Are you one of a (ever diminishing) group of people who haven't gone to High Definition television yet? Do you consider it wasteful to ditch your old TV -- which is still working perfectly -- by purchasing a plasma or LCD?
Here the perfect compromise: The Akai AD181X High Definition Digital Set Top Box with PVR Function.
How can this work for you? Let us show you.
First some general background info
The AD181X allows you to receive free-to-air digital broadcasts in both standard and high definition. It will allow you to receive channels you may not already be receiving, give you an improved signal, better picture quality and the ability to program up to a theoretical 1,000 channels!
The Akai AD181X has HDMI output for a great HD – albeit only 1080i -- experience and supports Component and Composite output.
But here's the good bit: With the AD181X you can record any program straight to a USB storage device. More about this later.
Since we're reviewing this box here in Australia the following may not apply in your area.
What is Freeview?
Freeview is the free digital television service in Australia. It comprises all the channels from Australia's free-to-view broadcasters, including the ABC, SBS, SEVEN, NINE, TEN, Southern Cross, Prime, WIN - up to 15 channels. In addition to the standard definition and high definition channels already on offer, each of the published broadcasters and commercial television networks have launched addition digital channels. This includes 24 hours sport on ONE HD, more of the world's best stories on SBS TWO, more dramas, comedies and documentaries on ABC2, 7 HD, 9 HD and a new entertainment channel for the young and young at heart on GO.
Obviously, whether you can receive any of the above really depends on where you live. In my neck of the woods we can only get 4 channels: ABC, SBS, and the regional channels GWN and WIN. These last two don't have digital broadcasts but both the ABC and SBS have multiple channels.
So what does a Digital Set Top Box do? It allows you to receive and decode digital terrestrial television transmissions into a form suitable for display on analogue TVs, computer monitors and projectors. Analogue TV sets currently in use in Australia cannot display digital transmissions on their screens without being connected to such a digital TV set top box receiver. A Set Top Box usually has a host of features including high resolution, software upgrade (via PC), automatic and manual channel search, parental control and excellent HD picture quality.
The AKAI AD181X is a simple box to set up. Except when you have already a couple of other boxes hanging off your old TV, like a satellite PVR and a DVD recorder...
I could make it work on my 68cm Panasonic but it became real messy to get the other units working as well. The old TV just doesn't have enough connectivity possibilities at the back!
I hooked it up to a Kogan LCD TV in the bedroom. Here we could use the HDMI port for best picture quality and it made a massive difference in viewability! In all, the Auto Search on the unit came up with 10 digital channels (some duplicates there as well) and a couple of digital radio stations.
This TV is the third television feeding off 1 external antenna so reception by now is pretty dodgy. However, the AKAI really surprised me with excellent reception for the digital channels! On the other hand the reception for the analogue channels seems to have further deteriorated. Also I have to crank up the volume much more through this setup.
Recording is a cinch if you just press the Record button. You can also do it through the EPG (Electronic Program Guide) but it's a bit more involved. In fact, AKAI would do well to revamp the User Interface a bit.
An 8GB USB drive only holds a good 2 hrs of raw video. Just enough for one movie so transfer to a PC is highly recommended. Next hurdle will be to convert PVR files to something your computer can handle...
I have found that WinMenc will do the trick once you rename the .pvr files to .ts for encoding. Bit of a chore if you want to play the video recordings on your notebook rather than on the AKAI which is a lot easier.
This AKAI has only one tuner which means that you can't watch another channel than the one you're watching. In my household we love to have that option as often the best programs are on at the same time on different channels.
People have been dissing the unit for some recording issues. There have been firmware fixes for those. Just make sure you've got the latest firmware. Speaking of recordings: the unit is not set up for recording to a hard drive (yet?). Again, in forums folks have tried to hook up HDDs without much success whilst USB flash drives and SD cards in a USB adapter present no problems. I have tried it too without success. It will come back with a message that the HD is full every time.
The power cord is way too short. Trying to save 10 cents on the cost of the unit, AKAI? Really, a simple thing like that limits the flexibility of where you can put this thing without resorting to extension cords.
And more flexibility can be gained by also having a USB recording port at the back of the unit – out of sight.
The digital picture quality is truly amazing compared to the restless flickering graininess of the analogue signal. The improvement is such that these days I practically only watch the digital channels. Quick and easy recordings are a real boon as well.
Yes, we'd love twin tuners and maybe a built-in hard drive but you can't argue with the price: there's a lot of viewing pleasure that can be had for the RRP of less than $150 Aussie. Much less if you hunt around for a bargain.
• Allows you to receive free-to-air digital broadcasts in both standard definition and high definition
• Record directly to a USB storage device
• Fully compliant with DVB-T and H.264, AVC, MPEG4,MPEG2 Standard
• Supports EPG, Display Present/ Next TV Programme
• Supports HDMI, Component and Composite output
• SPDIF Coaxial Output
• HDMI(up to 1080i) Output
• PAL and NTSC Auto Switch
• Auto / Manual scan
• 1000 channels
• Parent Control
• This unit works for both Australia and New Zealand Digital Broadcasting Networks.
• High Definition Support: 1920 x 1080i, 1920 x 720p, 720 x 576p, 720 x 576i
• Video Output Support: HDMI, Component and Composite output
• Support: FAT32 file system
• Support external hard drive upto 2Tb
• Photo Format: JPG, BMP, GIF
• Audio Format: MP3, WMA, WAV
• Video Format: MPEG1 (VCD), MPEG2 (VOB), DIVX 5, XVID, AVI
• Advanced HD AVC/MPEG-2/VC-1 decoder
• Advanced audio processor reporting Dolby Digital
• Frequency Range: VHF-H - 174~230MHz; UHF - 470~860MHZ
• Dimensions: (W) 27cm x (D) 16.5cm x (H) 3.7cm
• Model: AD181X
• Brand: Akai
• Akai AD181X High Definition Set Top Box
• Composite AV cable
• Remote control
• 2 x AAA batteries for remote control
• User manual