Digital Converter Box Update

Update: See this post for further details about the DTVPal/Echostar TR-40.

A while ago, I detailed my thoughts about the available digital converter boxes in our area. After weighing the options, I decided on the Insignia NS-DXA1. It is a good unit, and I would recommend it to anyone with a coupon to redeem. For a closer look, you can read my review of the Insignia NS-DXA1.

But we still have one coupon left, so I thought I would see if the local options had changed at all.

Just like before, Best Buy had plenty of the Insignia NS-DXA1 in stock. The person I spoke to said that it was very popular but they were having no problems keeping up with the demand. Radio Shack had several of the Zenith DTT900 in the store, but still none of the RCA DTA800. Although it is apparently common in other places, I have yet to see a RCA DTA800 for sale in this area.

The biggest difference was at Walmart. They now have a special section dedicated to the Magnavox TB100MW9. Curiously, the price has returned to $49.99, three dollars less than just a few weeks ago. As part of the display, they had a clock counting down to the analog shutoff date of February 17, 2009. Presumably this helps remind shoppers that they don’t have much time left. They had a large space for boxes of the TB100MW9, but only two remained when I arrived. Before I left, both were purchased by two different people!

I also mentioned the EchoStar TR-40 in my original post. It was the converter box most eagerly awaited, originally expected to be available in March. The unique features of the TR-40 were:

  • a program guide with up to seven days of listings
  • event timers that could change channels
  • analog pass-through
  • a price of $39.99, effectively free with a coupon

But the ship date for the TR-40 kept being pushed back, with dates as late as July given.

Now EchoStar seems to have rebranded the TR-40 as the Dish Network DTVPal. The new unit seems to be a bit more curved (the best pictures I have found are here), but the specifications remain the same and the price stays at $39.99.  Some are quoting an availability date of mid-June.

My feelings about the TR-40 and the DTVPal are mixed. Analog pass-through isn’t that important to me, and event timers, although nice, are hardly a make or break feature. But I do like the idea of a seven day program guide. As I stated earlier in my review of the Insignia NS-DXA1, my main complaint with the NS-DXA1 is the limited program guide. It can only display program information for the current and next programs. This seems a bit weak considering that all stations are required to send program information for the next three hours. The DTVPal promises a program guide with up to seven days of information. On the other hand, according to what I have read, few stations send program information beyond the three hours required, much less the sixteen days possible.

Given the massive interest in the TR-40 and now the DTVPal, I have my doubts that EchoStar can manufacture the DTVPal in large enough quantities to make it widely available. I suspect that they will remain scarce for quite some time, probably until after our remaining coupon expires.

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