Going digital

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.
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11 Replies to “Going digital”

  1. Wow! Are you saying that for $78 you bought a device that picks up digital channels AND you can record programs on it? Please keep us informed on its reliability and when the offer is available again. The device also appears to have good taste by refusing to record MythBusters (only joking).

    PS ABC-24 comes up on the Channel 20 slot on our digital TV – despite the fact that I’ve re-scanned all stations and now get C31. Curious!

  2. My guess is it will be a case of one getting what one has paid for.

    Our cheap (at the time) Wintal PVR-X10a does a pretty good job as a single tuner PVR, but it has bugs that have never been resolved and we have to work around them. It’s similar to Windows in that way. It also has a fairly limited user interface.

    Our new Topfield 7100HDPlus is much better and provides very many more features. It was about twice the price this year that the Wintal was five years ago or whenever I bought it. But it’s about five or six times the price of that Zazz unit and I expect the price difference will show up in reliability and ease of use.

    The Wintal drove us nuts with its tendency to give up on a timer recording if the signal was too weak at the exact moment it wanted to start (always only on SBS, although there was a time-related channel 7 bug a few years ago). Things get tense when a video recorder doesn’t do its job on a very important episode of a TV show!

  3. @Philip, fair comment. I suppose I wasn’t willing to invest $600+ on a dual-tuner Topfield etc, as I’m not overburdened with cash at the moment and I don’t really need dual tuners, as I have the Media PC as well, which is enough to keep me going until I upgrade the TV.

    And I specifically wanted something not Freeview locked so there’s the option of archiving recordings onto the computer. There seem to be precious few such single-tuner STB/PVRs with that feature from the major brands at the moment.

    Most of the stuff I’ve bought on Zazz has been no-name brand, but quite good. The computer I got 4 years ago is still going strong (good enough that I’m continuing to upgrade it), while a 2nd-tier brand computer I bought about the same time has had problems.

  4. That ABC explanation does not make sense. The news only needs to be SD – there is no HD content for it. There are a lot of people with digital TV’s which only run SD, set top boxes which only run SD, and cable delivery systems which only run SD.

  5. From: http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_100034

    Commercial and national broadcasters in the metropolitan areas of mainland Australia are required to broadcast at least 1040 hours of high definition television (HDTV) programs each year.

    Government legislation requires that the ABC and the other broadcasters screen a certain amount of HD content, so the HD channel has to stay for that reason. So the choices were pretty much limited to: a) make News 24 HD (which they did), b) make ABC2 or ABC3 HD and News SD, or c) not start ABC News 24.

  6. @Lucas, that makes no sense either. There is almost no HD material generated for news. They should run their HD material on a channel which has HD.

    Anyway, I wont be watching ABC news channel anyway.

    Much more annoying is the change to widescreen broadcasting of the regular ABC 7 PM news last week. All of the captions are aligned off the edge of the screen.

  7. I’ve gotten myself from Kmart a $75 HD STB that records to a USB drive (including a HDD); it’s really only any good for acting as a third recorder (for when there are three or four things on simultaneously) and time-shifting (for some reason you can’t specify the date to record stuff on). It seems a bit touchy about the USB drive, it’s not recording to the flash one any more.

    But the biggest advantage is it lets us watch ABC24.

  8. Just want to let you all know that Zazz has the Proton DVB-T HD Digital Set Top Box model DVBT3858 on sale again til midnight 16th unless sold out. Just under $78 incl postage. I intend grabbing one this time. Good luck all.

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