We've updated our exclusive Ratings of DTV converter boxes, which now include 31 models, covering a good chunk of the market. Prices for tested models range from about $40 to $90. As you probably know by now, you can use a $40 government coupon to defray the cost of an approved DTV converter box.
New arrivals include several models that fall into the "best" group for picture quality. There are also more boxes with a VCR timer and analog pass-through. (Read our free DTV converter box guide for the latest information, including important DTV converter box features and free access to the DTV converter box Ratings.)
The Channel Master CM-7000 remains the best of the tested models for picture quality. It's among the first to have an S-video output, which can deliver better picture quality than a composite video or RF out. (Older TVs don't have an S-video input output, so you'd have to use either the composite-video or RF input output.) It's pricey, though, at $80. The Apex DT250, $60, also has an S-video out, though its picture quality didn't quite match the Channel Master's. Keep in mind, though, that it might be hard to appreciate the subtle differences in picture quality with a run-of-the-mill TV.
The Dish Network DTVPal, $60, has a VCR timer, as does its brandmate, the TR-40 CRA, available in limited quantities for $45, and the Zinwell ZAT-970A, $46. The timer will turn on and/or change the channel on the box so your VCR can automatically record from different channels. Eleven of the tested models in the Ratings have analog pass-through, which enables a box to feed your TV analog signals as well as digital signals converted to analog. (See our "How to choose: DTV converter boxes" for more information that will help you decide which DTV box features are right for your needs.)
As in our first round of tests, all tested models converted broadcast digital signals from our rooftop antenna into analog signals that an older TV can accept, with decent picture and sound quality. They also performed comparably in their ability to pull in digital stations. The number of digital channels that will be available to you depends on how many stations broadcast digitally in your area, the distance from your home, your antenna, and whether trees or other obstructions block the signals. (Since we started these Ratings last June, four models—the Insignia NS-DXA1, the Zenith DTT900, the RCA DTA800B, and the Digital Stream DTX9900—have been discontinued and are no longer available.)
Note that prices listed in the Ratings are what we actually paid at retail. . There, you'll also find a list of online retailers, and you can enter your zip code to find local merchants as well. Visit our free online guide to the digital TV transition for more complete information on the digital TV switchover and DTV converter boxes.