HD set top boxes 2008

High-definition set-top boxes on test – should you buy one?
 
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  • Updated:1 Dec 2008
 

01 .Introduction

HD-set-top-box

10 HD set top boxes on test from $99 to $317

See our latest test of HD set-top boxes.

High definition (HD) set-top boxes are designed to replace your existing television’s tuner. If you have an older analogue TV, the box will give you the option of watching digital programming, and if you have an LCD or plasma TV with a standard definition digital tuner (or none at all) it will allow you to watch the HD channels.

We tested 10 HD set-top boxes, looking at their ability to pick up and hold a signal in various difficult circumstances, ease of use and their energy use while in standby mode.

Please note: this information was current as of October 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market. For more recent information, see our HD set top box review 2011.

CHOICE independence is guaranteed
These independent ratings are only available through membership with CHOICE Online because no one test products like we do. Arm yourself with our unique and exclusive information and make your next purchase with confidence.

Models tested

  • Beyonwiz DP-H1
  • DGTEC DG-HD3800
  • DGTEC DG-HD5210
  • Digicrystal HDT-9500
  • Grundig GST3103HD
  • Phoenix JT9000A
  • Strong SRT 5405
  • Strong SRT 5410
  • Teac HDB841
  • Wintal STB1HD

See our lastest article on HD Set-top boxes.

 
 

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None recommended

We can't recommend any of these products as none of them scored better than 'OK' overall. See the table below for their results.

CHOICE Verdict

All except the Wintal (which received an overall score of only 48%) would be OK as a short-term substitute for buying a new TV, provided you’re in an area with good reception. Buy on price and, if you’re connecting it to a recording device like a DVD recorder, a timer might be helpful.

The set-top boxes are usually fine when receiving a strong, clean signal, but as the signal strength is reduced, or noise is added, most begin to have trouble. As a general rule, they perform better with a VHF signal, but this is a complex area and specific problems may bring even the best of them undone.

If you are considering buying a new TV, we suggest you look for one with a built-in digital tuner. Over the last few TV tests we’ve found the inbuilt TV tuners generally perform well. In recent tests some even get into our difficult to achieve ‘excellent’ rating, but by contrast the best of these external products only manage an ‘OK’ score (59% for the TEAC).

More than a set-top box

The Beyonwiz DP-H1 is more than just a set-top box. It has most of the functions of a DVR built-in, but has no hard drive. It can also act as a streaming device from a PC or home network. If you have a spare hard drive with a USB connection and can live with a single tuner, it may be an option.

However, you’ll be limited to recording only one channel at a time. This model is a lot more versatile than the other products in this test, but is also more expensive and scored only 49% in the tuner test.

Results table

Brand/model (in rank order) Overall score (%) Ease of use score (%) Tuner performance score (%) Standby energy use (W) On/off timer Dimensions (cm, H x W x D)* Price ($)
Teac HDB841
www.teac.com.au
59 58 59 9.5 5 6.5 x 29.5 x 23.5 150
DGTEC DG-HD3800
www.dgtec.com.au
58 65 50 9.1 na 5 x 36 x 25 179
Strong SRT 5410
www.strong-technologies.com
56 60 52 12.9 8 7 x 36 x 24 189
Beyonwiz DP-H1
www.beyonwiz.com.au
55 62 48 3.3 100 6.5 x 39 x 31 299
DGTEC DG-HD5210
www.dgtec.com.au
55 54 56 7.5 8 5.5 x 26.5 x 20.5 99
Digicrystal HDT-9500
www.digicrystal.com.au
55 58 51 8.3 na 7 x 36 x 26 149
Phoenix JT9000A
www.phoenixtelevision.com.au
55 55 55 8.3 na 7 x 36 x 27 199
Strong SRT 5405
www.strong-technologies.com
55 54 56 7.9 8 4.5 x 25 x 19 139
Grundig GST3103HD
www.grundig.net.au
54 56 51 8.1 na 5 x 36 x 25 149
Wintal STB1HD
www.radioparts.com.au
48 55 41 8.2 na 7 x 36 x 26.5 169
 

Table notes

na Not applicable.
ns Not stated.
* Rounded up to the next centimetre or half centimetre, with all protruding parts included. Power cord and connecting cables excluded.
Scores The overall score is made up of:

  • Ease of use: 50%
  • Digital tuner score: 50%
  • On/off timer number indicates the number of timer events that can be programmed.

Price Recommended retail, as of November 2008.

How we tested

  • Our testers checked each model's HD tuner for reception performance in areas with a good quality signal, as well as areas where reception was less than ideal and where reception might be affected by things such as a dryer or vacuum cleaner operating in the house.
  • Our testers connected the STBs to a regulated power supply and power meter and recorded standby energy consumption.
    For ease of use, testers looked for an auto-tuning system that was informative and simple to use. They checked the menus for ease of understanding, navigation and clarity.
  • Testers looked at the remote control and determined how easy it was to use for common functions.
  • Each unit was also subject to various electrical safety tests.

Teac HDB841

Price: $150

Good points

  • On-board menu access key.
    On and off timers for up to 5 events.

Bad points

  • No parental, channel or settings lock.

DGTEC DG-HD3800

Price: $179

Good points

  • Good sized remote control keys.
  • On-screen user interface is easy to use.

Bad points

  • No on-board controls.
  • Cannot select another channel while in EPG mode.

Strong SRT 5410

Price: $189

Good points

  • On-screen user interface is easy to use.
  • On-board menu access key.
  • On and off timers for up to 8 events.

Bad points

  • Current program is displayed behind the EPG layer which takes up almost the entire screen.
  • No S-video output.

Beyonwiz DP-H1

Price: $299

Good points

  • Can function as a video recorder (PVR) and perform various PVR functions such as recording and playback as well as Timeshifting and playing back while recording.
  • Ethernet socket for connecting to a PC, router or modem.
  • On-screen user interface is easy to use.
  • On-board display shows channel name.
  • On and off timers for up to 100 events.
  • Analogue 5.1 channel sound output.
  • 2 USB ports for connecting mass storage devices.

Bad points

  • Relatively expensive.
  • No on-board menu controls.
  • Does not have an internal storage device (a mass storage device needs to be hooked up to it via USB).

DGTEC DG-HD5210

Price: $99

Good points

  • Relatively cheap.
  • Small box size.
  • On-board menu access key.
  • On and off timers for up to 8 events.

Bad points

  • Tiny on-board controls.
  • Current program is not displayed in EPG mode and the EPG layer takes up almost entire screen.
  • No Channel lock. 

Digicrystal HDT-9500

Price: $149

Good points

  • Good sized on-board controls.
  • Easy to use on-board keys for using the menu.

Bad points

  • No parental, channel or settings lock.

Phoenix JT9000A

Price: $188

Good points

  • On-board menu access key.

Bad points

  • No parental, channel or settings lock.

Strong SRT 5405

Price: $139

Good points

  • Small box size.
  • On and off timers for up to 8 events.
  • USB port for mp3 files playback.

Bad points

  • No on-board volume and menu controls.
  • Current program is not displayed in EPG mode and the EPG layer takes up almost entire screen.
  • No channel lock.

Grundig GST3103HD

Price: $149

Good points

  • On-screen user interface is easy to use.

Bad points

  • No on-board controls.
  • Cannot select another channel while in EPG mode.

Wintal STB1HD

Price: $169

Good points

  • 3 years warranty.

Bad points

  • Poor tuner performance.
  • No on-board volume and menu controls.
  • No parental, channel or settings lock.