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HD set-top box reviews

A high-definition set-top box is an inexpensive way to upgrade to digital TV.
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01 .Introduction


We review 14 HD set-top boxes priced from $69 to $150.

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 (find out more about preparing for the transition in CHOICE's guide to digital TV), 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.

Set-top boxes are a small part of the big change to digital TV. They play an important role because they are a cheap and relatively easy way to get more channels, increased picture quality and often better reception.

In this updated test we’ve added nine new models to the five still available from our last test, as well as a looking over a couple that are supplied under the Digital Switchover Household Assistance Scheme (HAS) and a Bush BHAS03 talking set-top box, which is now available for people who have vision problems.

Check out our reliability survey to see which set-top boxes last the distance.

Models tested

• Akai AD163X
• Akai AD175X
• Bush DFTA46R
• Bush DFTA50FVE
• Bush DFTA16HD
• Digitel+ HD3300
• Grundig GSTB3106HD
• Grundig GSTB4101FVE
• Phoenix JT8000HD
• Wintal STB10HD 

How we test

Ease of use Our tester, James Thomson, assesses each STB for its user manual, initial setup and tuning, remote control and on-screen controls as well as on-board displays and controls.
Performance Our lab checks each model’s HD tuner for reception performance in areas with a good quality signal, as well as areas where reception is less than ideal and where reception might be affected by appliances such as a dryer or vacuum cleaner.
Standby energy James connects each STB to a regulated power supply and power meter and records its standby energy consumption as well as its energy consumption when in use. 

Video: Talking Set Top Box

Chris Ruggles puts the Bush Talking Set Top Box through its paces.

Talking set-top boxes

Many vision impaired people value television as a form of communication. However, the difficulties they encounter with controlling a TV, or set-top box can be very frustrating.

13-BUSH-BHAS03Bush Australia has been working with the Digital Switchover Taskforce and Vision Australia to bring to market a talking set-top box (BHAS03, $199). We believe Hills Holdings will also have one that will come to market sometime in the future.

You can choose to use the talking feature, which will speak the menus and commands in an Australian accent, or leave the feature off and use it as a normal set-top box.

Unfortunately we couldn’t get one in time for our technical reception tests, but it performed quite well in our ease of use assessment without the talking feature enabled.

We contacted a number of Vision Australia clients who’ve been using versions of this STB for some months and generally their reactions to it are very positive.

However, there are some minor quibbles; the voice can mispronounce some words and lacks smoothness at times, which can make it hard to follow with complicated things such as the electronic program guide. Also the Help button could be easier to locate.

The spoken key learn feature got high praise and could be a useful feature for all set-top boxes. In future there’s a possibility that we’ll have broadcast audio description of what is happening on the screen and set-top boxes like the BHAS03 will handle this as well.

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Australia is switching to digital TV and by 2013, all analog signals will be switched off.

Currently, free-to-air TV is broadcast in both analog and digital, but the analog signals will be gradually phased out, region by region, across Australia.

For the majority of people, making the switch to digital TV is a relatively straightforward and inexpensive exercise. However, the Australian Government understands that some people may need help to get ready for digital TV.

The Household Assistance Scheme (HAS) is available for people that receive a full-rate pension, which includes:

  • The Disability Support Pension
  • Age Pension
  • Carer Payment
  • DVA Service Pension
  • DVA Income Support Supplement

A letter will be sent from Centrelink to full-rate pensioners about six months before each region is due to switchover. Eligible people will receive, free of charge, a high definition set-top box, installation of the set-top box, a demonstration of the equipment and 12 months warranty, service and technical support.

hillstbFor more information about the HAS visit the Digital Ready website

The Bush BHAS01UR and Hills HD94003C are currently being supplied under the HAS scheme in Queensland. Both boxes are easy to use, scoring 69% or more in our tests and have OK tuners, which means they’ll handle most situations well.

We were impressed with the HD94003C’s remote control, but using the controls on the front can get you stuck in a menu and have to turn the box off to get out.


As the analog signal is gradually switched off forever around the country, consumers must decide whether to buy a TV with a digital tuner or opt for a considerably less expensive set-top box (STB).

All STBs on test can display all the free-to-air channels available in your part of the country, including the high-definition (HD) ones.

However, should you connect one to an analog TV, you'll most likely have to deal with a letterbox effect – black bars at the top and bottom of the screen – because most digital broadcasts are in 16:9 format, whereas analog TVs are 4:3.

Also, while you’ll be able to watch HD programs, most analog TVs can't reproduce the detail in a HD picture, so you'll be watching them in standard definition. 

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