RCA DTC100 HDTV Decoder
What Is ItThe RCA is currently the most popular HDTV decoder available, partly due to it being the first to include a DirecTV satellite decoder, and partly due to its reasonable price. It does have some competition now, but it remains the cheapest (for the moment). It can decode OTA and DirecTV satellite HDTV signals.
The Device ItselfIts quite a large black box, and looks nice. It hums a tiny bit, but compared to everything else I can never hear it unless everything else is off. As that would mean I couldn't see or hear anything, that never happens.
Upgrade Me!The device has been out for a while and it did originally have compatibility problems with many HDTVs. Before doing anything, you should plug it into a DirecTV dish overnight to download a firmware upgrade. You don't need a smart card to do this. If you don't have a dish, borrow a friend's for the night.
Off Air HDTVPlug an antenna in one of the sockets on the back (it has two) and, if your local TV stations have their act together, you should be able to get your first HDTV signals. Obviously this depends on where you are and how well you can get a signal. I'm lucky as I live in Seattle and have perfect reception from all local channels. I get HD feeds from the local affiliates of ABC,NBC,CBS,FOX and PBS. Sadly none of them broadcast any program guide data, or even their own channel names or logos.
DirectTV HDTVIn order to receive HDTV from DirecTV you need an oval dish (aka DirecTV Plus), as the signal comes from a different satellite to the regular programming. Good deals are available with the dish bundled with the receiver. I got the RCA dish with mine and it has two dual LNBs (one for each satellite) and a multiswitch to generate four separate outputs. At the moment, the only HD channels on DirecTV are HBO on 509, and channel 199. 199 during the day shows a really great demonstration signal, and in the evening turns into an HD pay-per-view channel. Fortunately program guide data is broadcast for these channels, but only two days worth (I believe this is a DirecTV restriction). I am spoilt by my TiVo's ten day program guide data I guess.
For some reason you have to switch modes between OTA channels and satellite, they are not integrated and have different program guides. This is slightly annoying, the newer competing receivers have fixed this.
RemoteThe remote is ok, but a little confusing as it has two cursor pads which takes some getting used to. It is not backlit or glow-in-the-dark. The remote appears identical (excluding a few labels) to the RCA Ultimate TV remote.
SoundHDTV includes Dolby Digital (DD) as a part of the specification, so the DTC100 has digital audio out. That doesn't mean broadcasters actually transmit DD of course. Most HD broadcasts include DD2.0 which is pretty lame (basically a digital version of Dolby Surround). DVDs normally include DD5.1 which is far superior as it gives true surround sound, center and sub-woofer audio. A few HD broadcasts (e.g. the PPVs) do have DD5.1, but every time I watch one I get regular dropouts in the audio. I have checked with workmates and it seems that this is a broadcasting issue at the moment, nothing to do with our receivers. It is annoying being an early adopter sometimes...
The receiver does have analog audio outputs too but I have never connected them.
PictureThe HD signal is transmitted over VGA only. This is a problem for TVs that lack such an input, but my Pioneer Elite is not one of them. The signal is also available, at reduced resolution of course, on S-Video and Composite outputs. Picture quality is great, as you would hope, and a really good broadcast exceeds DVD quality. However the broadcasters often dont broadcast in the highest resolution or use a high quality transfer, so sometimes it can be disappointing.
Sometimes broadcasters transmit a 4:3 picture as an HD signal, which means it shows up on 16:9 TVs with black bars on the side. With CRT based TVs this can cause screen burn, and my Pioneer will not let me change screen modes when it gets an HD feed. The broadcasters should not be doing this, or the receiver should insert gray bars, or Pioneer should fix the TV to allow mode changes.
My only complaint about the picture is that on my TV, the HD signal appears to be slightly stretched vertically. This isn't very noticable, but it bugs me. RCA claim the TV is at fault, so soon I hope to get a technician out to adjust it.
Additional InfoSupplier: American Satellite
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