RCA DTA800B1 review:


Aspect ratio control is handled competently for standard 4:3 analog TVs, but not for wide-screen TVs. There are two options in the menu, which let you either choose wide-screen mode--which keeps the correct aspect ratio, but adds black bars to the top and bottom of the screen--or full-screen mode, which keeps the correct aspect ratio and doesn't have black bars, but crops out the extreme left and right sides of the image. The DTA800B1 doesn't have any options to work with true wide-screen TVs, like the Zenith DTT901 has, but it isn't an issue for the majority of buyers, who will be using this box with a standard 4:3 analog TV.

Connectivity is slightly above average on the DTA800B1. There are two RF-style F connectors, which are the connectors that have the screw threads on the outside and the small hole inside. One is an antenna input and should be connected to the antenna using a coaxial cable. The other F connector says "Output to TV" and is a video output. This means you can send analog video and audio from the DTA800B1 to your TV by connecting a coaxial cable. In addition to the F connectors, the DTA800B1 has a composite video output along with stereo RCA analog outputs--the standard yellow, red, and white outputs. If your TV has the proper inputs, you should use this output as it offers superior audio and video quality over the RF connection.

The DTA800B1 also includes a Smart Antenna port that can be used with compatible Smart Antennas. The idea behind Smart Antennas is fairly simple--digital stations are often broadcast from different locations, so setting your antenna in one direction might be optimal for one station, but suboptimal for another. A Smart Antenna automatically moves the antenna so that it's in the optimal position for a particular station. We didn't have a Smart Antenna on hand to test this feature, but the idea is a good one, and it's nice to have the capability to add one later. Our only hesitance is that the Smart Antennas we've seen on the market recently are rather expensive, which makes us think it probably won't be worth the extra cash.

Besides the remote and the actual unit, there's not much else included in the box. There's a single RF cable and couple of AA batteries for the remote--that's it. That's pretty stingy, as we expect at least composite-video cable with stereo audio cables (the standard yellow, red, and white cables) to be included with these boxes. Overall, it's not a huge issue--you can pick up a cheap composite-video cable or better quality RF cable for a few bucks, but it really should be included in the box.

There's no composite-video cable included in the box, so you might need to buy an extra cable.

Unlike its predecessor, the DTA800B1 has analog pass-through functionality. Analog pass-through means that you can set the box to pass the analog signal from the antenna through its RF output, to be tuned by a separate NTSC tuner. For most people, the usefulness of this feature is fairly limited, as after February 19, 2009, almost all analog transmitters will be turned off. Sure, there will be still be a few low-power location stations, and if you live close to the border with Mexico you might be able to get some analog Mexican stations, but for the vast majority of people, this feature just isn't that important. Still, it's a nice convenience for people who'd like to continue using analog stations until February.

Video quality on the RCA DTA800B1 is good, although a tad below the Zenith DTT901. When we put these boxes head-to-head using composite video, the difference was slight, but we saw slightly fewer jaggies and a bit more detail with the DTT901. The difference between the DTA800B1 and GE 22730 was greater, however, as the GE 22730's image has considerably more image distortions that might be noticeable to even noncritical viewers. Of course, the differences in video quality between boxes will be less noticeable on analog TVs when you're sitting far away, so it may not be a concern for some users.

Reception quality was also solid on the DTA800B1, coming in just behind the Zenith DTT901 in our tests. We used three testing locations--Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn--and in each case it tuned in about a station or two less than the DTT901, and a station or two more than the GE 22730. Of course, reception varies widely depending on your location, and you can use tools such as AntennaWeb or TV Fool to help determine what channels you can expect to get. Also remember that you'll only be able to tune into the free stations broadcast over the air--that means no Comedy Central, CNN, and so on. From our Manhattan location, we were able to tune into the major networks (CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC), plus PBS, The CW, My 9, plus some religious and Spanish channels.

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