Winegard RCDT09A review: Winegard RCDT09A

Aspect ratio controls are acceptable for 4:3 TVs. Letterbox mode presets wide-screen programs in their original aspect ratio, but has black bars on the top and bottom of the image. Cropped mode also maintains the correct aspect ratio, but chops off the left and right sides of the image. Squeezed mode doesn't chop off any part of the screen, but the aspect ratio is distorted, with people's faces looking unnaturally skinny. There is also an "auto" mode, but we found that this mode often offered a window-boxed image--black bars on all four sides--so we generally preferred to leave it in letterbox or cropped mode. There is no way to set the box so that wide-screen programs are displayed correctly on wide-screen TVs, but that's not a big deal since most of these boxes will be used with older, sets with standard screen proportions. Our main frustration with aspect ratio on the RCDT09A was that we had to jump into the setup menu to change them--we definitely prefer a dedicated button on the remote.

Only an RF cable is included, so you may want to pick up a standard AV cable.

Packaged with the unit is a single RF cable, some batteries for the remote, and the power adapter. That's pretty skimpy in our book, as we felt Winegard should have tossed in a standard AV composite cable as well. It's not a huge deal, since you can buy a set of composite cables pretty cheaply, but no included AV cable could mean another trip to the store and another place for DTV amateurs to get confused.

Connectivity is average on the RCDT09A. 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 "TV RF OUT" and is a video output. This means you can send analog video and audio from the RCDT09A to your TV by connecting a coaxial cable. In addition to the F connectors, the RCDT09A 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 RCDT09A also 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.

Reception was about average with the RCDT09A. It pulled in 24 stations from our Manhattan locations, which is on par with the majority of DTV converter boxes we've tested. The stations included all the major networks, plus PBS, The CW, MY9, plus some religious and Spanish channels. Remember that, as with all DTV converter boxes, you'll only be able to tune into the free stations broadcast over the air--that means no Comedy Central, CNN, and so on. Also, every locations is different, but you can use tools such as TV Fool and AntennaWeb to get a better idea of what channels you'll receive.

Image quality was also middling on the RCDT09A. We put the box head to head with our image quality champ, the Zenith DTT901 and the RCDT09A consistently looked softer. One of our favorite tests is observing the CBS eye logo, and we could saw some minor jaggies where it should have been rounded. We compared some actual program material as well, and while we noticed some minor differences on a local NBC newscast, we'd stress that they might not even be visible on an older analog TV.

Lastly, we had no problems running the RCDT09A off battery power. In our tests, it performed identically to when it was using standard power, pulling in the same amount of stations and responding to remote commands just as quickly.

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