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Samsung SIR-T451 review: Samsung SIR-T451

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The SIR-T451 will appeal to anyone who wants a fairly affordable way to pull in digital TV programming, which includes all over-the-air HD broadcasts. It'll deliver a high-def image to any HDTV or HD monitor, and even to most PC monitors. In addition, owners of analog TVs can use the SIR-T451 to view any of the digital channels at DVD-quality standard-definition resolution. At worst, picking up a digital tuner will offer antenna-only TV viewers preemptive protection against the impending analog cutoff that's scheduled to happen in 2009. The design of the Samsung SIR-T451 certainly won't induce the gear lust that Apple products do, but it's fine for a utilitarian product like this. The simple, all-silver faceplate has an LED display to the right of its power button, and further to the right are a few buttons plus a directional pad for navigating the interface when the remote goes missing. The remote itself is simple but has all the functionality you'll need. If you want advanced features such as macros or backlighting, you'll need to pick up a universal remote.

5.7

Samsung SIR-T451

The Good

Pull in free over-the-air HDTV; DVI, RGB, and component-video connectivity; basic onscreen programming guide included.

The Bad

Doesn't receive as many channels as TVs with built-in HD tuners; sluggish onscreen guide performance; lacks parallel video output capability; subpar QAM performance.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung SIR-T451 tuner pulls in free over-the-air HDTV broadcasts, but you'll find better-performing tuners on most current HDTV models.
intro
The cable and satellite companies don't want you to know this, but you can get free HDTV with surround-sound audio with just a regular old antenna and tuner. That might sound like a late-night infomercial scam, but it's the truth. Samsung's SIR-T451 is one of the more popular tuners on the market that people are using to get their free HD fix. And while you do need an HD tuner, the same antenna you used to pull in analog over-the-air stations is all you need to pull in the digital signals--so if you still have an outdoor antenna on your roof, you're halfway there.

The onscreen menus are broken down into Guide, Preferences, Channel, and Setup categories, all of which we found easy enough to navigate. Guide, predictably gives you options for customizing the onscreen electronic program guide (EPG), as well as a Remind function, which will let you know when certain programs are coming on. The Preferences menu contains options such as closed captioning and parental controls, which can be tuned to restrict certain ratings such as TV-MA, or just specific subject material, such as violence. The Channel menu lets you add or delete channels to the EPG and test signal strength. Setup is used to configure your screen format--standard or wide-screen--and other initial settings. The Samsung SIR-T451's EPG is equipped to pick up on the program information included in the digital signals. As long as you're getting consistent reception, the program data should filter in and allow you to, for instance, browse through the evening's prime-time schedule. The only hangup is that it's completely dependent on the network to include the program information, and some are better than others. For example, our digital ABC station listed only DTV program for each program--not very helpful. One gripe about the EPG is that, if for some reason you're not getting program data for a certain station, you won't be able to just click enter on the EPG and tune into the channel. We ran into this problem and were able to get around it by tuning into an adjacent station and using the channel up/down buttons on the remote, but it was an annoyance.

The SIR-T451's jack pack is pretty comprehensive. While it's missing HDMI, it does offer a DVI output with HDCP, so it should work with HDMI components, as long as you have an adapter. You'll also find component-video outputs and an RGB output. The latter is identical to the VGA connector on PC video cards, and it effectively can be used to turn any computer monitor into a TV. Composite and S-Video outputs allow the T451 to display the digital programming on any old analog TV. Rounding out the back panel is a stereo analog output and two digital audio outputs (one optical, one coaxial), plus an RF out in case you want to pass the antenna's reception on to a second device. Pretty much the only connection that's missing is FireWire.

As should be expected of any ATSC tuner, the SIR-T451 can output in 1080i, 720p, 480p, or 480i resolutions via its DVI, RGB, and component outputs. To set the desired output resolution, there's a selector button on the back of the unit--which means you pretty much have to set it at one resolution. We would have preferred the ability to change the resolution using the remote, but for most people, this probably isn't a big deal--you'll lock into the resolution that's the most compatible with your monitor. Also note that if you decide to change resolutions, the system will automatically reboot itself. Similarly, there's a selector in the back of the unit to choose between outputting through the component-video output, or the DVI and RGB output. Again, being able to choose this with the remote would be nice, but most people will just use one connector and forget all about it.

Unfortunately, the Samsung box does not offer parallel video output, which is found on the competing Humax HFA100. Parallel video output allows you, for instance, to output a high-def signal to your TV, while simultaneously outputting a standard-def signal via S-Video or composite video. This is particularly useful for owners of a VCR, a DVR, a DVD recorder, or a Slingbox-style device that cannot accept a high-def signal. With the SIR-T451, you are forced to make a compromise. You must watch everything on the TV in standard-def 480i and be able to use standard-def devices, or you can watch TV in high-def and give up the ability to use standard-def devices. We think this might be a deal breaker for a lot of people. We put the Samsung SIR-T451 up against a number of other tuners. Our first test pitted it against the internal HDTV tuners of the Vizio GV42L and the Samsung HP-R4252. Traditional wisdom made us expect the stand-alone SIR-T451 to best the integrated tuners, but that wasn't the case. In terms of reception, both integrated tuners topped the SIR-T451 by a channel or two, using same antenna in the same position. The greater difference was in the speed of the tuners' ability to pull down channel data, navigate the EPG, and change channels. The SIR-T451 was considerably slower than the internal tuners, enough so that most people would probably find it annoying. When we reviewed the similar Humax HFA100, we found overall performance to be much snappier.

The SIR-T451 also handles QAM signals, which means it can decode unscrambled digital cable signals without the need for a cable box. We compared the performance to the Toshiba 62HM196's internal QAM tuner to see if there was any difference in performance. Again, the internal tuner of the 62HM196 tuned in considerably more channels than did the SIR-T451. While the SIR-T451 still picked up the majority of channels, we can't give our full recommendation for QAM performance. Furthermore, the 62HM196 did a much better job of filtering out channels that weren't there, such as encrypted digital cable signals. For example, where the SIR-T451 would spend a few seconds trying to descramble a channel, the 62HM196 skipped right over it, correctly identifying it as impossible to receive.

Image quality, as with all HD tuners we've tested, was excellent. HD channels looked at least as good, if not better, than their counterparts on HD cable. Standard-definition channels looked great, too; free of the interference that often creeps into analog reception. Using the same antenna to pull in analog stations yielded unwatchable results, which speaks volumes about the benefits of digital over-the-air reception.

In the final analysis, the Samsung SIR-T451 isn't a bad product, but some fine-tuning would greatly improve the overall experience. We'd suggest waiting for the T451's replacement, the Samsung DTB-H260F--but despite repeated appearances at trade shows, that product has yet to become available for sale. In the meantime, the SIR-T451 is a decent over-the-air HD solution, especially if you can find it for less than $150.

5.7

Samsung SIR-T451

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 5