Monday, 19 May 2008

CECB mini-review: RCA DTA800B

Mom and I went to Wal-Mart today to pick up two digital converter boxes (specificlly coupon-eligible converter boxes, “CECBs”) as emergency backup for Comcast’s frequently-incompetent cable service in Memphis. It took about 15 minutes for the assorted checkout staff figured out how to ring up the converters and use the government coupons for them, but eventually we escaped with two RCA DTA800B converters.

I found the box relatively easy to use and hook up. The boxes included quick start guides in English and Spanish and full user manuals in both languages, as well as a programmable remote control (with batteries) and a short push-on coax (F-type) cable for attaching the box to a TV over the “antenna” TV input.

Both boxes worked moderately well in southeast Memphis with a rather lame RCA unpowered indoor VHF/UHF antenna I picked up a while back, which is no Silver Sensor but a bit more compact to haul around, less likely to attract quizzical stares from airport security, and better than nothing at all. Neither box was able to scan WMC‘s rather weak digital signal (authorized at 394 kW but clearly not transmitting at anything close to that power) and there’s no manual tuning option. I’d imagine if I’d brought a decent directional antenna like the Silver Sensor I’d have gotten WMC and a more stable signal on some of the other channels.

So, overall, I have no real complaints about the boxes themselves, except for the lack of a manual tuning feature available on other converters, and the SmartAntenna feature will be nice for folks with hard-to-tune channels in multiple directions when you can actually buy one again. I’ll probably examine some of the other CECB models before settling on one, however, particularly now that it appears that the reported Zenith DTT900 audio problem is fixed in newer boxes.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.

I have the DTX9900 with a vhf/uhf external antenna. I used the antennaweb site to find where signals are. But that was the start of things. Some channels are only analog but will be digital at some unknown time before 2/2009. Some are broadcasting on analog and digital but only broadcasting a weak digital signal so you cant fully judge what you will get. some channels are on analog channel x and digital channel Y now but will go back to channel x in 2/2009. It seems most folks have vhf antenna, you will need a vhf/uhf to get everything. This means that your setup will change on 2/2009 which will confuse and annoy folks. Then there is the first-come-first-serve cupons that expire. The DTX9900 is ok but it changes the channel slowly.

[Permalink] 2. Alfie Sumrall wrote @ Tue, 20 May 2008, 3:47 pm CDT:

I haven’t had a single problem with Comcast since I made the switch last summer, aside from having to a wait a few days for a HD box—you’d think they’d know people tend to buy stuff like that around Christmas. Yeah, I miss Sunday Ticket but I couldn’t put up with DirecTV a second longer.

How long you in town for?


I’ll be here through next Tuesday; we should grab a beer or two.

[Permalink] 4. Alfie Sumrall wrote @ Wed, 21 May 2008, 2:20 pm CDT:

Yep, or lunch at the minimum. Call me. I’ll be around all weekend. Our new office isn’t far at all from you; we’re at Poplar Towers on Poplar b/t Massey & Ridgeway.

[Permalink] 5. Jim Huffor wrote @ Fri, 30 May 2008, 8:48 am CDT:

I have two of the RCA DTA800B converter boxes. One is on a TV with a VCR, the other without a VCR. Channel 3 is the unused channel in my area. Channels 2 and 4 are broadcast channels. I cannot set either TV to channel 3. When I remove the boxes I can get channel 3 to use the VCR etc. Any ideas on what the problem is?

I called 1–800-252–6123 and explained my problem. The woman told me to do things I had already done. When I told her none of those solutions worked she said ” I don’t know what else to tell you” and hung up on me.

Bottom line…........How do I get channel 3 with the converter boxes inline?Lugula


Jim: You will need a converter box that supports analog pass-through, which the RCA boxes don’t. On the list of eligible boxes, the ones marked with stars have pass-through.

Another option is to pick up an RF video switch. This will allow you to connect the VCR and converter box over the RF cable and switch between them. Usually these run about $10–20 at Wal-Mart, Radio Shack, etc. You’d plug the VCR and converter into the inputs and the TV to the output.

The last option is to connect the converter boxes or the VCR to your TV using the RCA inputs (the three round jacks on the back, colored yellow, white, and red); most TVs made in the last decade have these connections, often labeled “video,” on the back. The cables are usually called “composite video cables” and you should be able to get them at Wal-Mart if you don’t already have any. You’d then switch using the A/V or Input button on your remote.

[Permalink] 7. Jim Huffor wrote @ Fri, 30 May 2008, 11:11 am CDT:


Thanks for a speedy reply, much appreciated.

I do have the composite video cables but first I’ll see what I can do to get a full refund on the boxes, meaning credit for my coupons and cash I had to add. It just upsets me that RCA puts instructions on how to set up the VCR and then it doesn’t work. Surely by now they know it won’t work and have some rude people answering their phone that probably know it won’t work. I do realize this was Venture Electronics I called by the way. I have also noticed on the list of compatable boxes that there is a RCA 800B1 now. It seems to me they found they had an inferior product and updated it from the RCA800B.

Thanks again for the reply.

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