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comparison with dish network dtvpal plus
, November 17, 2008
This review is from: Zinwell ZAT-970A Digital to Analog TV Converter Box (for Antenna Use) (Electronics)
I purchased the two major timer event schedulable/programmable converter boxes available as of Nov 2008: the Zinwell and the Dish Network DTVPal Plus (enhanced version of the DTVPal or TR-40 CRA).
With the Zinwell I found that scheduled recurring events (weekly, etc.) get messed up regularly so I have to constantly monitor them. The Zinwell loses the channel on the recurring events and resets the channel to the highest station number. (I believe this is the most commonly-reported major problem with this device.) Periodically it loses the recurring events completely and they need to be reentered. One-time events also get corrupted at times, although not as often.
The DTVPal Plus also loses timer events on occasion. I have found a couple of sequences of timer events that cause it to consistently drop events. I used several VCRs over two decades and never had a device malfunction on its timer events or spontaneously change the selected channel. Not sure why it is so difficult for these digital boxes.
Timer problems with both devices tend to occur when timer events are scheduled several days in advance. Over time the scheduled events get corrupted. If I am just gone for the day and set timers in the morning, both devices are reliable. If I am gone for several days, I set the devices to never turn off, and I arrange the programming so that there are as few channel change events as possible; for example, scheduling most of the CBS shows on one device and most NBC shows on the other device. I finally gave up on recurring events.
The Zinwell has 8 timer events to 5 for the DTVPal Plus. The Zinwell lacks a recurring M-F weekday scheduling option. Both devices make you go through several menus to get to the timer scheduling. The DTVPal Plus has an awkward event scheduling process that takes you through two screens. The Zinwell has its own awkwardness-it makes you choose a channel from a list of station call letters rather than channel numbers! The Zinwell also requires confirmation at the end of the timer scheduling process, and defaults to Cancel making it easy to accidentally cancel your timer event, so watch out.
Occasionally, the Zinwell audio and video get out of synch (as also reported by some other reviewers)-but turning the device off and on puts them back in synch.
If you like on-screen program guides, the DTVPal Plus has a browsable schedule of upcoming time slots and channels, and you can schedule timer events directly from the program guide. There is no equivalent guide on the Zinwell. The DTVPal Plus has an annoying download each time you turn on the converter box, but you can cancel the download.
Although the on-screen station program guide for the DTVPal Plus is robust, it has an inadequacy. The normal program guide access fills the entire screen and turns off audio and video while you are browsing, so you cannot see or hear television as you peruse the guide. To view television as you browse the guide, you do not use the Guide button on the remote but must use the directional buttons to access the guide-but the guide still overlays much of the screen (semi-transparent).
The DTVPal Plus tends to run hot, so I have propped it up at an angle to give it some cooling space. I have had a disturbing problem at times where the DTVPal Plus would not power on. It has to be unplugged from the power source and plugged back in again to get it working. It also turns on spontaneously sometimes when using remote controls for other unrelated devices.
The Zinwell remote control has a cheap and flimsy quality. The down arrow button is already having problems responding to pressing after only a few days. It usually takes several years before buttons on a remote control begin to go bad. The text labels on the buttons are rubbing off and becoming harder to read.
The Zinwell has push-button controls on the front of the box; the DTVPal Plus does not, so you can only operate it by remote control. Both devices work with newer universal remotes, and the DTVPal Plus can also work with some real old universal remotes as a Sat device (handy if you have an old favorite remote).
If you get a Zinwell, you may want to keep the manual. Zinwell has set a password on some of the channel functions, so you will need to look up the default password in the manual if you try to access those functions. I am sure the password can be found on the Internet as well.
Do not expect much support. Both companies took several days to respond to an inquiry and gave canned answers that did not address my question. After supplying follow-up information, neither company got back to me.
(--final follow-up notes after 5 years of using--)
All of my digital tuners are still working five years later, including other brands not reviewed here. I have them all on high-end power protection so they do not get hit with power surges. Recent reviews report problems with Zinwell device failures, but mine is still going.
Both devices "crash" occasionally even with good signals. When the Zinwell is messed up, the video becomes just blotches of color and there is no audio. You can restore the transmission by switching channels or turning on and off. This is not a problem if you are watching at the time, but if you have scheduled timer events you may come back to a corrupted recording.
When the DTVPal Plus gets corrupted, the video freezes and audio is lost. If you are watching, you can power off and on. But if you are not there to reset, it will hang for about four minutes and then reset, followed by the lengthy download screen displayed at startup. If you have recorded programs on a timer, each crash will lose you about six minutes of the television show. Hopefully the crash happens during a commercial break. In a few cases, when the DTVPal Plus crashes you cannot even power off and on with the remote, and the device has to be unplugged from power and plugged back in to resume operation.
The corruption usually happens on particular channels on each device. Once you learn which channels cause corruption on a given device, you can avoid those channels (use a different tuner for them) and the crash problem is resolved. If you are lucky and never watch the channels that cause device corruption, you may not even experience the problem.
Unlike these two devices, my non-programmable digital tuners recover immediately from corruption (when not from low signal) and you do not even notice an interruption. The frequency of the DTVPal Plus crashes is annoying. The Zinwell tends to be susceptible to interference from nearby electrical devices such as electric fans.
The Zinwell remote continues to give problems. The buttons now often double-send. So, if I press the number "2" it sends "22", etc. I have to tap the keys very gently to prevent double-entry. I tend to rely on a universal remote instead of the Zinwell remote.
The Zinwell has the fastest channel changes of any brand I have used. No hesitation delay when going channel-to-channel.
The DTVPal Plus is the only digital tuner brand I have used that does not remember zoom/scaling preferences (letterbox, full, etc.) for each channel when set by the user. Rather than remembering zoom settings by channel, it keeps the last zoom setting used in a session. It retains the zoom on all subsequent channel switches until it hits a channel where zoom cannot be set by the user, then uses that setting. For example: 1. set a channel to full-screen, 2. change to a channel that has letterbox that cannot be user-changed, 3. switch back to the first channel, 4. notice that the channel set to full-screen is now letterbox. Only those particular about zoom settings will notice this.
I never used analog pass-thru, so that feature turned out to be irrelevant.
If I had to do it over again, I would buy both brands again. Why? There are three channels I watch that the Zinwell cannot receive for some reason. And there are two channels I watch that the DTVPal Plus cannot receive. Each can receive the channels that the other device has a problem with. Therefore, both devices are needed to set timer events for channels the other cannot receive. They are on the same (shared) antenna and I am in a major metro area, so I have no idea why this is. And a Zenith non-programmable tuner receives all the channels. (There are 161 channels in my location - 31 channels with 161 subchannels.) Beyond the channel issue, the devices are comparable in quality-say 3.3 stars each-with strengths and weaknesses in different areas that I have learned to work around. There are not really any other options at the same price level, so I need both devices to compensate for problems in the other.
In the clock settings, the Zinwell has no daylight savings on/off, while the DTVPal Plus does allow you to control daylight savings. The Zinwell has the advantage that you can manually set the time, while the DTVPal Plus does not allow you to. If you manually set the time in the Zinwell, I found it loses 1-2 minutes per week and also loses the clock time completely if power goes out even for a second (most devices will hold the time for 2-3 minutes in a power outage). I have mine on a UPS (backup battery) to keep it from losing time in a brief power outage. At least the Zinwell allows you to control the time if you want to. (Early in the digital conversion both boxes were keeping erratic time so clock options were important, but digital time signals have improved enough that using automatic time is generally fine. This has made the options of manual time setting and daylight savings mostly unimportant, but I have included this info for those interested.)
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