External TVBox Lets You Create Your Own HDTV

You don’t have to buy a new television to get a new HDTV, according to KWorld. Its new External ATSC/QAM TVBox HDMI Edition (SA295-Q DE) can turn your existing LCD monitor into a fully functional high-definition television, with no computer required. The $109 device suffers from a few flaws, including a sub-par remote control, but it’s a cost-effective way to get your very own HDTV.

Initially, the External TVBox may sound like any old HDTV tuner, and it does work like many external TV tuners in some respects. It can connect to your computer, allowing you to use its monitor for viewing HDTV content.

But KWorld’s device does more than that. Because it doesn’t require a computer to run, it can be used to turn a standalone LCD monitor into an HDTV. So, if you happen to have a spare LCD monitor, you can turn it into an affordable HDTV.

The TVBox is bigger than your average USB-based TV tuner card; it’s closer in size to a paperback book. But it’s sleek design is attractive, and the device will fit in nicely next to a flat-panel TV. It works with any monitor that has a DVI, HDMI or VGA connector. (A $99 version, called the SA290-Q LE, offers many of the same features, but lacks the HDMI connection.)

All of the cables and adapters you’ll need are in the box — and then some. That’s why opening the box can be a bit overwhelming. The meager user guide doesn’t provide a whole lot of actual guidance, so the setup was more confusing than it should have been. I first tried connecting the TVBox to my Windows Vista PC, where it should, conceivably, act as both a TV tuner and a switch that allows me to move back and forth between viewing TV content and content on my computer. (A button on the remote allows you to switch back and forth between both views.) But I was left fumbling with cords and adapters, and wasted the better part of an hour trying to get it to work.

I had much better, and faster, results when I used the TVBox as a standalone HD tuner for an extra LCD monitor I had at home. I connected to the monitor using the included DVI to HDMI cord, plugged it in, and turned it on. I used the included over-the-air antenna, which found about two-dozen stations. The channel scan completed quickly, and within minutes I was watching TV — and enjoying a surprisingly excellent picture. Picture quality was as good as the HD picture I regularly see when using my Verizon FiOS set-top tuner box. I watched TV for a couple of hours (hey, it’s my job!) and noticed only occasional pixilation and blockiness. Overall, image quality was superb.

The TVBox also supports ClearQAM channels, so you can connect a cable line-in (you’ll find the necessary port on the back of the TVBox) to gain access to unencrypted digital cable channels without a cable box — but you’ll need cable service. I was able to gain access to almost 200 channels this way, but found many of them confusingly named and some weren’t actually available for viewing. Picture quality on the stations I could see, though, was as good as when using the antenna.

The image quality alone is reason enough to buy the TVBox. Sadly, though, the dinky remote control is almost enough to warrant leaving this product on a store shelf. It feels flimsier than I’d like, but that’s not as problematic as its poorly labeled buttons. The TVBox’s on-screen menu kept telling me to press an “OK” button. Too bad the remote doesn’t actually have a button labeled “OK.” What it does have, though, is an oddly designed set of rockers for moving up and down through the channels and adjusting the volume. The remote also failed to work unless I aimed it squarely at the TVBox.

If you’re looking for a PC-based external HDTV tuner, KWorld’s External TVBox isn’t the best fit. It’s harder to use than any USB-based TV tuner I’ve tested; one of those devices offers a much simpler way to get HDTV content on your computer. And most USB-based TV tuners come with some sort of software that allows you to turn your PC into a DVR; the KWorld device does not. But, if you’re looking for a way to turn an LCD monitor into an HDTV on the cheap, the TVBox is the way to go. For this task, it’s easy to use and delivers excellent image quality.