zoom button switched between Anamorphic, Wide 16:9, Wide 14:9, and Zoom modes. The 14:9 mode is halfway between Zoom and 16:9, the manual said, but didn't seem useful at all. It would have been nice if the A/D button had been the Zoom function since it would be used more often. Other than the feel, the redundant functions and layout put this remote at the bottom of the scale for the shootout.
Initial Setup – 3/5
The Digital Stream tuner has a setup wizard, not just an initial setup. The setup includes choosing a language, viewing a setup page with instructional setup graphic, the channel scan, and time zone selection. It took less than 2 minutes for the entire setup. Please note that after the setup is complete, the Preferred Connection setting which is buried 3 menus deep, will need to be switched to Line Out if using the A/V connections. The only thing that seemed to happen is the volume was lowered but the image quality didn't change. The manual did verify that this was the correct course of action even though the results made virtually no difference.
Menu System – 2/5
The Main Menu had four settings labeled Channel, Caption, Rating and Function. The Channel menu allows for channel rescanning as well as manual channel editing and setting up favorite channels. The Caption menu had many settings for changing the fonts, colors, sizes and transparencies. This is one of the most comprehensive setups for Closed Captioning in the shootout. A Rating menu allowed for setting ratings and permission. The Function menu included mystery functions like Emergency Alerts and separate settings for Sleep Timer and Power Down Time which would seemingly be the same thing, but aren't. There were some settings to control the transparency of all menus but it wasn't enough to make up for odd functions, bad menu layout, and poor menu response.
Channel Information – 2/5
The Enter button in the middle of the D-pad control displayed the Channel Info. The graphics used reminded me of the font used on the Commodore 64. It was very blocky and large and included the channel number and call sign, the current time and date, the title of the program, the time range for the program, the rating, and several lit or dimmed icons representing HDTV, Stereo, Second Audio, CC, Dolby Digital decoding, and finally a colored signal meter. No extended program information was available.
Program Guide – 2/5
The EPG button brought up the guide. Having yet another acronym in the A/V world seems like a bad idea. The guide takes up the center of the screen and showed only what was on the current channel. It did show programs many hours in the future as well as allowing for viewing of detailed program info, but there was no way to change channels while in the guide. It was more of an informative "What's on next" button, and not a full channel guide.
Signal Strength – 3/5
The signal strength stayed around 60% on most channels with the cheap antenna. If the strength dropped below about 55% the box began to skip. Once plugged into the amplified antenna, I had huge signal improvements on most channels. It went up to about 85% on most channels, but had the bad side effect of making just one of the channels drop to 20% and completely unwatchable, no matter how low or high I set the amplifier.
Picture Quality – 3/5
The picture quality was fairly average, and nothing special. It seemed to have just a little bit of artifacting on the CRT, but the image became worse when hooked up to the computer monitor. The contrast seemed to be a bit off and there was a bit of black and white crush.
Sound Quality – 2/5
The sound was over amplified until the Line Out setting was used. The sound went from very bad to just below average. It didn't seem that any box should be significantly better or worse being that the TV speakers were used for testing, but Digital Stream proved me wrong. The vocals just weren't as clear.
The Digital Stream DTX9550 had a promising initial impression, but constantly underperformed. Not only was the menu system poorly laid out, but the remote had poor and redundant functions and the signal strength just wasn't as consistent as the other contenders. Honestly, the only situations where I could recommend this box was if the user needed lots of good Closed Caption features. Other than that, it is possible a worse box could exist, but not in our comparison.
Overall – 2.5/5
- Coding Algorithm: MPEG-2 Video Decoding, MP@ML, MP@HL
- Video Format: ATSC 18 Formats
- Output Format: 480i (CVBS)
- Audio: AC-3 Audio (DD) Decoding, Digital Multi-Lingual
- Antenna Input: IEC 169-2, Female (F-Type), 75 Ohms
- Video Output: CVBS (Composite), RF Output (CH 3/4)
- Audio Output: L/R, RF output (CH 3/4)
- Band Coverage: CH 2 ~ CH 69
- Broadcasting Standard: ATSC
- Menu Language: English, Spanish
- EPG: Support
- Display Format: Anamorphic, Wide 16:9, Wide 14:9, Zoom
- Remote Control Unit: Requires DC 1.5V AAA Battery X2
- AC Power: AC ~ IN 100-240V, 50/60Hz
- Power Consumption: 7W (Max)
- Dimensions (W x D x H): 7.68"(W) x 4.13"(D) x 1.34"(H)
- Weight: 0.970 (lbs)
I have to say, I agree with the review of this unit on all points. It is a fantastic converter!
I know of at least one of mine that has a power supply that makes noise in standby mode.
Not to mention with rabbit ears, keep the AC power cord away from the leads as much as possible. It causes quite a bit of interference; enough to block stations from coming in.
I might just have to get one of those Channel Master units. I have the Zenith DTT901 and have been really happy, except that I wish that it had S-video and that the program guide showed more into the future. I do like how the Zenith lets you check what's on other channels without changing the channel, though.
I really (REALLY) wish that these lower-priced boxes had digital audio output. That's one of the reason that I put off getting one until a couple of months ago.