I have recently added the Philco TB100HH9 DTV converter box to my DXing and viewing gear.
Whereas I had earlier assumed that the conspicuously white Philco unit, being made by Funai, would be identical to the Magnavox black box, further reading showed the Philco has a desirable feature - RF pass-through for watching analog signals without an RF switch or pulling plugs (useful here, since Canadian stations from Windsor will be available in analog for another 2 1/2 years and will likely never go digital).
After unpacking the product, plugging the CM 3020 (big V/U antenna) into it, and plugging it into the Sylvania 6427GFF (TV set), my first impressions were disappointing - the sensitivity was about the same as the 6427GFF, and the picture quality (using RF out ch3 mode into the antenna jack of the 6427GFF) was only fair.
I then noticed that all the Toledo DTVs came in perfectly well with the CM 3020 pointed at Detroit. I wondered what propagation conditions were allowing this to happen, then took the antenna off of the Philco and put it on my Sylvania DTV. With the antenna in the same position, only WUPW-DT 46 (36) was reliable. WNWO-DT 49 (24) was spotty, and all three of the other Toledos were completely unlockable!
With the Philco, a single antenna position at Detroit worked perfectly for all of the DTVs I can receive here but two (WBGU-DT 56 obviously can't be seen under analog WTVS, and WLMB-DT 5 likely suffered from noise).
Even through the Philco TB100HH9 and my Sylvania 6427GFF are both Funai products, when it comes to DTV performance under multipath, the difference is like night and day! I further checked the Philco with a (lousy) "rabbit ears" in a bedroom on the wrong side of a brick house, where analog reception suffered from ghosting, pictures often rolled, and my RCA ATSC11 had proven to be a basket case. The Philco came through beautifully. This is a quantum leap for DXers and TV viewers alike!
As for the picture quality, mine seems to have a significantly better picture if you use channel 4 for RF output instead of channel 3. However, you would certainly want to use the (passband) composite video and audio outputs if you possibly can - better picture and much better sound will result.
Then there's that RF pass-through that drew me to the Philco - almost useless. I was expecting that this meant that the RF would pass-through simply by turning the box off. No, the box has to be ON for the pass-through to work. You access it by going through several steps in the menus, and then the insertion loss is considerable. It is useful if I use video and audio cables for DTV, and the RF output for the pass-through, but I don't think the general public would go to this effort.
The channel mapping is just like my 6427GFF DTV set. It is DXer friendly. You can enter any actual RF channel directly (you cannot, however, surf through actual channels by going up/down). Channels only go into memory when you add one or when you use autoscan.
The Philco box has a still (freeze-frame) function, which may be useful if you want to save an ID graphic for a photo.
Sadly, like the Magnavox, the Philco is totally remote-dependant. There are no switches nor buttons on the unit of any kind.
1) CECBs will replace integral DTV sets, HDTV receivers, and software-driven USB DTV appliances as the tool of choice for DTV DXing. The multipath performance is simply so much better.
2) After transition, E-skip loggings of the few lowband DTV stations, with moving video and audio, will not be unusual at all.
All in all, it will be interesting to see what the CECBs arriving in the next few months will offer for DXers. I do not regret buying the Philco TB100HH9 with cash and not waiting the the coupon. I'm sure I'll find at least two more CECBs worthy of my coupons, when they arrive.
Stay tuned, I plan to test my Philco more scientifically in the next few weeks (up against the 6427GFF and two HDTV receivers) and I plan to give the Philco a test ride in a moving vehicle (don't panic - someone else will be driving!)
73 & gud DX de N8NU
(one of the first 2000 DTV coupon applicants).
Retrospect (October 20, 2009).
1) I have heard from several people concerned about the lack of ventilation in the Philco box. I do note that, contrary to popular belief, there are some small ventilation holes in my TB100HH9 (S/N U51715312). They are small, and on the bottom of the cabinet at the left and right edges. Whether this is adequate ventilation is anyone's guess. Several large openings on the top (as in the Zenith/Insignia, Sansonic and smaller AccessHD) would obviously provide more ventilation, but a device like a CECB (the TB100HH9 only consumes 8W when running) don't generate anywhere near as much heat as, say, a slide projector with a 500W bulb. Personally, I've had no heat problems with my Philco, but I haven't been using it on a daily basis, either.
2) Analog pass-through. In retrospect, "almost useless" may not be accurate for everybody's needs. I was disapppointed at first to find that you could not access the analog pass-through by simply turning the box off (I guess in my generation, one expects that turning any gizmo off should restore status quo ante before the gizmo was installed, as we saw in UHF converters and older video games). As mentioned in my review of the Digital Stream, one could prefer the Philco's analog-pass through system for its ability to tune DTV (seen and heard through A/V outputs) while passing a signal through for another tuner (not necessarily analog - you can use the Philco with a digital ready TV to tape one digital program - using the A/V connection to a VCR, whilst watching another - using digital pass through to the digital tuner of a DTV ready set, or another CECB).
Further observation shows that pass-through insertion loss is negligible on VHF (low or high) and not really that bad on UHF (of course, as DXers, we wish there were none), and would only affect regular viewers if they are already on the fringe..
All in all, we can find reasons another box may be better for us than the Philco, but it still seems to be a decent product itself.