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I bought this simply because it was small and had an on/off button on the front so I didn't have to keep it in standby mode.It is truly awful, I had to keep rescanning the channels and every time I got different ones, sometimes I got five, fiver etc., sometimes itv1, itv2 etc. but never all of the channels at the same time! Coupled with the fact that signal kept dropping out and freezing... I ended up getting a box that was 2 quid more expensive, but so much better!
With the prospect of analogue TV transmissions ending in the next few years, I have already been investigating the new free-to-air digital TV broadcasts known as Freeview. I have to admit that my interest has not simply been motivated by curiosity.
I am already a Virgin Media customer (poor you you might say) and have been with NTL and before that CableTel for around 10 years. I have been receiving its cable TV service and so you might wonder why Im even bothering with Freeview. The reason is that I am now on to my third Pace set-top box and so have been disappointed by the unreliability of the equipment. Not only that but, of course, when things go wrong you lose the service until its fixed. That wasnt entirely a disaster previously as at least you still got the analogue service even if the box stopped working. With the latest Pace box, that is no longer so.
Not only that but I have also found Virgin Medias transmissions to be unreliable. The occurrence of programs freezing and disappearing completely, as it did recently during a critical stage of the Test Match, is all too common. So, an alternative backup was essential.
We now have two Freeview boxes in the house. Backing up the cable TV service in the Lounge is a Sagem DVR 62160T SL-T UK160Gig Freeview recorder with two tuners so that you can view one programme and record another. My daughter has a Digilogik DSTB 1000 connected to the TV in her bedroom.
Both of these are fed from a rooftop located SLX 48 element high-gain digital aerial I bought from Maplins. I couldnt get it to work in the loft unfortunately as, even though its pointed at the 20K Watt Crystal Palace transmitter, where we live the digital signal simply wasnt strong enough, even though the analogue one was.
The feed is routed around the house through walls and loft space via various splitters to a number of rooms where TVs are located. The signal is boosted so as to reach all parts of the house by a One For All SV-9530B00/200 signal booster feeding three aerial outputs to various locations. The signal boost is not turned up to maximum but still supplies an entirely adequate signal to all TVs. Both existing set-top boxes work perfectly.
In our bedroom we have a very old Matsui TV I bought from Currys. The TV works OK even though half the remote control buttons no longer work. It does, though, have a Scart socket. What I was looking for was a very cheap Freeview tuner to use with it. What I wanted was one that had, as a minimum, two Scart sockets, one to connect to the TV and one to take the output from a DVD player. Even though we dont have a DVD in the bedroom, I am planning soon to replace the Matsui with a small widescreen LCD TV with built-in Freeview tuner and DVD player so, when that happens, the tuner would be relegated to the Family Room where we do have a TV and DVD player.
What I found, in Comet, for just under £20, was a STRATO STB 6002. Now I have never heard of STRATO, I have to confess, but it had everything I needed and at the price, seemed unbeatable. It was certainly cheaper than any other device I saw from any source. Looking closely at the label the device seems to be distributed by Siemssen Electronics UK Ltd of Dudley, in the West Midlands. Further investigation on the Web suggested that this is the local operation of Siemssen Electronics GmbH of Germany. The equipment itself, though, appears to have been manufactured in China (what isnt these days?)
The device itself is very neat and sits comfortably on top of the TV, even one as small as the Matsui. There is no evident danger of it slipping off as it has four large rubber pads that grip the shell of the TV well. The power cable is quite short and only just reached the adjacent power socket. A Scart cable is supplied and was perfectly adequate for attaching to the TV. A coaxial TV cable is not supplied so if you also want to have a backup of an analogue signal from the TV aerial pass-through socket then you will have to buy one.
The back of the device also sports a Coaxial Digital Audio output socket for connection to a Home Theatre system. In addition there is an RS232 socket which, apparently, is for doing software upgrades although most such upgrades usually take place through scheduled broadcasts from the transmitter. You can find out when these are due for your device at the Digital TV Group website (http://www.dtg.org.uk).
The front of the device has an On/Off button and a simple LED that glows green when switched on and red when on stand-by. There is no LCD panel so all information about what the box is doing has to come from the TV screen alone. The device comes with a remote control powered by two (supplied) AAA batteries.
Plugging it in and switching it on resulted in a small delay whilst it booted up. I was then presented with a window on the TV screen inviting me to choose the preferred screen aspect. For the Matsui that is the standard 4x3 rather than the widescreen 16x9. I was then presented with a window that asked if I wanted to do a channel search. I pressed OK on the remote and nothing happened. Not a very good start!
I pressed the Menu button and was presented with a choice of Channel List, Favourite List (nice to see its spelt correctly!), Channel Search and System Settings. I chose Channel Search. This did at least work. It spent a minute or so discovering broadcast TV and Radio channels, 48 in all, displaying a progress bar as it worked. On completion it cut straight to the first channel, BBC1.
It was clear that all was not well. The picture was breaking up (pixelating), as was the sound. I checked all of the connections and then checked other channels. The problem seemed to occur whatever I did. So, first suspicion was, am I too far from the aerial source and is the signal not strong enough in this room, despite the booster? I disconnected the box and took it downstairs to insert it into the setup in the Lounge, in place of the Sagem, where the aeriel cable enters the house, which I know works perfectly. Same problem.
Clearly the problem is with the box not the signal. This is not a good sign. Ive only had it one day and already found two faults. It has to go back. I returned it to Comet and explained the problem and they asked if I would like to try another one, either the same model or different. As all the others were more expensive I thought Id give the same model another chance.
I installed the second one and went through the same setup procedure. It demonstrated the same fault with the channel search but when finally it burst into life at least the audio and picture break-up problems were not present. So far, so good.
I started experimenting with the channels and they all seemed to be being broadcast OK. The remote allows you to do pretty much everything so the faulty TV remote becomes less of a problem, unless you want to revert to the pass-through analogue signal. The main buttons on the remote allow you to control volume and muting plus channel selection with + and buttons.
The Menu button I have already mentioned and here you can chose from all of the channels up to five lists of favourites, so you can leave out the Bid TV type channels from the list of selections if you wish, or have a list just of Radio stations, for instance.
There is an EPG button that gives you information about the program you are watching and whats on next on this channel. There is also an Info button that gives you channel information and enables selection from various channels. There is also a Favourites button that allows you to choose a pre-selected list and then programs just from those channels. There are other functions as well but Ill leave them for now.
The reason I will do so is that whilst watching the programs I started getting a distinct feeling that things were not quite right. I quickly realised that the problem was that the audio was out of sync with the pictures. In close-ups of people speaking, this was quite disturbing. However, before assuming it was the box I checked the other Freeview tuners in the house. All seemed to be working OK.
I then positioned myself halfway between the one in the Lounge and the one in the Bedroom and turned up the volume. The effect was like being in a large hall and hearing a distinct echo, so proving that the audio output of the two boxes were definitely not operating in the same time-frame. There is no trimmer control on the STRATO box to re-sync audio and pictures so there is no alternative but to take this one back to Comet as well.
Seconds out; Round Three.
You may be amazed at my persistence or astounded at my foolhardiness. You may attribute it to my natural stinginess. After all, any Freeview box with equivalent facilities that are on sale in the likes of Comet or Currys are at least £10 more expensive and in most cases double the price. Be that as it may, I see no reason why such a product should not work. Essentially the design of a Freeview tuner is not rocket science. Any competent manufacturer should be able to produce one.
Anyway, I decided to give it one more try but told Comet to expect me back for a full refund the same day if things didnt improve. They agreed to my demands. They also said that they had a stock replenishment that very day and that therefore there should be supplies from a new batch on the shelf. I made sure that it was one of these that I took away with me.
Once again I plugged it in. Once again the initial channel scan didnt work. Once again I had to initiate it from the main menu. Once again it found all of the channels I would have expected it to find.
Finally it started up and immediately it became obvious that the audio and the pictures were no more in sync than with the previous box. I confirmed this with the same echo check I performed before. Worse than that though, all of the channels appeared to be suffering audio or picture break-up as with the first box, although not quite as bad.
So, whats the verdict overall? Well, I have been less than impressed by the quality control demonstrated by the manufacturer. Using your customers to do your quality control for you is definitely not the recommended Marketing strategy. Siemssen Electronics should be thoroughly ashamed of putting on the market a product with such fundamental faults. That I didnt give up after the second faulty box and simply write a completely scathing review there and then is of no comfort.
As it is, they get just one star as there is absolutely no way that I can recommend any product that is demonstrably so unreliable. The only reason that I give them one star is that Dooyoo won't let me give them none. The only thing in its favour is the price and that is no advantage at all if the box doesn't work probably.
You have been warned.