Guide to Digital Set Top Boxes

A Digital Set Top Box will let you hang onto your old television after analogue broadcasts cease. That’s the easy part of deciding whether or not you need one. It gets a little more technical after that. This guide to digital set top boxes will help you choose the right one for your current and future needs.


Topfield Digital Set Top Box

Initially most Digital Set Top Boxes could only receive the standard definition (SD) digital channels, but today most can receive the high definition (HD) digital channels as well. If you’re not using a high definition television, a HD digital set top box should be able to downscale the high-def channels to standard definition.

What to look for in a Digital Set Top Box

If you’ve got a high-definition television (HDTV), it’s worth looking for a HD digital set top box that will upscale the standard-def channels to 720p, 1080i or 1080p. Upscaling helps the standard-def channels look sharper on a big television, although they won’t look as sharp as the actual high-def channels.

You’ll notice that some digital set top boxes feature the “Freeview” logo, but Freeview certification isn’t necessary in order to view all the digital channels. Freeview devices must have HD tuners, plus they must be MPEG-4-compatible – a broadcasting format which the networks may switch to in a few years.

Digital set top boxes come with a variety of video outputs such as composite, s-video and component, but you really want an HDMI output if your television features an HDMI input. HDMI (high definition media interface) output simply means that a device has the electronics and connection for an HDMI cable. HDMI output comes standard on most set top boxes, but if it is a feature you need, look for it on the specs sheet, just to be sure.

Some HD broadcasts include surround sound, so look for a digital set top box with digital audio outputs (optical and/or coaxial) if you want to hook it up to a home theatre system. This feature is not available on many cheaper units, so expect to pay more for it.

Most digital set top boxes feature USB ports so you can play music, video and image files from a USB stick. To get even more from your USB port or ports, look for a model featuring USB recording, so you can record programming and play it later on your TV or other devices.

Some other features to consider include:

  • 3D support enables you to watch 3D programming.
  • PVR (personal voice recorder) gives you the opportunity to record your own voice.
  • Look for a digital set top box with EPG (electronic program guide) capability if you want that feature. It’s a virtual necessity if you have cable or internet TV.
  • You will need a unit that includes ethernet connectivity if you want internet access.
  • Most digital set top boxes are software upgradeable. This feature can extend the useful life of your set top box by years, so is worth paying a little more for.

If you’re serious about home entertainment, you need to be serious about your choice of a set top box. Choice, the “consumer watchdog” is the world’s most trusted consumer product testing authority. Check out digital set top boxes reviewed by Choice and take all the guesswork out of your shopping.

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