Soapbox

My First Government Handout: Magnavox DTV Converter Review

Published: 2008-03-28

Every year I get to write the government a big check. This year it's $2,000 on top of what's already been deducted. I involuntary give thousands of dollars so useless people like my brother-in-law can get free housing. It's one thing to help the infirm and another to enable the chronically unemployable. All as I ask for is a tax form that allows me to specify where my money goes. $2,000 for heart medicine for little old ladies, $0 for high school drop-outs with an infinite supply of excuses for why they can't work and so on.

I'm a very profitable tax-payer for the government. I hand over a pile of cash and consume virtually no "free" services. Yeah I drive on the roads and like having criminals in prison but I don't take anything else. I finally decided to get some of my money back by requesting one of those $40 coupons for a DTV converter box. You see Congress, having solved every other problem in the country apparently, passed a mandate requiring a conversion to digital television. I have cable so it's really not a problem except for the TV in my office.

My little office also doubles as a gameroom. I've got a decent TV with a complex set of switch boxes to support a myriad of game systems. I don't have cable connected to it because the line is going to the cable modem. OK, I could split it or something but it's not worth the effort. The only thing I ever have on the TV, other than video games, is football on FOX. Good ol' channel 32 comes in over the antenna in just-barely-watchable quality.

Come February 1st 2009 I won't be getting the NFL, or anything else, on it though. I probably wouldn't even have noticed until sometime around August. So instead of getting annoyed in 19 months I decided to collect my first government handout. Even though it was for a government mandated upgrade, I still felt a little guilty about taking it. That's so stupid.

Anyway, I took the $40 coupon to the local Wal-Mart and bought a Magnavox TB100MW9 DTV converter box for $49.99. I suppose they're all the same. I chose it solely off price figuring no one would go lower so long as consumers are getting $40 of it for "free". I hooked it up expecting the worst. FOX was the only (English) channel that came in semi-reliably before. I figured I'd get that, only cutting out to a blank screen every couple minutes instead of the familiar constant static.

I could not have been more wrong. I fired the box up, ran the auto-discovery, and surprise.. 20-30 over the air channels with perfect pictures. It was reminiscent of the first time I got cable TV. Sure the channels weren't great.. there's the standard ABC, NBC, PBS, and the perpetual-Cheers-rerun-channel (PCRC). There are the UHF stations that have been part of basic cable forever and some NBC equivalent of the Weather Channel. Of course FOX comes in and is crystal clear so there's at least one reason to be excited about the next NFL season. No mind-blowing content, but a significantly better selection than I previously had.

The Magnavox TB100MW9 itself is a pretty good product. It's very small with a black casing that looks nice stacked on top of the television. The remote feels a little cheap but is perfectly functional. It's got the onscreen guide that looks like what a cable or satellite receiver would show. I described the picture as "perfect" before but what I really mean is "as good as something coming off an antenna being converted to analog and running though a crappy coaxial connection can possibly look". There are settings to adjust the picture size so maybe running it in "full" instead of the non-stretched options would look sharper? I don't care enough to mess with it though. I'm sure all these boxes the same, but if you want a recommendation I can say this model more than does the job.

Of course your experience will vary. I live near Chicago so we obviously have more stations than Lock Haven Pennsylvania. Chances are though, if you have have a TV hooked-up to an antenna you will find that switching opens-up a new world of free stations. I honestly expected this to be a waste of $10 and I'm glad to admit I was wrong.

Oh, and "yeah" 2008 has been a busy year if this is the first thing I have time to rant about.