April 27, 2008
Testing a tuner for digital off-air television

I'm a professional TV engineer. For the last 15 years or so, those of us in the profession have been talking about the end of analog television. Next year, on February 17th, television stations will turn off their analog broadcasts and switch to digital only.

For TVs that use rabbit ears or a rooftop antenna, they will need a digital TV tuner. We engineers refer to it as an ATSC tuner, but most will simply call it a HDTV or DTV tuner. If you have cable or satellite TV, you won't need this.

For a while, I've wondered what these inexpensive tuners would be like. When I saw my first tuner years ago, it was around $500 and had terrible performance. This weekend, I stopped by radio Shack this weekend and picked up a Digital Stream DTX9900 DTV tuner. The box cost $60. BTW, the government is offering $40 off coupons to people to help defer the cost.

The tuner itself is fairly small and light.

The tuner takes the input from your antenna and converts to either video and audio on RCA jacks or a channel 3/4 RF signal. Very straightforward and simple. For me, I used the RF signal since it was the simplest cabling.

We have a very cute TV in the kitchen that Michele that uses rabbit ears. She doesn't want a new digital TV, she wants me to simply make it better. So, it gets the DTV tuner.

I hooked things up in about 5 minutes and got good signals right away. The picture looked good. We are in a class A contour so we get great reception. The key is a good antenna. I use a traditional UHF loop antenna and it seems to pick things up well. If you are a distance away, you are probably going to need a yagi style antenna.

I was pleased to see a fairly good user interface. The Info button brought up data about the channel, show, and even reception strength.

The picture was good, but on some channels with poor reception, the picture broke up. With analog channels, the picture would get snowy and the audio start to fuzz with poor reception. With digital channels, you get the cliff effect, where the picture pixelates and in some cases freezes or drops altogether.

One of the benefits of digital television is that broadcasters are sending data along with the picture, such as seeing what's coming up next on the channel.

Here's a short video of using the tuner.

Overall, the tuner is impressive. I think the average person will be able to use it and get better pictures than they have now. Some people will have problems if they are in areas with poor UHF reception, but that's an antenna problem.

Posted by michael at April 27, 2008 09:56 PM


Just saw your notes and I was VERY interested, but I have a prob I hope you can help me with. I, too, bought this DTX9900 just today from RadioShack. I also bought a new antenna that they suggested. The new antenna was working great all by itself UNTIL I connected the DTX9900 today. My connections are correct but the info that comes up on the tv now say "weak signal" and then nothing else. I don't know what to do. The channels here in Va are not all digital yet, but some are and Radio Shack told me that I should receive all my regular plus new ones as soon as I hooked this converter box up. I get nothing. I've now unhooked it all and back to the reg tv with the new antenna until I can figure out what's wrong. All I can say is tg it's not next Feb yet.

Posted by: JennyD [] on May 10, 2008 1:07 PM

Just an update since 5/10. There was no change in the converter box after trying it on all 3 of my tv's, however, I'd gotten TWO boxes and never thought to try the other one. Well, I hooked up the 2nd one and it worked right away, so the only conclusion I can come to is that the first box was faulty and I'm taking it back for an exchange. Radio Shack has said they've never heard of one not being good, but there's always a first, isn't there. Problem solved, thank goodness.

Posted by: JennyD [] on May 17, 2008 12:50 PM
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