View Full Version : Today's ATSC converters vs. yesterday's CECB boxes

December 7th, 2013, 11:25 AM
When the FCC started the CECB HD converter box coupon product, what was generally offered was overpriced junk. Bad design decisions (capacitor disease is rampant) and very limited functionality. What's surprising is how much these old boxes fetch on eBay.

I just picked up an iView 3500STBII converter box from NewEgg for $32 shipped. Has a USB connector to record or playback or firmware updates. Very nice remote with a small "universal" section that "learns" from your existing remote. Has an HDMI connector, so you can plug in a display and have a TV capable of receiving OTA signals.

That OTA reception is remarkable. The old CECB units were horrible with miserable AGC timing--if the wind blew hard, your display would disintegrate. The iView reception is rock-solid.

Just thought I'd mention this if someone is looking for OTA TV reception capability.

December 7th, 2013, 12:50 PM
A tuner that can record shows? They can produce these without getting their legs broken?
What format does it store the videos in? Are the files locked down or are they in a standard unencumbered format? It's disgusting how some people get nervous when discussing such things these days - but I guess my old VCR spoiled me.

How does the "preview guide" information work? I have some generic RCA thing they were selling at Target ages ago, and it shows a program description for the current program and the next program - assuming the station hasn't mucked that up. A newer similar RCA unit I obtained recently as a spare only shows the current program description. (Hu?) But supposedly the channels may broadcast information for programs even further out.

My generic RCA box has worked fairly well over the years, although the wall wart it came with produced a lot of RF interference (No composite input on my TV). Changing the adapter out fixed that. Also one of the channels here manages to sometimes broadcast preview description information that causes the firmware to crash (hang or shut down) when you view it!

December 7th, 2013, 01:06 PM
If this was meant for old analog TVs they should have also used a SVHS output. This looks like something people would use new computer monitors, on old Analog widescreens, or early digital widescreens that needed external converter boxes for HD.

The record function looks interesting, but what resolution does it record at?

December 7th, 2013, 02:37 PM
I'll have a look and see what the format is--haven't checked it out yet.

Preview can do a week at a time with all stations listed on the preview menu. Normal preview is the current show and the next; pressing the EPG button a second time gets you program content.

The FCC CECB coupon requirements did not allow for wall warts or HDMI output, even though you can find the pads for the HDMI jack on most CECB RCA units.

Recording mode is selectable--it can record 1080p. The thing even understands QAM.

Jacks on the back are RF coax in and out (there is a pass-through mode).
RCA for composite video+audio (3 jacks)
RCA for HD component output (3 jacks)

I was looking at one of the old CECB boxes (an HDAccess) that has an RS232 jack on the back. Hooking up a terminal program is very interesting--you get a pretty good debugger and lots of settings to twiddle. The chip is a Zoran, which seems to be a MIPS core with a bunch of added peripherals for handling video. Commands included all sorts of interesting things, such as the ability to interface to an SDCard.

December 7th, 2013, 03:37 PM
The file is a standard .mts file along with with a 512KB *.ini file, whose exact format I am unfamiliar with.

4 minutes OTA resulted in 85MB used on disk. The manual says that a USB drive of up to 3TB can be used.

December 7th, 2013, 07:11 PM
The CECB boxes were much improved over earlier ATSC tuners. I have a circa 2002 Samsung SIR-T165 ATSC box that doesn't perform all that well reception-wise and will reboot if it receives PSIP channel program data it doesn't agree with. The plus side is that it has VGA (!) output, along with Firewire to connect to my Digital VHS deck for recording and decoding of MPEG-2 signals. It also allows direct RF tuning of ATSC stations without having to run a channel scan. If I know the RF channel number of a station, the box will detect the ATSC signal and tune it, most boxes can't do this. Getting optimal performance was and still is a work in progress for the standard.

Does this box record the streams as raw MPEG-2, or does it convert to something like MPEG-4? "Native" ATSC is a MPEG-2 formatted "transport stream" which generally uses the .m2ts extension, although some software uses .mts. The reviews on this box aren't all that great though. Plus its clear that they don't know how things work in NTSC land. No programming is in 576p here in the US, as that is a PAL standard resolution. Everything SD is going to be 480p.

December 7th, 2013, 07:25 PM
Not sure what an .mts file is will have to look it up. I purchased 2 Insignia (BestBuy brand) converters back when the switch happened, one for my moms old analog tv (since upgraded to a HDTV) and a spare for using my old analog video capture gear with. Having HDMI would not have been needed at the time, but a decent SVHS connection would have.

If the box retails for $50 it might be cheaper to just get a PCI HDTV tuner and use a computer for capture.

December 7th, 2013, 07:59 PM
MTS is a file type for AVCHD data (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AVCHD), which, if WikiP is to be believed is MPEG-4 under the covers. You'd best use a USB 2.0 hard drive too--no flash sticks are really fast enough.

Since VLC is my default media player on my PC, I was able to open and play my sample videos with no problem at all.

I live with a lot of tall trees around me. If the wind blows or it rains, OTA signal strengths are all over the map. The iView box is the first converter box that I've seen that has a fast enough AGC to track the varying signals without dropping a frame. My neighbors with DISH (pretty much the only "cable" available to us here, report weather- and tree-related miseries as well--something that I wasn't prepared to deal with.

Be sure to get the "STBII" model, which is an updated unit with a much larger remote. Even with that said, there are a lot of oddball things that overload the buttons on the remote that aren't obvious, such as pushing "REC" to start recording and "PVR" to stop. The thing is clearly a work in progress, but so far my experience is very positive compared to even a Channel Master ATSC converter box that I have.

At $32 shipped, it was a good deal.