Buyers Guide for some of the budget Freeview Receivers
My first experiences of Freeview receivers were with the Philips DTX 6370, 6371 and 6372, then the Pace DTR 730 and 735, the Nokia DVB 9850T/ Medimaster the Pioneer DBR- T210GBS and finally the Sony VTX-D500U. All of these were reasonably reliable receivers the 6370 being somewhat slower and less sensitive than the rest. The best of the bunch being the Pioneer DBR, closely followed by the Nokia 9850. Of course these are now all old hat as they now nearly always crash repeatedly due to the EPG and MHEG data, which they now do not understand. They do still however have a use as they are equipped with a card reader which is suitable for Top-Up TV
Of the more recent receivers, I have worked on the Grundig GDT 1500 and 2000, Labgear/ Portland /Daewoo Setpals, the Goodmans GDB2/3/6, (also branded as Lodos DVB-T3, Matsui DTR-1, Bush DTFA1xi and Digilogic DSTB 1000), the Bush DTFA1, the Netgem I-player (plus) and the Nokia 221T. I have also along the way encountered the Pacific brand a couple of Echostars a couple of Albas, a JVC and a Panasonic which, in my opinion, are really not worth mentioning.
To deal with the technical issues, the Grundigs nearly always suffer power supply failure due to the main 60 µF 400v reservoir capacitor in the High voltage side of the switched mode PSU going open circuit and destroying the (KA)5H02659T switching device. After replacing the capacitor, with a bit of leg bending, the 8-pin switcher can be replaced with a four-legged KA5H0280R-TU available from RS or Farnell. This has produced a lasting repair. I do also realise that there is a section of the Satcure website which describes the failure of the 5 volt capacitors and recommends replacing them.
The Goodmans GDB series seem to suffer an overheat/burnout problem of the SCART logic on the power supply PCB. The SCART logic is surface mounted on the solder side of the Power Supply PCB and the burnout is evidenced by darkening of the PCB on the component side. There is little that can be done about this save to replace the PSU board.
Of the Setpals I have seen, all of them have suffered tuner failure and have been scrapped.
The Nokia 221Ts nearly all suffer the same fate in as much as the release software crashes and they do not appear to do anything. I have fixed 95% of these by loading them with software version 1.62. This can be done via the RS232 connector on the rear of the box and a PC. When attempting to upload software to these boxes, one has to be aware that the null modem cable has to be one which has partial hand-shaking, a dumb null modem cable will not work. As far as I can tell Ver 1.62 appears to be the most reliable version although it does not contain a 7-day EPG.
Of the Pacific and Bush DTFA1, which come in plastic cases with an external power adaptor, the majority of these failures are with the 6-volt adaptor. By using a junior hacksaw around the periphery the adaptor case, the unit may be opened up. Inspection and testing has revealed that there is a 20volt zener diode in these, which always overheats and goes short circuit removing the power to the UC3843 oscillator IC. Replacing the diode and hot melt glueing the case back together effecting a complete cure.
Of all the Freeview receivers that I have encountered it is may experience that unless they have the 7-day EPG they will crash due to the EPG data. Having just Now and Next info is not good enough. Of all the EPGs that I have seen the EPG (v4.6.23c) in the Netgem I-player is the best, this being closely followed by the latest Grundig EPG v 4.8. The 7day epg versions 4.1 and 4.2 as used in the Goodmans GDB series, clones and plastic cased Bush and Pacific models is somewhat unwieldy and clumsy. The only difference between version 4.1 and 4.2 is that 4.2 has a radio channel screen saver and user instruction guide. The Nokia 221 “Navibar” menus look pretty but do no more than other boxes of this ilk, also it does not have the 7 day EPG, and thus is still prone to crash.
On the basis of my experience I have developed the following criteria of features to look for when purchasing a Freeview box.
1) Avoid buying separates. Try to buy a box with an integral Power supply. Avoid external power adaptors- they fail.
2) Try and ensure that the box is a robust metal case. Plastic boxes are fragile and are subject to cracking and melting. They also do not bounce well!
3) Ensure that the box has a 7-day EPG. Now and next info is insufficient. Without the 7day EPG box is liable to crash.
4) If you have to buy a box without the EPG ensure that it comes with an RS232 connector so as it may be updated via a PC.
5) Do not rely on over-air updates.
Updates on the BBC engineering channel can be few and far between and are never for the model you have. The only exception are Grundig and Thomson products which have updates running continually on multiplex A. Just switch to Channel Five and your box will update. Do not rely on an over-air update for the box you wish to purchase
If I was asked to recommend a box using the above criteria I would recommend the Goodmans GDB 2/3 or clones as these are easily updated using a PC or the GDB6 which already has it installed (V1.8). These boxes fulfil most of the criteria although the EPG is somewhat clumsy.
Trevor Austin 15/07/07