Choosing the right digital TV set-top box

Choosing the right digital TV set-top box
The Draco HDT2-7300 set-top box and an indoor antenna for digital TV services.

When I first tested the Draco digital TV set-top box last year, it was the only game in town. Now, there are seven approved set-top boxes to choose from.

Not all models are available at every retail store, and some, only online. But big retailers such as Best Denki, Challenger, Courts, Gain City, Harvey Norman, Newstead and some NTUC FairPrice outlets will carry at least one of them.

Six of the seven, namely AC Ryan, Draco, New Media Solutions, Topfield, Uraku and Snazio work pretty much the same. The prices are competitive, ranging from $95 to $129. They are all about the size of a large pencil box that a child would take to school.

What could make a difference is the antennas that are bundled with the set-top boxes. Some are tiny, no longer than a standard disposable cigarette lighter, while others are as big as a foot-long floor tile.

A larger antenna should mean better reception but from my location - I live only a stone's throw from the giant broadcast tower - all of them worked fine.

All the six are really easy to set up. You connect the set-top box to an HDMI port on your monitor or TV, then switch your source to that connection - just like hooking up a game console or an Apple TV box to your display device.

On the set-top box, there is a round port with the words RF IN or ANTENNA IN. This is where you connect the antenna to the set-top box. All the boxes come with the composite yellow, red and white ports, which is useful if your TV is so old it does not have an HDMI port. Using composite video is silly since you will not be able to receive your channels in high definition. But it is a back-up plan for those saddled with older units.

Every set-top box will also have a USB port. Plug in a spare USB flash drive here, and you can add storage to the set-top box and use its recording and time-shift features. Then you can pause your live TV show to make yourself a cup of Milo and return to the couch to pick up where you left off.

You can schedule recordings of your favourite channels in advance via the seven-day programming guide, which can be accessed with a single click of the right button on your remote control.

The Vodoke Playstaq is the one set-top box that differs from the the rest. This is the barebones version of the one that M1 uses for its pay-TV service.

The Vodoke Playstaq costs $159, much more than the other boxes, but it is much more than a digital TV tuner. It is actually an Android set-top box, but one that cannot be used to access Google Play store.

This limits you to the pre-loaded apps. Some are useful, in particular the content for children where you can get apps that narrate popular fairy tales with visuals. You can also access social media and webmail accounts through the box.

But the digital TV tuner is not found within the Vodoke Android box. You have to plug the Playstaq Fin2 USB TV tuner dongle into a spare USB port on the Android box. This is cumbersome but the benefit is that you can plug that same Fin2 USB dongle into your laptop or desktop PC and watch your free-to-air channels there.


This article was first published on July 08, 2015.
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