Category Archives: China

Introducing The Sichuan Tengzhong Hummer H1

This week’s bankruptcy filing by General Motors, and indeed the current critical condition of the entire U.S. economy can be traced directly to the wholesale loss of decent paying American manufacturing jobs, primarily to China.  Retailers like Walmart, whose stores are stocked predominantly with cheap Chinese-made goods are thriving, because financially desperate American families can’t afford to shop anywhere else (Walmart employs almost 1.5 million workers in the United States, and will be adding 22,000 more U.S. workers to its payroll in 2009; while this may sound like good news, it is anything but.)  It is a vicious cycle of cheap imports, resulting in job losses and low wages for those still lucky enough to find work, that creates an even greater demand for cheap imports that are destroying the American economy even more.  Probably the only thing that is limiting imports from China right now is the lack of available space on cargo ships.  The U.S. government does not seem to be the least bit inclined to limit imports, despite the damage they are doing to our country.

Now, it appears that General Motor’s Hummer division is being sold to China’s Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company.  We feel that dismantling what was one of the largest and oldest American corporations, and selling a portion of it to China is nothing short of treason.  It’s also ludicrous.  Friends, what you are witnessing is an acceleration of the destruction of the U.S. economy.

On a purely practical level, it won’t work.  The type of American buyers who are attracted to a vehicle like a Hummer won’t want a Chinese vehicle.  And as the U.S. economy continues to disintegrate because of exactly this sort of exportation of American brands and jobs, few if any Americans will be able to afford to buy a Hummer, or any vehicle, for that matter.

From a national security standpoint, selling yet another major American manufacturing company to China places America in grave danger. And remember… Hummer is basically a military vehicle, even if it has morphed into a family vehicle for soccer moms on American highways. We’ve said it before on this blog, and we’ll say it again…  Anytime it desires, China will be able to bring America to its knees without firing a single shot.  If China cuts off the supply lines that America has become dependent on, the United States will starve to death.   And we won’t be able to defend ourselves either, because unlike during World War II, America’s manufacturing capacity has all but disappeared.  If you think that melamine-laced pet food, lead-tainted toys, or toxic sheetrock from China are a problem, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

How bad are things getting for U.S. manufacturers?  We went to the Home Depot recently to buy a few sheets of sandpaper, and everything they had was made in China.  It appears that America can’t even manufacture sandpaper any more.

So stop worrying about North Korea or Iran or al-Qaeda or the Taliban.  What you should really be worrying about are those shiny new Sichuan Tengzhong Hummers that will soon be rolling down America’s highways.

We wonder if they sell portraits of Chairman Mao at Walmart.  There’s a bare wall in our living room where we could hang it.

– Routing By Rumor

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Filed under 9/11, Automobile Manufacturers, Business, Cars, China, Consumerism, Employment, Iraq, Jobs, Military, Money, News, Politics, Routing by Rumor, Shopping, Terrorism, The Economy, War, World War II

Bloomberg Hits The Nail On The Head Regarding Economic Stimulus Plan

NYC mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

NYC mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

There was a piece on the radio this morning which discussed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s comments about any future economic stimulus plans. Unfortunately, our searches for his comments have come up empty, but we’re guessing that he made these remarks yesterday. If we’ve misquoted Mr. Bloomberg, our apologies. We are going on our recollection of what we heard on the radio this morning.

Mr. Bloomberg (his middle name is “Rubens” – how many of you knew that?) said that the first round of economic stimulus checks the government mailed out amounted to a program that allowed Americans to go buy Chinese-made widescreen TVs at Circuit City. We couldn’t agree more. In fact, if you’ve followed RoutingByRumor, you know that we have said that the first round of economic stimulus checks amounted to little more than a subsidy for Middle East Oil producing countries, big oil and China, Inc. (You can rest assured that no matter how low the price of oil goes, no matter how much demand drops, that ExxonMobil will continue to post record profits in the quarters and years ahead.)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Mr. Bloomberg said that any future economic stimulus program should fund infrastructure projects, which would be similar to what the United States undertook to help lift the country out of The Great Depression. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s Works Progress Administration (WPA) created almost eight million jobs between 1935 and 1943. Just as importantly, this New Deal agency built highways, bridges, schools and other public works projects across America that still serve our nation today. New York City has more than it’s share of crumbling infrastructure, and like other American cities, would benefit greatly from a modern-day WPA.

Mr. Bloomberg has been critical of the Federal government’s economic stimulus plan in the past. In fact, he’s been against it all along. Last February, he said the then-proposed first round of economic stimulus checks were “like giving a drink to an alcoholic”.

Athough not in relation to the current debate on future economic stimulus spending, Mr. Bloomberg appeared before lawmakers on Capitol Hill this past June, in his capacity as co-chair of Building America’s Future.   He gave this testimony about the need to invest in infrastructure projects.

At a time when there’s more layoffs in the news every day, and the scope of those job cuts are getting wider and wider (today’s news brought word of Citibank planning 10,000 job cuts worldwide), we desperately need a government program that will give American families more than fleeting relief. We need a program that will keep the economic stimulus money the government spends here at home, instead of it being an indirect subsidy for China, which doesn’t benefit American families one bit. Walmart is doing very well, thanks to American families desperate to stretch their income. There is no need to provide Americans with stimulus checks they can take to Walmart, to buy more Chinese made goods. We’ve read that something on the order of 80% of the goods on the shelves at Walmart are made in China.

There’s slim chance that outgoing President George W. Bush will try to implement a program that will put Americans to work while also rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Our hope is that President-elect Barack Obama will seize the opportunity to lift America out of hard times by proposing a program styled on Roosevelt’s WPA. If Washington is going to spend billions of more dollars in an attempt to prevent an economic collapse, doesn’t it make sense to spend it on projects that will benefit America for generations to come, while keeping our money here at home ?

– Routing By Rumor

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Filed under Business, China, Consumerism, Employment, Environment, Jobs, Labor, Money, New York City, News, Politics, Routing by Rumor, The Economy, Uncategorized, World War II, Your Money

Have You Driven A Ford… Lately ?

Well, if you have, better check your tires.

Or your tires’ valve stems, to be more specific. Those are the rubber and brass stalks that you connect an air hose to, when inflating your tires. See this article about the problem (Detroit News, 10/22/08). Here’s an investigation by WCVB-TV in Boston, which claims there may be up to 30 million potentially defective valve stems in use. Who is responsible for all this ? Blame August Schrader, at least indirectly.

WCVB-TV)

A valve stem exhibiting cracking (photo: WCVB-TV)

FoMoCo, or The Ford Motor Company, the automobile manufacturer that gave America what this Wikipedia article calls “the barbecue that seats four”, the exploding Ford Pinto of the 1970’s, is back in the news because of another possible safety problem.

It seems that at least 1.05 million 2007 model year Ford vehicles, including a dozen different Ford models, may have been assembled with Chinese-made rubber valve stems that are falling apart after about a year of use. Apparently, Shanghai Baolong Automotive Corp. (a subsidiary of Topseal Auto Parts), the Chinese company that made them for Ford, might have had a quality problem which allows the rubber to dry out and crack after being exposed to the atmosphere for a few months. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating the problem since at least early September, meeting with Ford officials on Sept. 10. The NHTSA has asked Ford for information about the valve stems, but is not requiring a response from Ford until early next year.

Ford has acknowledged complaints from vehicle owners, but would not say how many reports they have received involving possibly defective valve stems. They have also said that they don’t think it is a safety issue. Well, if you’re not a driver of, or a passenger in a Ford vehicle, we would probably agree with them.

Here’s a report sent to the NHTSA by a Massachusetts company that looked into the valve stem problem. From reading their report, which contains comments from affected vehicle owners, it would appear that the company, Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, was retained by the NHTSA to look into the problem, but we are not certain that this is the case.

It’s never a good thing when your valve stems decide to let loose while you’re traveling down the highway at 65 MPH. Come to think of it, there’s probably never a good time for your tires to suddenly go flat. For the sake of anyone traveling in a Ford vehicle, hopefully any leaks will be minor, and will be noticed before causing a catastrophe.

The bean counters at Ford that decided they could save 2 cents (or whatever) on each valve stem if they bought them from China, must be mighty proud of themselves. Now, at a time when the American automobile industry is already hurting big time, Ford may end up having to spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to recall more than a million vehicles, to replace parts that cost a few pennies each. Then there’s the public’s loss of trust, which will probably cost them much more than that. Smart. Real Smart.

We don’t mean to single out Ford for what may be foolish cost cutting. We’re sure the entire American auto industry is guilty of similar bad decisions.

Despite the fact that you can see and touch the valve stems to inspect them, if large numbers of vehicles require valve stem replacement, it will be a logistical and financial nightmare for the companies involved. It will require removing all of the tires from the vehicle, including the spare, dismounting the tires from the wheels, removing and replacing the valve stems, remounting the tires on the wheels, balancing all of the wheels, and then reinstalling them on the vehicle. There’s no shortcuts to the process. And where do you get five million high quality valve stems in a hurry ? Tire shortages are another possibility, if valve failures or recall campaigns result in large numbers of tires being replaced as a result of the problem.

In addition, if defective, damaged or worn tires are present, we would think that remounting them on a vehicle could pose a liability issue for Ford or any other company doing the recall(s). Telling an owner that brings in their vehicle for a set of no-charge replacement valve stems that they will have to spend six, seven or eight hundred dollars for new tires is sure to create big problems, even if it’s absolutely true and necessary. And with the economy the way it is, you can bet there are plenty of Americans riding around on tires that have seen better days.

If Ford ends up recalling more than a million vehicles to replace the valve stems, it will be interesting to see where the replacement parts come from. Will Ford have learned a lesson, and use American made valve stems, or will they just buy a couple of million more Chinese valve stems? Nothing would surprise us.

It also wouldn’t surprise us if this potential problem is not limited to 2007 model year vehicles, or to vehicles manufactured only by Ford. It might even involve any vehicles that have had new tires installed in the last few years, since tire dealers will normally replace the valve stems when installing new tires.

That hissing sound you hear coming from your garage just might not be a snake, after all.

– Routing By Rumor

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Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, Business, Cars, China, Money, News, Routing by Rumor, The Economy, Your Health

Hanesbrands Ships Even More American Jobs To China !

..And some people wonder why the American economy is on life support.

Hanesbrands, Inc., the North Carolina based clothing manufacturer best known for their Hanes, Champion and Playtex brands, has given up on more American workers. Two weeks ago, they announced the elimination of more than 8,000 jobs, or 12% of their payroll, and the closing of nine plants in five countries. The job cuts will include 1,300 workers in North Carolina alone. If you’re looking for work in China, you’re in luck. But if you’re looking for work in North Carolina, tough luck. Hanesbrands expects to hire 2,000 employees in China by the end of the year. They’re also building a new textile fabric plant in Nanjing, China.

What wonderful news for the American economy !

Hanesbrands is giving up on workers in Central America as well, including Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras. Apparently, not even low paid workers in these countries can compete against China. While it looks like most of these jobs are going to China, the company also said they will be moving production to plants in Vietnam and Thailand. It’s probably just a coincidence that these may be some of the worst countries on earth, in terms of worker exploitation (see “Secrets, Lies and Sweatshops“, Businessweek, 11/27/2006).

Al Norman over at The Huffington Post has written an excellent piece about Hanesbrands’ abandonment of American workers. He puts the blame squarely on retailers like Walmart, and the consumers that flock there looking for cheap goods. In fact, he calls Walmart “the travel agent for Hanesbrands”.  Also check out our article from last December, “The Walmartization Of America“.

Take a look at Hanesbrands’ CEO Richard A. Noll’s total annual compensation at Forbes.com. We would have less of a problem with the top management at a company receiving obscene levels of compensation if they were able to provide employees with secure jobs, and pay them decent wages. We’ve read opinions that most all CEOs at U.S. corporations are good, decent, intelligent people, and we trust that Mr. Noll fits that profile. But when large numbers of your employees are getting pink slips, and you are closing many of your factories, it seems to us that the pain should be shared by the most highly compensated employees at the company. If top management doesn’t see fit to spread around the pain, then the company’s directors should address the issue. Come to think of it, if Hanesbrands’ manufacturing is moving to low-cost places like China and Vietnam, perhaps their CEO position should move there also, to be closer to their workers. You could probably find a very capable CEO in Ho Chi Minh City, who would take the job for about 50 cents a day.

Do you think it’s possible for someone like Mr. Noll to comprehend the impact of the plant closings on an employee who has spent their entire career in a North Carolina textile factory, and is now told that their job is being sent to China? If you do the math, it would seem that if Mr. Noll and other executives at Hanesbrands took a modest cut in their annual compensation, Hanesbrands could afford to keep at least one of their North Carolina plants open, and many of their loyal employees on the payroll. It would sure be interesting to hear some of their soon-to-be-jobless employees’ opinions on the subject. Obviously, making tons of money is nice, but at some point, doesn’t the voice of reason (or perhaps conscience) tell you what the morally right thing to do might be ? Dining on Prime Rib is nice, but we would have trouble swallowing if we were surrounded by people who were starving to death. It’s also all about loyalty, which seems to be in terribly short supply in the American workplace, in the executive suite, as well as on the factory floor.

We believe, and we’ve written previously, that the loss of jobs and manufacturing capacity in the United States is at the root of our current economic woes. The withering stock market, the banking and real estate crisis, the credit crunch, the decrepit state of the U.S. auto industry and the weak U.S. dollar are all symptoms of an economy decimated by companies who have abandoned the American worker, in search of profits in places like China.

You know, those cheap Hanes socks, underwear or other garments at your local department store may not be the bargains they appear to be. Actually, you might not be able to afford the type of bargain that Hanes is offering !

Let’s say that you’ve had it with companies that have moved their manufacturing to China. This mom did, and she decided to boycott all Chinese-made goods for one year. She is a reporter, and wrote about her quest, in “A Year Without China: One Mom’s Fruitless Quest To Boycott China”. Her experience is quite interesting, and includes a futile attempt to avoid Hanes products made in China.

Last week, we were reading the New York Times, when an ad practically jumped off the page at us. With the title “Even The Rope We’re Hanging Ourselves With Is Made In China”, it echoes our feelings about what is wrong with the U.S. economy. A play on Lenin’s quote “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them”, to be sure, but also very true with regard to the state of the U.S. economy.

The “rope” ad is from an organization we had never heard of, called The Institute For America’s Future. We urge you to visit their website at www.ourfuture.org. They are warning America about exactly the same things we’ve been writing about; the trade deficit, the exporting of American jobs, the loss of manufacturing capacity, and the dependence on foreign oil.

Doctor Bush and his band of merry economists can throw 700 billion band-aids at the problem, but that will have little effect. The patient is hemmorhaging, and unless the source of the bleeding is addressed, all the band-aids in China (or all the tea in China) won’t save the patient. President Bush has recently resorted to his emergency “fireside chats” with the American public, making his morning televised appearances to try and reassure the nation in the face of the economic meltdown. We think we can safely say these little pep talks have done nothing to calm Wall Street, or reassure the man on the street. They are too little, too late, from an American President who really doesn’t seem to get it.

And look at the $85 billion bailout of AIG, a company in such bad financial shape that they could afford to squander close to a half-million bucks on an “executive retreat” at a California resort, just days after lawmakers signed off on their bailout. But then, when your rich uncle is writing you a check for $85 billion, that hotel tab probably looks like pocket change. Talk about laughing all the way to the bank. It’s like giving a few bucks to a homeless person begging on the street, who then uses your money to hire a limo to take them to the welfare office. If AIG’s behavior isn’t criminal, it certainly should be.

And of course, when Robert Willumstad, the Chief Executive at AIG (he lost his job a day after the federal bailout was announced) is hauled before lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and asked to justify the squandering of money on a “retreat” at a California resort, which included $23,000 spent on spa treatments for AIG employees, he understandably pleads ignorance, telling the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he was “not familiar with the conference”.

In the last week or so, we’ve witnessed what historians will refer to as “The Stock Market Crash Of 2008”. The crash, proceeded by the economic epidemics of layoffs, home foreclosures and bank failures would seem to indicate to reasonable people that the U.S. economy, at the very least, is in a recession. In response to the crumbling economy, the U.S. government has taken unprecedented action to shore up banks, insurance companies and investments such as money market mutual funds. Yet, the Bush administration cannot bring themselves to using the “R” word. The Bush administration is in denial.

Good luck to the presidential candidate who will inherit this mess 100 days from now. Whichever candidate that happens to be, we think their first order of business, their top priority, must be to bring American jobs back to America, and to address the trade deficit and our dependence on foreign energy.

– Routing By Rumor

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The Banking Meltdown Is Just A Symptom Of A Much Larger Problem

They’re comparing this week’s financial events in the United States with those that led to the start of the Great Depression. But make no mistake, the United States’ economy has been headed for disaster for years now. The loss of decent-paying jobs, the record number of home foreclosures and the depressed real estate market are all symptoms of a far greater problem. The near-collapse of the American banking system may be linked to the mortgage crisis, but look for a root cause elsewhere.

The looming failures of financial giants including Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, and insurance companies such as AIG, have created shock waves felt from Wall Street to Main Street. For the first time in memory, people were concerned that the money in their bank accounts, money market accounts and retirement plans was at risk. A 1929-style run on the banks appeared to be imminent. Indeed, people started pulling their money out of money market accounts at an unprecedented rate. Even investment professionals are running scared. Putnam Investments was so rattled by recent events, that they suddenly decided to close and liquidate their $12.3 billion institutional Putnam Prime Money Market Fund, which had experienced a run of redemptions last Wednesday. (Read about money market funds “breaking the buck” in this cnn.com article, or in this blogger’s posting.) In the seven days ending this past Thursday, Americans collectively pulled a quarter of a trillion dollars out of their money market accounts, an indication that people are frightened. This has led to the government announcing that money market mutual funds will now be insured in much the same way that FDIC insurance protects bank deposits, although the insurance coverage is currently planned for only the next year (we think you can bet your bottom dollar (pun intended) that this insurance will become permanent).

Within the space of just a few days, the government’s $75 billion bailout of AIG grew into a proposed $700 billion bailout of the entire mortgage mess. (Didn’t something like that happen in the movie “The Blob That Ate Pittsburgh”?) The government certainly has the ability to print as much money as it needs to put out these brushfires, but it’s foolish to believe that the federal government throwing money at the problem will make it go away for any length of time.

The economists here at Routing By Rumor point to two very basic problems that the country’s economic woes can be directly attributed to. The first problem is that America is sending about half of it’s cash to the Middle East to buy oil. The second problem is that the rest of America’s cash is being sent to the Far East, mainly to China, to pay for just about everything else we consume. Unless this situation changes, the U.S. economy will never recover, and the current round of federal bailouts are just the beginning.

America has made little progress towards energy independence, despite 35 years having elapsed since the oil crisis of the early 1970’s gripped the nation. A second oil crisis in the late 70’s, as well as dramatic increases in the price of oil in the recent past have done nothing to break our dependence on foreign oil.

America has become dependent on China for almost all consumer goods. This is not only foolish from an economic perspective, it also presents a grave risk to America’s national security. We manufacture almost nothing domestically any more. We’ve said this before, and we’ll repeat it again… God help America if we ever go to war with China, because if that should ever happen, you might as well just go ahead and hang a picture of Chairman Mao in your living room. Now take a look at Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States. According to wakeupwalmart.com, more than 70% of the goods on Walmart’s shelves are made in China. To be fair, that’s probably no different than any other American retailer, but in our mind, Walmart is little more than a sales agent for China, Inc.

Just how bad have things gotten ? According to this CNN article, the United States Department of Agriculture says that 50 percent of the apple juice imported into the United States comes from China (an estimated 161,000 tons of apple juice compared to the 110,000 tons produced in the United States). If we’re reading those numbers correctly, that means the United States only produces 25% of all the apple juice it consumes.

Apple juice !!! What the hell is happening to our country ?

People, there’s something very, very wrong with the U.S. economy, if we can’t even grow our own apples in this country anymore. We’re in deep, deep trouble if we’ve even become dependent on China for apple juice.

They better come up with a new saying, because “As American as apple pie” doesn’t hold true any more.

When the presidential candidates show up for their next press conference or debate, in addition to the standard questions about abortion, the death penalty, Iraq and tax reform, perhaps someone can ask them to take off their shoes and tell us where they were made, and whether they see that as a problem. Or, ask them to remove all of their clothing that was NOT made in the U.S.A. That should be quite revealing.

Then there’s the U.S. banking industry, which to us, resembles nothing so much as legalized loan sharking. Banks are, on the one hand, paying minuscule interest rates to depositors, with regular savings accounts and interest-bearing checking accounts paying perhaps 1% or so, and in many cases, just a fraction of one percent APR or APY (the switch from quoting interest rates paid as APY, instead of APR is a scam onto itself, but we’re digressing). On the other hand, banks are charging 15% or 20% interest on credit card balances, and in some cases, as much as 35% or 40% APR for their less credit worthy customers. Did you know that federal law places no limit on the interest rate a bank can charge ? And while some states do so, there are states which do not cap interest rates. That’s why it’s likely that when you mail your monthly credit card payment, the address on the envelope is usually in South Dakota or Delaware, where, as far as credit card interest rates are concerned, the sky’s the limit.

Take a look at the off-the-wall late fees and other penalty charges that banks are getting away with, since a 1996 Supreme Court ruling removed limits on such fees. Today, typical credit card late fees are as high as $40, and continuing to go up. In fact, if there’s one thing that amazes us, it’s the way that banks continually come up with new ways of putting the squeeze on credit card holders. That’s why you continually get notices from card issuers, announcing changes in your account terms. It’s surprising to us that none of those notices have yet advised us that a late payment will result in a guy named Guido paying us a visit around midnight, to negotiate a repayment schedule using his Louisville Slugger.

We think most American’s have lost any trust they might have had in that cesspool called Wall Street, where, it seems to us, the average investor doesn’t stand a chance. Maybe Eliot Spitzer was on the right track after all, with his aggressive investigations. The well publicized scandals, insider trading and other illegal activities involving Wall Street firms and the companies that trade their stock there have eroded investor confidence. And while we don’t think it’s fair to single out any one individual, just take a look at the Dick Grasso case. How do you think the average American who is struggling to pay their mortgage or feed their family, feels about a situation like that one ? And yet, despite the current financial crisis in the United States, don’t expect CEO compensation to decrease much, even at companies that have to be bailed out with federal money.

So while the billions of dollars that Washington is throwing at the financial crisis will probably stabilize things in the short term, don’t start singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” just yet. They are not.

If you want to hear what it will sound like if happy days ever do get here again, check this out.

– Routing By Rumor

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Filed under Business, China, Consumerism, Employment, Energy, Energy costs, Food, Jobs, Labor, Money, News, Politics, Retail, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Scams, Shopping, Stock Markets, The Economy, Walmart, Your Money

Our Adventures In DTV Land (or, how to join the digital TV revolution without spending a small fortune)

But that’s a pretty long title,

So also file this article under…

  • “How To Choose The Best Set-Top Converter Box”
  • “Digital To Analog DTV Converter Box Comparisons”
  • “Comparing DTV Converter Box Features”
  • “Which Is The Best Digital TV Tuner ?”
  • “HDTV Set-Top Converter Box Buyer’s Guide”
  • “Using Your $40 NTIA Set-Top Converter Box Coupons”

To borrow (and mangle) a catchy slogan from one of the cable TV networks…

I WANT MY DTV !

(as does the FCC, and this person, and this person, among others)

Routing By Rumor has recruited some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry to help us launch our “I Want My DTV” campaign…

Promo # 1

Promo # 2

Promo # 3

Promo # 4

But unfortunately, none of them followed the script, so we’re going to have to do the promos all over again. It’s impossible to get good help these days.

As we reported recently in There Is Nothing Wrong With Your Television Set, the cut-over to all-digital television broadcasting in the United States is quickly approaching. On February 17th, 2009, exactly six months from tomorrow, broadcasters will be turning off their analog television transmitters forever. If you wish to continue receiving over-the-air television programs, you will have to either add a digital tuner to your older television sets (in the form of a digital-to-analog set-top converter box), or replace your current sets with digital receivers.

Armed with the two $40.00 NTIA converter box coupons which the U.S. government graciously provided (using our tax money), we set out on a mission to find the best converter box available. By the way, we checked out some of the statistics published at www.ntiadtv.gov (the NTIA website for retailers participating in the coupon program), and we were surprised to learn that less than half of the converter box coupons they have issued under the program have actually been redeemed prior to their expiration date.

Based on extensive research we’ve done on the Web, it seems that all of the early versions of the available converter boxes suffer from problems of one kind or another. Some are hard of hearing, so to speak, and not able to receive signals on some of the more distant or weaker stations. Some models have problems with the audio they pass to your television, such as insufficient volume, even at maximum output. Since they are all basically just computers with an RF interface, the embedded software seems to be a big issue also. Some models reportedly crash, reboot spontaneously, or suffer from a variety of bugs. Apparently, none of the available models of converter boxes have any provision for firmware upgrades. If it’s broke, it’s broke forever. Can’t they at least provide a USB port, so people can download firmware updates from the Web onto their computers, and flash the converter box with updated software ? They say you should never buy Version 1.0 of anything. Apparently, this applies to DTV converter boxes also. Some sneaky software companies actually skip the v1.0 label when releasing new software packages, calling it v1.5, v2.0, etc., instead. Sort of like buildings that don’t have 13th floors… but then isn’t the 14th floor really the 13th floor? As a child, we thought that if an elevator in a high rise building or a skyscraper didn’t have a button for the 13th floor, the elevator just couldn’t stop on that floor, even though the 13th floor was actually there, just boarded up or otherwise inaccessible (maybe inhabited by monsters or something). There’s actually a very interesting Wikipedia article about this. Reading it left us, as they say, ROTFLMAO.

Where was I ? ….Oh yes, DTV converter boxes.

And then there is the issue of ease-of-use, the quality of the UI (that’s User Interface, for all you non-geeks), and the features that the converter boxes provide. The features vary considerably from brand to brand.

Our first stop was at Best Buy, a nationwide chain of consumer electronics and entertainment stores. Like many retailers, they advertise heavily and have large stores, but they seem to fall flat on their face when it comes to execution on the sales floor. Chalk this up to poor management, low paid employees, and probably just not having enough staff. While other people have said that they purchased either the Zenith DTT900 or DTT901 at Best Buy, they do not seem to sell it anymore. They do sell the same product under their “Insignia” label, but there were none on the sales floor. We spotted a stack of them way up, about 10 feet above our head, but had no way to reach them, and we couldn’t find anyone to help us. Here’s a guy on youtube doing an unboxing of the Insignia converter box. He’s behaving like such a jerk that we wanted to take away his new toy and send him to bed without supper.

Best Buy was also selling a converter box from Apex Digital, and had them where we could reach them, but we hadn’t heard of Apex or read any reviews, so we left Best Buy empty handed. Best Buy was selling both their Insignia/LG and the Apex converters for $60. Later research on the Web indicates that Apex and “Tivax” branded converter boxes might be the same unit or at least very similar. Some people are calling the Apex a Tivax clone. To us, Apex Digital sounds like a company with a troubled past, and at least one infamous product. We don’t know how their DTV converter box stacks up against the competition, but it seems to us like they might not be around too much longer.

Next, we stopped at a Radio Shack store, our electronics supplier of last resort. They didn’t have a single converter box on display. Rumors have circulated that Radio Shack is selling a converter box by “Digital Stream” (???), but we haven’t read any reviews on it. Then again, we’ve read reports that RS was selling Zenith/LG boxes also, but that was not the case in the store we visited. We didn’t waste any more time with Radio Shack.

There is a Circuit City store in our area, but as we’ve written previously, we feel that the best thing that Circuit City can do is bite the dust. We wouldn’t buy a converter box (or anything else) there, if they were giving them away for free. Well, maybe if they were free, but not otherwise. Reports from other consumers posted on the Web say that Circuit City is selling the Zenith DTT901 (to the less discriminating consumers who still shop there) for $60, or about 20% more than some retailers (see below). And what if you want to return or exchange it, and Circuit City goes belly up tomorrow ? (a definite possibility, considering their financial position) Didn’t think of that, did you ? (Benigan’s today, Circuit City tomorrow.)

Walmart’s website lists them as selling the Magnavox TB100MW9 and the RCA DTA800 converter boxes in-store only, each selling for around $50. The last time we visited a Wal-Mart store, they only had the Magnavox in stock.

We tried a few other local electronics stores, but they either did not sell converter boxes, had none on display, or their prices were not competitive. It’s amazing how many places don’t have stuff on the selling floor, but they’ll tell you that they might have one “in the back”. What is that, some new merchandising technique ? Morons. How hard would it be to have some underpaid employee move some stock to the empty shelf space on the selling floor, where it might have half a chance of being seen and purchased. We’ve never run a retail store, but we’re pretty sure we could do a better job than the management at most of these retail chains.

Quickly running out of local retailers where we thought we might find the Zenith DTT901, we decided to try the local retail disaster scene, K-Mart. How they have managed to (barely) stay in business is a complete mystery to us. Now, this is just our opinion, but we think they sell a lot of low quality stuff, and their prices are usually not competitive. We can’t think of a single compelling reason to shop at K-Mart (well, perhaps if you are desperately searching for a Zenith DTT901). On the other hand, if you enjoy long checkout lines, clueless (and very, very scarce) totally disinterested employees, drab, unappealing stores and lots of lower end products, you’re gonna love K-Mart. Do they even do their “blue light specials” anymore? We’ve never seen a K-Mart store that didn’t have long lines at the checkouts, where you’d find, at most, two or three cashiers, amid a sea of unmanned/closed registers. Fortunately, the laws of natural selection usually see to it that these types of animals become extinct. What’s taking K-Mart so long to achieve their rightful place in the graveyard of American retailers ? Even Wal-Mart and Target have more appealing stores, and know how to attract customers. This is getting way off-topic for this article, but just look at the television and print ads from Target. They’re so creative and interesting, compared to the boring circulars you might occasionally see from K-Mart. Maybe that’s why you will always find twenty times as many cars parked outside a Target store, as you would outside a K-Mart.

To our astonishment, this retailing giant from hell actually had three, count ’em three, brands of DTV converter boxes for sale. They had a Magnavox unit for $50, they had the Zenith DTT901 we were looking for, priced at $50 (Circuit City reportedly prices it 20% higher), and they had Dish Network’s DTVpal for $60, but we had never heard of the DTVpal. This blogger says that the DTVpal is really a renamed Echostar TR-40 (read more about Echostar / Dish Network. For youtube addicts, here’s uber geek MegaZone’s blog, where he has posted a great series of detailed videos showing a Dish Network DTVpal being hooked up, and in operation (or click here to go directly to them). Here’s another contributor’s DTVpal video review on youtube. In any case, with three brands in stock and on display at K-Mart, we figured that we had hit the DTV converter box jackpot. And who would have thought… in K-Mart no less. It’s almost enough to make us change our opinion of K-Mart. On second thought, naah, they still suck (see below about K-Mart’s usual long lines at the checkout).

While standing there in the aisle at K-Mart, we opened one of the DTVpal boxes and took a closer look. As we perused the owner’s manual, we were surprised to find some features that we hadn’t seen in other converter boxes. Chief among it’s impressive features is a much better Electronic Program Guide (EPG) than other converter boxes offer. Other DTV converter boxes we’ve looked at only show programming info for the current and the next programs on each channel, or in some cases, the current program on each channel only. By contrast, the DTVpal lets you scroll through program listings for the next week or more, depending on how much PSIP data each station broadcasts. We’ve learned that when you turn the DTVpal off, it only LOOKS like it’s off. The sneaky DTVpal is actually as busy as a bee, scanning all available channels for the PSIP programming data they transmit at regular intervals. Therefore, it’s a good idea to turn it off (it’s inactivity timer will eventually do this automatically) when you’re not watching TV, so it can update it’s EPG. It’s sort of like REM sleep for your DTVpal. We even liked the “TiVoish” DTVpal mascot/logo on the carton… sort of a cross between a TV and a doggie (we’re partial to doggies). Maybe the implication is that the DTVpal can fetch your favorite program listings for you.

The DTVpal is a very small, kind of ugly and cheap looking all plastic unit with a “wall wart” type power supply connected to a very cheesy looking power cord which could probably double as dental floss in an emergency (please remember to unplug the unit before flossing). The connector at the end of the power cord isn’t military grade stuff, either. It’s a fragile looking, uniquely shaped molded plug that doesn’t resemble any power connector we’ve ever seen before. The power supply’s rated output is 5 Volts DC @ 2 Amps.

We didn’t initially realize that the DTVpal was from Dish Network. That’s because, quite curiously, their name is nowhere to be found on the outside of the box. It’s only after opening the box and looking at the instruction manual inside, that you see the name “Dish Network”. Another curious thing we noticed is that while the phrase “by Dish Network” is printed onto the plastic case of the DTVpal, the “by Dish Network” wording is missing in the photo of the unit on the carton, as if they doctored the photo of the DTVpal. This tells us one of two things… Either they were unsure of who was going to market it when they printed the boxes, or the generic box is being used for more than one branded version of the DTVpal. Who knows… maybe you’ll also see “DigiTek” or “Acme” brand DTVpals being sold at some point. If we decide to perform exploratory surgery on the DTVpal, we’ll try to determine who is actually building them for Dish.

Unfortunately, Dish Network has also cut corners on the accessories they provide. The DTVpal DOES NOT include the necessary RCA cable for audio and video hookup to your TV set (they do include a short coaxial cable with “F” connectors, but they provide no way of connecting the audio and composite video outputs of the DTVpal to your TV set). Why go through the trouble and expense of buying a DTV converter box if you are going to loose picture quality by viewing it via your TV’s analog tuner on RF channel 3 or 4 ? Dish Network should spend the few extra cents per unit it would cost them to include the necessary RCA cable. Of course, having a converter box with S-video or component video output would deliver even better video quality, but at least take advantage of the product’s composite video capability. Would you buy a Mercedes that came from the factory without tires, or a pair of shoes that was missing the laces ?

On the other hand, after reading the instruction manual, it became clear that Dish Network has put a lot more thought into the DTVpal’s features and user interface than other converter box manufacturers. Perhaps it’s their experience with set-top boxes for their paid satellite service that gives them the edge. In any case, what the DTVpal lacks in it’s cheaper construction and lack of cables is mitigated to a degree by the features provided in it’s software.

We decided to buy both a Zenith DTT901( build date of June, 2008 ) and a Dish Network DTVpal (firmware version 102) at K-Mart, using our $40 NTIA coupons (as we suspected, you swipe them like credit cards, and they show up on the receipt as $40 gift cards). K-Mart, like other retailers who accept the NTIA “coupons”, states on their receipts that they will only allow you to exchange converter boxes purchased with the government coupon for another converter box. No cash refunds of Uncle Sam’s $40 subsidies. That is as it should be. BTW, we’ve seen recent comments from other DTVpal owners that Dish ( as of August, 2008 ) is already up to firmware version 105 on the “TR-40 CRA” DTVpal clones that it has just started to ship. It sounds like people that have DTVpals with firmware version 100 or 101 have had some serious problems with them. It seems likely to us that Dish Network will have to do some sort of recall or replacement of these early-production units, both to satisfy their customers, and to avoid problems with the NTIA, which, after all, paid most of the cost of many of these units, via their converter box coupon program. It’s too bad that Dish does not identify the production date or firmware version of these units on the outside of the carton (unless it’s coded into the box’s serial number label). It would allow buyers to know if they’re buying a problem or not. We think that at least knowing what serial numbers have problematic software installed would be valuable information for prospective customers. Otherwise, it’s a crapshoot.

Surprisingly, the lines at the checkout were much shorter than we expected… we only had to wait in line for about a half hour. And K-Mart management probably wonders why everyone goes to Target or WalMart instead. It’s not rocket science.

The DTT901’s LG/Zenith warranty is much longer (sort of) than the DTVpal warranty. LG warrants the Zenith DTT901’s parts against defect for one year, but Dish Network only warrants the DTVpal’s parts for 90 days. Thats a four times longer parts warranty from Zenith ! (both units only offer a 90 day labor warranty). On the other hand, if the Zenith converter box blows up after six months, will they tell you that parts replacement is free, but the out-of-warranty labor charge comes to $50.00 ? (which is the price of a new unit) …We are very suspicious of any manufacturer that will only warranty labor for the first three months of a one year parts warranty, on a device in the price range of these devices. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that it will not make sense to pay for shipping and labor to have one of these converter boxes repaired by the manufacturer. It’s even doubtful that any manufacturer would waste their time trying to repair one of these units.

Our detailed comparison of the LG / Zenith DTT901 versus the Dish Network / Echostar DTVpal follows. We have marked our preferences with an asterisk.


CONSTRUCTION
The Zenith wins hands down. Superior quality construction in every
respect.  We were going to take some "autopsy" photos of the DTT901,
but Steve Vigneau has done a teardown of a Zenith DTT900 and posted
some incredible high-res photos of the unit, assembled and disassembled,
on his blog at nuxx.net.  They're better than anything we could have
shot with our decrepit HP digital camera.  After viewing them, you'll
understand why we're so crazy about the Zenith's great build quality.
Steve's level of detail is unbelievable.  He goes as far as taking
apart the metal cage that shields the RF section, and cataloging the
screws that hold the unit together.  He has surely voided the warranty,
something we like to do immediately upon purchasing any new electronic
devices, here at Routing By Rumor. 

 * Zenith DTT901:  All metal chassis, except for the plastic front panel
                  The Zenith also has power and channel up/down controls
                  on it's front panel, whereas the DTVpal has no controls
                  on the case and must be controlled exclusively from
                  the remote control.
  Dish   DTVpal:  Plastic Case, and a very distracting bright green LED,
                  which you can't turn off.  Try covering the LED with a
                  piece of electrical tape to solve the problem, but take
                  care to avoid covering the IR receiver, or your remote
                  control won't work.

HEAT GENERATION
The Zenith runs for hours with only the slightest temperature rise.
They have successfully addressed the heating issues in earlier
production units of the DTT901.  The unventilated, plastic cased
DTVpal runs too warm.

* Zenith DTT901:  The Zenith runs cool, even after hours of use.
  Dish   DTVpal:  Runs very warm, particularly the bottom side of
                  the case.  We are concerned that this might
                  shorten the life of the unit.

POWER SUPPLY
The Zenith has a high quality internal power supply (yes, we
opened it up for a look-see), and a permanently attached AC cord,
which we thought should be a bit longer.

* Zenith DTT901:  A well designed internal power supply, with a
                  high quality, albeit somewhat short AC cord.
  Dish   DTVpal:  "Wall wart" style power supply, with a cheesy
                  looking, flimsy power cord and power connector.

RECEIVER SENSITIVITY
Both units performed very well.  We like the numeric (0 - 100) signal
strength reading on the DTVpal more than the "weak/strong" bargraph
on the Zenith, and we thought the DTVpal might have had the slightest
edge when it came to sensitivity.  On the other hand, in cases where
the signal was marginal, the Zenith made a valiant attempt to paint
images on the screen.  The DTVpal wouldn't even try, instead just
saying "No Service".  There were widely reported problems with audio
quality on early-production Zenith DTT901's, and the recommendations
we've seen say to avoid units that have a manufacture date earlier
than APRIL 2008 on the carton's UPC label.  Our DTT901 says JUNE 2008,
and we've found absolutely no issues with audio quality.

* Zenith DTT901: Very Good
* Dish   DTVpal: Very Good


REMOTE CONTROL
We greatly prefer the remote on the Dish Network DTVpal.  Neither remote
has backlit buttons.  There is an issue with the DTVpal's remote
interfering with the operation of other Dish Network equipment residing
in the same room, but they are apparently addressing this by supplying
a different remote control in later production units.

  Zenith DTT901:  Well laid out, but it's not contoured to your hand. Uses
                  one AAA cell.  The Zenith remote lets you turn your TV
                  on and off without having to pick up a second remote.
* Dish   DTVpal:  We really liked the contoured shape of the DTVpal's remote,
                  and while it is larger than the Zenith remote, it just
                  felt more comfortable in our hand.  While it's button
                  layout takes some getting used to, it becomes very
                  intuitive with a little use. We think it's dual infrared
                  LEDs and two AAA cells might perform better than Zenith's
                  remote.

ELECTRONIC PROGRAM GUIDE (EPG)
The DTVpal blows away the competition in this department.  It offers an
excellent guide that shows all programming for the next week or so for
all channels, limited only by how much data the broadcasters provide.

  Zenith DTT901:  Limited to current & next program on each channel.
* Dish   DTVpal:  Provides a program grid extending out a week or
                  more for all channels.

FIRMWARE ISSUES

Neither unit is field-upgradeable.  The DTVpal has had several well-
publicized software bugs that have prompted two or three new firmware
releases in it's short lifetime.  We have identified what is likely
an issue with firmware version 102, which affects the adding or
P-I-P viewing of some channels on the unit's "Add a channel" screen.
The only solution we've found is to reset the DTVpal, and let it
do it's channel search all over again. Despite these issues, we
still recommend the DTVpal over the competition, because of it's
superior on-screen information and it's fantastic EPG.  Let's hope
that Dish does right by their customers, and provides them with
hassle-free, postage-free advance replacements for their buggy
DTVpals upon request.  They also need to replace buggy firmware
regardless of whether the units are still within their 90-day
warranty period.  We hope they will decide to match Zenith's
one-year parts warranty, at least when it comes to upgrading
defective firmware.  Customers can always try to exchange their
defective units where they bought them, but the lack of any clear
external indication of the firmware version contained in the unit
makes it impossible to know what you have until you hook it up.
We would like to see all of these units have flashable firmware
that can be updated by the consumer when a new software version
is released. In the long run, this will be less costly for the
manufacturer than replacing the units, and it will increase
customer satisfaction.

  Zenith DTT901:  No apparent firmware issues, but it's features
                  just don't compare to the very slick DTVpal.
* Dish   DTVpal:  Superior features and a great program guide
                  give the DTVpal the edge, despite our concerns
                  about still somewhat buggy firmware.  For this
                  reason, we conditionally recommend the DTVpal.

WARRANTY
To be blunt, Dish Network needs to offer their customers a
better warranty.  Ideally, we would like to see all electronics
manufacturers offer a one year warranty on parts AND labor.

* Zenith DTT901: 1 year parts, 90 days labor.
  Dish   DTVpal: 90 days parts, 90 days labor.

OUR OVERALL RECOMMENDATION

We think that LG Electronics has built a superior product in
every respect from a physical standpoint (with the possible
exception of their remote control). However, they need to play
catch-up with Dish Network's DTVpal when it comes to the
features provided by their software.  Either unit will deliver
excellent picture and audio quality.  We paid slightly less
for the Zenith DTT901 than we did for the DTVpal, but your
mileage may vary regarding pricing.

We are somewhat concerned about the fact that the DTVpal does
not run as cool as the Zenith DTT901.  Heat is the enemy of
any electronic device, shortening it's lifespan and decreasing
it's reliability.  It would be nice to see Dish address the
heat issue, and move the power supply into the unit itself,
instead of using a "wall wart" power supply. And as we've
mentioned, Dish needs to cough up a few extra cents, and include
the necessary RCA cables with the DTVpal. 

All things considered, we think that the Dish Network DTVpal's
superior features make it our pick.  It's unfortunate that
its body isn't a match for it's mind.

Check out these cnet reviews of the DTVpal, and the Zenith DTT901, which also provide side-by-side comparisons to other popular DTV converter boxes.

A note to members of avsforum.com visiting this blog…

We joined avsforum (avsforum.com) recently to share our experience with the DTV converters mentioned in this article. Unfortunately the avsforum seems to suffer from at least two problems. There are a few disgruntled members over there that seem to have nothing better to do than post negative comments to just about every thread that other members start (and nobody seems to say anything to them about their inappropriate comments). Then there is the person (or persons) responsible for running that forum, who repeatedly delete postings for no apparent reason. Perhaps they’re on a power trip, perhaps they practice censorship of viewpoints that are not the same as theirs, or maybe they’re just in love with their delete key. God only knows.

We are a regular contributor to over a dozen technology forums on the Web, and we’ve never experienced these issues elsewhere. Fortunately, numerous venues exist on the Internet, from websites, to forums, to mailing lists and usenet newsgroups, so that persons seeking knowledge, or those wishing to share information, have many options available to them. Life is way too short to waste it dealing with nonsense of the sort that we’ve experienced over there.

Others have apparently drawn the same conclusion and have written about problems with avsforum (we did a search, and it didn’t take long to find other people who have had problems with avsforum). Here’s an article that complains of censorship by the people running avsforum, here’s one that details other problems over there that have prompted it to shut down some forum areas. There’s this fellow, who warns that some of what you read there is posted by individuals with hidden agendas, and then there’s this person, who does not mince words when he describes what he believes takes place over there.

As we said, life is too short to waste it at avsforum.com !

– Routing By Rumor

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There Is Nothing Wrong With Your Television Set

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(TV image from webtvwire.com)

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat, there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.”

That was the advice viewers heard at the beginning of each episode of “The Outer Limits“, a sci-fi TV series originally broadcast from 1963 to 1965. Now, 45 years later, Americans are getting some new advice, and yes, those same scary people are still “controlling transmission”. This time, however, there IS something wrong with your television set… the problem is that it’s analog, not digital.

When the clock strikes Midnight on February 17, 2009 (six months from this writing), your decrepit, old analog television sets will become electronic boat anchors, and you will be dragged into the brave new world of digital TV, whether you like it or not. You can enter the digital realm by replacing your beloved boat anchor with one of those shiny new digital HDTVs. Or, you can give your analog friend a reprieve by adding a set-top converter box which will allow your analog TV to pick up those new-fangled ATSC digital broadcasts, more commonly known as DTV or Digital TV. Learn more about DTV at the U.S. government’s official digital television website, www.dtv.gov.

A small number of stations in the United States will still be allowed to continue broadcasting those old NTSC analog signals after February 19th, but for the most part, analog TV sets will stop working on that date. And if you get your daily fix via cable or satellite TV, no worries. Nothing will change for you a few days after the St. Valentine martyrs get their annual tribute.

Now we don’t know about you, but the mere thought of being denied our god-given right to watch infomercials and the home shopping network 24×7 has put us into a digital frenzy. We’re pretty sure that those converter boxes will become scarcer than hens teeth as the deadline approaches. Expect long lines at electronics retailers, with people camping out at the local Best Buy, waiting for the next shipment of converter boxes to arrive from China by armored car. The lines will be so long, you’ll think Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft was releasing their newest game console. People will be paying proxies to stand in line for them. Scalpers will be buying the converter boxes and selling them on eBay at 300% markups. So, with these visions of my digital future weighing heavily on my mind, I’ve decided to start my dtv converter box shopping now.

zeldawii.com)

Gamers line up to buy the Nintendo Wii (from zeldawii.com - click on photo)

Uncle Sam, in the guise of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (doesn’t that name just roll off your tongue?), has blessed Americans who apply for their $40 converter box coupons (limit two per household) at www.dtv2009.gov. They will send you a coupon that can be used towards the purchase of government-approved eligible converter boxes. It’s not actually a coupon, but rather what appears to be a debit or gift card, complete with a 16 digit account number embossed on the front, along with a way cool hologram, and the obligatory high-coercivity magnetic stripe and three digit CVC2 code on the back. And it expires two to three months after you get it, so if you snooze, you loose.

What will you pay for a DTV converter box? They are generally available anywhere from $60.00 to well over $100, online and at retail stores. We think that manufacturers and retailers have taken advantage of the fact that the government is subsidizing these converters to the tune of $40 each, and they’ve decided to inflate their selling price. Low-end DVD players, which are substantially more complex and expensive to produce, sell for prices starting in the $30 range. If you are considering shelling out over $100 for a converter box, you might want to think about replacing your TV with a digital model instead. You won’t have to deal with two devices or two remote controls, and you’ll gain some functionality and ease of use by replacing your TV, VCR, Tivo and/or DVD recorder, instead of retrofitting your old set, especially if you plan to record programs off-air. One of the biggest limitations when using a atv-to-dtv converter box is that you can no longer select the channel using the tuner (or programming capability) of your TV, VCR, Tivo or DVD recorder. You are forced to select the channel via the converter box (“Series 3” Tivos have both ATSC and NTSC tuners.)

What would these DTV converters sell for, if it wasn’t for the government subsidy? We suspect they would be in the area of $25-35 each. Expect them to drop back to that price range once the subsidy program goes away, and replacement of older televisions with new digital receivers picks up more steam. Almost all new TVs sold today have digital tuners that do not require an analog-to-digital set-top converter box.

So while the government subsidy program has probably encouraged people to buy converter boxes, it has no doubt also inflated the prices of those boxes. It has also encouraged some people who would have simply replaced their television sets, to put off that purchase, and opt for a converter instead. Based on some of the reviews being posted by purchasers of these set-top converter boxes, there are a lot of people unhappy with the performance and quality of these products. It seems likely that many of them will decide to scrap their converter boxes in favor of a new TV. We think a better way of providing a subsidy for DTV to Americans would have been a one-time tax credit for the purchase of a converter box or new digital television set. It would have had less of an inflationary effect on retail prices, been less expensive to implement, and would have been less susceptible to abuse than the coupon program.

We don’t know about you, but we can’t wait to see those infomercials offering their snake oil in 1920 x 1080 high-def resolution, with Dolby 5.1 surround sound. So if you haven’t done so already, apply for your converter-box coupons, bring your TV viewing into the digital age, and help increase our trade deficit with China, all from the comfort of your web browser. Click here to follow our adventures as we shop for, purchase, install and compare the features and performance of set-top DTV converter boxes.

To paraphrase the late television legend Tom Snyder, “Fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the bits, now, as they fly through the air”. (There is a treasure trove of Tom Snyder’s interviews from The Tomorrow Show available on youtube.)

– Routing By Rumor

Tom Snyder (1936-2007)

photo: wkyc.com Cleveland/Akron, OH

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