Technology advances fast, so fast that some people have trouble catching up, especially in digital entertainment. Not everybody can afford a 42-inch (or bigger) widescreen smart TV. Most of these persons rather stick with a regular LED flatscreen TV, CRT or anything that can’t tune Over the Air broadcasts by its own. Fortunately, there’s an alternative that includes saving your money for more important occasions, it’s called a converter box. These devices serve as ATSC tuners and a DVRs. They convert the digital signal to your analog or digital TV through different outputs. Because of that, we present you the best converter boxes on the market that can renew your late generation televisions and even cut the chain from cable services altogether.
1. ViewTV AT-163 ATSC
The ViewTV AT-163 comes with a built-in ATSC tuner that can output live TV to a projector. Since the device doesn’t come with any kind of integrated memory card, the user would have to attach an external memory (preferably a USB removable hard drive). The converter box uses about 6 to 8GB of memory per hour of recording (using 1080p).
The ViewBox allows watching and recording video at the same time with the Loop Through Mode. You can avoid commercials with the timeshift function (external drive or flash drive needed) which pauses, fast forwards and rewinds your live TV.
The device doesn’t support QAM so you can’t receive those unencrypted cable channels for free. Nevertheless, it does work as a USB Multimedia Player; it playbacks DivX, AVI, MKV, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264/AVC, VOB, MOV, FLV, and VC-1.
Other useful features include a program guide that shows a channel’s weekly schedule (if the channel provides it), a recording feature, Closed Caption, favorite channel listing, and parental control.
The ViewTV AT-163 can output HDMI 1080, YPbPr and Coax signals, the HDMI supports makes sure you have a clear enough image so you really consider quitting cable TV. To ensure a quality signal, you may want to buy an antenna.
|Easy to set up||Internal power supply is untrustworthy|
|Pause||No USB 3.0 support|
|rewind and fast forward live tv||Poor control remote design|
ViewTV AT-163 ATSC Digital TV Converter Box and Media Player
|Easy to set up|
|rewind and fast forward live tv|
|Internal power supply is untrustworthy|
|No USB 3.0 support|
|Poor control remote design|
To sum it up, this device can serve as a nice option if you need an OTA unit that does PVR, just make sure you have an RCA cable available or coax if you don’t own a modern television. The box comes with the TV converter box, a remote controller, an HDMI Cable, composite cable and the user’s manual.
2. Mediasonic HomeWorx ATSC Digital Converter Box - Best Price
The Homeworx HW180STB includes every feature you’d expect from a digital-to-analog converter box. It autotunes quickly every channel it can find and outputs to your choice of HDMI, AV or Coax.
For those interested, this device can’t be plugged into any console, roku or fire stick. The only way to receive any kind of signal is through the RF in connection (which is where the antenna connection goes). It doesn’t work as a replacement cable box either, it receives OTA only.
The firmware can be updated but the process is cumbersome. You have to send an email to the Mediasonic people with a picture of the product’s box (including the unit’s serial number) so they give you the file to complete the process.
Among other features, the device has an Emergency Alert System that notifies any urgent information that comes from a particular TV station. In addition, you can set the time for the device to start up or shut down. Users can also record on real-time or program scheduled recordings to your USB external hard drives.
The remote controller doesn’t always work as intended. Its pattern can be hard to learn as it doesn’t follow the standard that most television controllers have. This can be problematic for users at night, especially if the controller doesn’t light up its buttons.
|Provides 5.1 surround when available||Confusing remote control|
|Fast channel changes||Cumbersome firmware update|
|Intuitive setup||Doesn't play MKV files|
In conclusion, the Homeworx HW180STB has a fair price of $34 (at the time of this review) that includes a 2-year warranty and the necessary features for those that want to leave cable tv and still get DVR capabilities. The product’s box comes with an HW180STB Converter Box, a remote controller, an AV cable and a user’s manual.
3. Leelbox Digital Converter Box - User Choice
The Leebox digital converter box uses the ATSC with 8VSB modulation, that means that through the use of Quadrature Amplitude Modulation it receives digital unencrypted signals from cable companies that also come Over the Air. So, you get the free OTA channels and every other QAM channel it can get depending on your region.
The device also incorporates multi-language Closed Caption so people with hearing disabilities can enjoy watching television. It’s also very useful if you’re trying to learn a new language. Another enjoyable feature is the 7-day EPG, since regular converter boxes show the EPG just a day ahead.
This converter box is designed to work for analog TVs but it can also work on modern televisions sets as long as they have HDMI. Nevertheless, it can’t descramble the signal from a coax cable, it’s not a replacement of a cable box. The “RF in” connection is just for External Antenna, it won’t work as a digital converter for consoles like the PS4.
The only way to record video files is having a flash drive or external hard drive, we personally recommend the latter since it’s compatible with 4TB SSD HD’s.
The Leelbox allows multimedia playback, this includes pictures, audio, and movie files but it seems to lack some codecs because it doesn’t play AVI and the sound of MPEG4 files is missing.
|Front volume and channel controls||Poor user manual|
|Easy setup||Lag when changing channels|
|Quick customer service||Some codecs missing|
Overall, the Leelbox offers a working converter box that’s reliable and affordable, too bad it has the video playback issues and there’s no firmware update for it. It comes with the Converter box, remote controller, AV cable, Users Manual.
4. IVIEW-3200STB Multimedia Converter Box
The converter box unit can playback formats such as MPEG-2 MP in NS, MPEG-4 ASP, SP, In DivX 3.11, 4.x, 6.x, VC-1, FLV and H.264. If you want to enjoy the DVR functions like recording, pause, rewind or fast forward, it’s necessary having a USB flash drive or external drive. An important note about maximum hard drive size is 2TB with FAT32 or NTFS format.
The input voltage for the IVIEW 3200STB is 5V – 2A DC power that converts to 110V AC, using another kind of DC adapter could damage the converter box. It’s noted that the IVIEW has various iterations, the next one being the 3500STBII. The noticeable differences are in the casing (3200’s is plastic, 3500’s is metal), the component output (3200 doesn’t have it) and the Learning Remote feature which allows your remote controller to copy commands from your TV remote controller.
Taking a closer look at the design, there are a few flaws. The fact that it has a USB port on one side and the power plug on the other makes the saved space useless.
It’s interesting to note that the software the converter box uses is very similar to the Mediasonic Homeworx, with a few changes but essentially it’s version 1.2 of the setup. You can program recording just one day ahead before the shows are on.
|Sleek and shiny||Poor phone customer service|
|2-day EPG||flawed design|
|QAM support||Long search times|
If you’re looking for a device that can receive QAM signals and don’t mind the design flaws, the IVIEW-3200 STB should be the converter box of your choice. The box comes with IVIEW converter box, RCA cable, power adapter, remote controller(batteries included), user’s manual.
5. iDOO ATSC Digital Converter Box
The device comes as an only OTA receiving unit to work with an antenna. If you’re interested to use it as a TV Tuner, it can only be done through an upgrade by asking the company for the latest firmware.
The remote controller is known to have problems, the company suggests using it at a distance of 9 to 15 feet without any obstacles with a 45-degree angle for optimal performance. If you get a low quantity of channels you may have to upgrade it via firmware to solve the issue.
Another issue that users have with the remote is changing channels, these converter boxes require a sequence of button presses for each channel, i.e. if you want channel 4-1 the sequence should be “4”, then “-” then “1”, followed by the OK button.
Converter boxes are only meant to receive OTA signals, old games systems like Atari, Intellivision or Nintendo won’t work with the iDOO or any other device of this kind.
The instruction manual is hard to read as it has a very small font (to save space we imagine). It’s interesting that the manufacturer recommends the iDOO Antenna for better performance. The software is the standard for these kinds of devices, it’s intuitive and works right out of the box.
|Fast customer service||Poor remote control reach|
|Intuitive||Too many 'Bad Signal' signs|
|Modern look||Needs firmware update|
Overall, if you want a converter box that doesn’t ruin the modern aspect of your tv table, this is the device you need. It does what most digital-to-analog boxes do but with better looks and design. The product includes the converter box, the remote controller, an AV cable, a power cable, and the instruction manual.
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Prices taken/valid at the time of review.