Are you ready to cut the cable cord and say goodbye to cable TV bills forever? Installing an HDTV antenna is a great way to rid yourself of cable and satellite subscriptions allowing you to receive 1080p and 4K over-the-air digital TV broadcasts completely free.
There’s only one problem…you’re not ready to abandon your old (analog) TV and shell out a $1000 or more for a new one. If this is you, then I have one answer, digital converter box.
With a digital converter box, you can receive digital signals and play it from your older analog TV. As a result, you’ll be able to receive high-quality HDTV digital broadcasts with ease.
While there are many digital converter boxes available, choosing the right one may not be straight forward. Don’t worry, we’ve done the hard work for you!
In this buying guide, we will discuss all you need to know about digital converter boxes, as well as our recommendations for the best digital converter box devices available on the market today.
What is a Digital Converter Box?
Nowadays, TV stations broadcast their OTA (over-the-air) signal digitally, and so newer TV sets have a built-in digital tuner that can process the signals right away.
However, older TVs with analog tuners can’t process the new format of digital signals.
Therefore, a digital converter box is a required piece of hardware that connects between your TV antenna and your older style TV set. This small piece of hardware makes it possible to receive digital signals over-the-air (OTA) for free.
The digital converter box will convert the digital signal into analog signals, and so this analog TV set can get higher-quality digital picture and sound, more free OTA channel choices (that are only available in digital), and other extra features like on-screen program information, among others.
When Do You Need a Digital Converter Box?
In the U.S., many viewers were required to purchase a digital converter box when Congress mandated the analog-to-digital switch back in 2009. Since then, most newer TV sets have digital tuners built-in.
So, the general answer to this question is, if your existing TV set already has a digital tuner, a digital converter box is unnecessary. Also, some analog TV models also offer digital tuners as a part of a special converter box that comes with it.
How To Choose The Best Digital Converter Box?
Since digital converter boxes are by nature, pretty simple device, their sets of features are also fairly simple.
However, this can also mean that differentiating between different models can be difficult since they basically offer very similar things.
With that being said, when comparing between different digital converter boxes, here are some key features you should consider:
This one should be pretty simple. The digital converter box would have an upper-resolution limit, and you wouldn’t be able to watch channels that broadcast a higher resolution.
Or, depending on the channel, we might only be able to watch them in a lower resolution according to the converter box’s maximum resolution.
Most digital converter boxes nowadays support 1080p Full HD resolution, but there are also products that offer 4K resolutions.
However, most TV stations haven’t converted to the new ATSC 3.0 standard that will have the ability to broadcast in 4K.
In general, you shouldn’t compromise with sub-par video quality, and so when evaluating these boxes, look for those who support at least 1080p resolution.
Those who support 4K are still very rare (and expensive), so in most cases, you shouldn’t expect it.
An important thing to note, however, is that your video quality would also depend on the quality of your antenna and your geo-location.
In some cases, it might be better to upgrade your antenna for better reception rather than getting a digital converter box (which has its natural limitations).
More output options on the digital converter box will mean more versatility. HDMI outputs, and to a lesser extent, composite outputs are today’s standards and most digital converter boxes offer these two crucial connectors.
However, you should check that the box does offer these two before making your purchase.
On the other hand, high-end digital converter boxes do offer more outputs like coaxial, component cable, and so on. More connectors simply mean more options for you.
The general rule of thumb is to check your TV’s best possible inputs (i.e., coaxial is better than RCA jacks), and get a digital converter box that supports this input.
If, for example, you have an analog TV than only has RCA jacks, then you should look for a digital converter box that has RCA output.
Obviously, extra features by themselves aren’t very important in a digital converter box, and you can still get the core functionality without any issues.
However, these extra features can provide more versatility and extra values in your entertainment and TV viewing experiences.
In general, here are some important extra features you might want to consider:
- Multimedia player: for example, some digital converter boxes can connect to an external hard drive via USB so you can playback photos and videos. Different boxes may also support different file types.
- Program guide: you should be able to interact with your digital converter box with a remote. Some digital converter boxes also offer a program guide, so you can navigate between channels easily with your remote while sitting on your couch.
- Automatic recording: some digital converter boxes allow us to record automatically via the program guide. So, we wouldn’t need to set up a recording for every show, which can be a hassle.
Best Digital Converter Boxes
#1. DP Digital TV Converter Box with Recording
- 1080p HD video output resolution, with newest Dolby Digital Plus and H.265 Video decoding technology, high-quality digital video and audio experience
- Recording function: schedule, record in USB external drive. Supports DVR function for instant real-time recording.
- Multimedia player feature: play your favorite music, photo, video, movie, and recorded TV show from your USB flash drive or USB external hard drive
- Easy installation, connect to any OTA antenna and use right away
Pros and Cons
- Affordable with a great set of features
- Great image quality with Dolby Digital Plus technology
- Useful recording features, you can record shows on to a USB Drive
- The multimedia player feature supports various formats
- Time shift capability (pause Live TV)
- Electronic program guide built-in
- A little more money than some boxes
#2. Mediasonic Digital Converter Box (HW130STB)
- 1080p maximum resolutions on your analog TV, can convert OTA digital broadcast
- Record and pause live TV feature. Scheduling and real-time recording.
- Multimedia playback features: view images and play music/videos from a USB external device
- Pause Live TV, Parental Controls, Program Guides, Favorite Channel Lists, USB Multimedia Player, Auto Tuning, Recording PVR, Closed Captioning, and Auto & Manual Scanning.
- Included: Converter Box with 1080P Output / Coaxial Output / RF Out / Composite Out, remote control, composite cables, power adapter, instruction manual, 90-day return, and 24-month warranty.
Pros and Cons
- Decent set of features for its price
- 12-month warranty
- Clear 1080p maximum resolution
- Great parental control feature
- USB multimedia playback feature
- Program guide included
- Relatively expensive
- Complex, non-intuitive interface
#3. IVIEW 3300STB Digital Converter Box w/ Recording
- Support 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 576p.
- HDMI, RCA, Coaxial output
- Supports OTA (Over The Air) and QAM Tuner (can use for cable service)
- Program recording
- Multimedia player: play music, pictures, videos
- EPG (Electronic Program Guide) and program information/favorite channel list
Pros and cons
- Sleek and compact design
- Reliable program recording (DVR) function, real-time and scheduled recording
- Easy to install and use right away
- Works for clean QAM cable service
- Built-in QAM tuner
- The remote might take a little bit of time getting used to
- Not very durable
Can I Watch TV Without a Digital Converter Box?
The answer here would depend on your television. In the U.S., digital OTA signals are now the standard broadcast signal since 2009. So, if your TV doesn’t yet feature a digital tuner, then the answer is no, you can’t watch OTA TV without a digital converter box. You can obviously subscribe to a cable TV or satellite TV provider, but it’s probably counterproductive.
On the other hand, if your TV is pretty new (say, 2008 or newer), most likely it already has a built-in digital tuner, so you wouldn’t need a converter box.
If you own a TV that is not yet HD compatible or digitally ready (pre-2006, in most cases), then you’d need a digital converter box to receive digital programming. Any antennas that work in VHF and UHF can be combined with a digital converter box, and you should get clear digital TV service with them.