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Zenith HD-SAT520 DirecTV HDTV Receiver - My Quick Review


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#1 of 18 Brajesh Upadhyay

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Posted November 13 2002 - 03:03 AM

I setup my Zenith 520 last night. Great box! I'm upgrading from the Hughes E86, so my comparions will mostly be w/this box. But, I've previosuly also owned the RCA DTC100, Toshiba DST3000 (same box as E86) & Samsung SIR-T150. My display is the Panasonic 53WX42 HD-ready RPTV, ISF calibrated.

Setup
When I first hooked up the 520 & went through the initital setup, the box didn't show any DirecTV channels. I re-checked everything in the menu, but found no way to enable DirecTV channels there. I unplugged the box & reconnected it after a minute. Voila! -- OTA & DirecTV channels recognized. Total setup time was less than 1/2 hour, including calling DirecTV to register the new box. The DirecTV rep was excited about my box, asking where I got it & what I paid Posted Image

Performance
Picture quality is fabulous! Better than all the other HD boxes I've tried (see above). HDNet & HBO-HD picture quality made my jaw drop! Standard OTA & DirecTV upconversion is very good. I can still see DirecTV's damn over-compression artifacts, but the picture is a lot more palatable now. The Guide is very fast. Channel changing is also pretty fast, but the audio seems to take a second to catch up. The Dolby Digital optical output quality is fine. S-video output quality looks better than the E86.

Features
Love the single-button click signal meter. It's user-friendly, but wish it would stay up until I decide to close it. The channel banner can be set to go away quicker (& it does so quicker than the E86), but I'd have preferred it go away even quicker. The program info on the channel banner doesn't seem to be as good as the E86; it shows "Regular Programming" (especially for most OTA channels) while the E86 was more informative. I like the channel ID display on the LED on the box. The Panorama stretch mode is pretty good like others with the Sony HD200 have mentioned, but I prefer having black bars on the sides & keeping the 4:3 aspect ratio intact. You can add many more 'Quick Surf' channels than the E86. I see the 520 has a function to power-up & tune to a specified program in the Guide in the future, but I don't know yet if it powers off after the program is over. The timer function on the E86 is definitely better as it also let you set custom start/stop times. The 520 excels when it comes to connectivity with component video (what I'm using), DVI, RGB, S-video, composite & RF. Aesthetically, it's the nicest looking HD box I've seen.

Conclusion
Where it counts (picture quality, connectivity, ease of use & aspect ratio control), the Zenith 520 is definitely the best HD box I've yet used. Compared to the E86, I felt a little shortchanged on features (timer, channel info.). I'm keeping the 520 as my only STB. Overall, it's a winner!

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#2 of 18 Kenny C

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Posted November 13 2002 - 03:47 AM

I am glad you like it. I just order one today and hopefully I can hook it up to my new Toshiba 65HDX82 TV coming in tomorrow.

Hopefully hooking it up will be as painless as your experience.

Thanks for the review.

Kenny

#3 of 18 Steve Schaffer

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Posted November 13 2002 - 01:14 PM

Brajesh,

I have the Tosh box now and like everything except the 480i to 1080i upconversion. Having to switch to 480i output and switch the tv to an S-video input is a pain.

If it's not too much trouble I would like to ask a couple of questions about the Zenith box.

It's my understanding that the Zenith's upconversion is much better and that it can also upconvert 480i to 480p instead of 1080i and pass it via component cables. Have you had a chance to play around with this and what gives the best results for 480i stuff? Can the conversion be changed via the remote or is it necessary to flip a switch on the box?

I've also read that the Zenith/HD200 does a better job of receiving marginal local ota digital signals, and was wondering if you could verify this.

What configuration are you using for 480i and is it significantly better than the E-86/Tosh boxes?
Steve S.
I prefer not to push the subwoofers until they're properly run in.

#4 of 18 Brajesh Upadhyay

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Posted November 14 2002 - 02:22 AM

Steve, the Zenith 520's upconversion is definitely better than any HD box I've ever used. There's no physical switch on the box to flip between 480p/720p/1080i -- it's done via the menu. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to play with some of the things you asked about much. I used to record via s-video from my E86 to my Panny DVD recorder. The 520's s-video quality is better (not as grainy, more of a solid picture & less edge-enhancement).

Re: OTA reception, the 520 is a little more sensitive than the E86 & Samsung 150. While the E86 exhibited macroblocking, freezing & pixellating on three weak channels in my area, the 520 is noticeably more stable on those channels (even though the signal meter reads "Bad" on reception).

Try here for more reviews of the 520.

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#5 of 18 Steve Schaffer

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Posted November 14 2002 - 01:51 PM

Thanks Brajesh-really appreciate the feedback. I'm looking for an excuse to go with the Zenith/Sony box over my current Toshiba--trying to justify spending another $700 or so now vs sticking with what I have until my dream box is available--that being an HD-capable PVR/stb for under 1k.
Steve S.
I prefer not to push the subwoofers until they're properly run in.

#6 of 18 Brajesh Upadhyay

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Posted November 15 2002 - 03:34 AM

Quote:
my dream box ... an HD-capable PVR/stb for under 1k.
Posted Image Me too! Dish is supposed to release their HD PVR921 2nd quarter 2003. I'd like DirecTV to do the same, but it may be a while. I'm hoping we'll have more HD timeshifting options by this time 2003.
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#7 of 18 Brajesh Upadhyay

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Posted November 15 2002 - 05:23 AM

Correction: Changing between 480p/720p/1080i is done via a button on the unit's front panel, not the Menu. Guess Zenith didn't really learn its lesson from their previous DTV1080.
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#8 of 18 BruceSpielbauer

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Posted November 15 2002 - 01:27 PM

>>> Correction: Changing between 480p/720p/1080i is done via a button on the unit's front panel, not the Menu. Guess Zenith didn't really learn its lesson from their previous DTV1080. <<<

There is a button on the remote labeled: "SD/HD" This button _partially_ accomplishes what Zenith promised to fix. Pressing it selects the output resolution to one of SD (480i format) and pre-selected HD format (which might be 480p, 720p, 1080, or "native" or "hybrid 1" or "hybrid 2," depending on what you have selected on the switch on the front panel. Some have claimed that it cycles through 480i, 1080i, and a thrid choice: whatever format you chose on the front panel. I am not at my box, so I cannot check this at the moment.

So, it appears that Zenith moved the button to the front panel, and moved PART of the functionality of that button onto a separate button on the remote. A bit of a disappointment. I will have to see how often it requires me to actually get up from my recliner, to report how much of a disappointment this is.

After 4 1/2 hours of viewing, though, I am overall thrilled with the box.

-Bruce in Chi-Town

#9 of 18 MikeM

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Posted November 17 2002 - 04:16 PM

Hi Brajesh, thanks for the review.

Does the 520 come with a cable for DVI connection?

Just wanted to know exactly what comes in the box, thanks!

#10 of 18 BruceSpielbauer

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Posted November 18 2002 - 04:01 AM

>>>Does the 520 come with a cable for DVI connection? <<<

No, it does not. You would have to buy the cable separately, should you decide to use the DVI.

Reportedly, the new Sony Direct TV HDTV decoder does include a DVI cable. This Sony is a virtual clone of the Zenith, with very few differences (the only three I have heard of are a 1.) different faceplate, 2.) a completely different remote, and 3.) the inclusion of the DVI cable.

There is another possible difference, regarding the button on the remote that lets you switch from standard def and high def (the Zenith version calls it "SD / HD" One user claimed on the Sony that his remote control allowed him to cycle through ALL of the available formats. The Zenith remote control is limited to 480i and which ever high def format you have already selected with the button on the front panel. However, this entire area is still in question. The Sony may not have this added feature. I am still waiting for an answer.

>>Just wanted to know exactly what comes in the box, thanks! <<<

On ther Zenith, I did not even look at the various cables, since I knew I was using my own. I think there was a component cable, and regular audio video cables, and maybe an S-Video cable. There was not a digital optical (Toslink), as I recall noticing a note to that effect in the manual.

-Bruce in Chi-Town

#11 of 18 MikeM

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Posted November 18 2002 - 09:07 AM

Bruce, thanks for the detailed reply. That's exactly the information I was looking for.

Since I will be using DVI if I decide to get this box, it's worth noting so I can buy it separately so I'd have everything setup at the time of purchase. Thanks again.

#12 of 18 Brajesh Upadhyay

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Posted November 19 2002 - 02:18 AM

Hey Mike, here's link to the manual if it helps.
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#13 of 18 Kenny C

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Posted November 19 2002 - 04:04 AM

Brajesh,

Do you think I should connect my 520 via DVI to my Tosihba 65HDX82 ? Will i noticed a better picture ?

Does anyone know where to get a good DVI cable ?

Thanks

#14 of 18 Brajesh Upadhyay

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Posted November 19 2002 - 04:35 AM

Kenny, I'd use DVI if I had a DVI-equipped display like you. From what I've read @ avs, people who compared component vs. DVI didn't detect any real noticeable difference in picture quality. Both looked great. Maybe a large front projection system would shows a difference. In theory, DVI should be better because the signal is digital all the way.
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#15 of 18 Kenny C

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Posted November 19 2002 - 01:47 PM

Thanks Brajesh. I will save my money unless someone here can change my mind.

Thank you

#16 of 18 BruceSpielbauer

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Posted November 19 2002 - 02:48 PM

>>>In theory, DVI should be better because the signal is digital all the way. <<<

I know it seems as if this should be true, but I have heard repeatedly that it is not. Also, that the Firewire IEEE1394 is also no better, nor no worse, when it comes to the actual picture quality. There was a techno-type who explained why this is awhile back, on this forum, if you want to do a search.

-Bruce in Chi-Town
(Had firewire once, then I saw a doctor...)

#17 of 18 Lucas Dang

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Posted May 22 2003 - 07:24 PM

Ok, so who can tell me the best place and price or what you paid so I know for referrence. thanks

#18 of 18 Bill Lucas

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Posted May 23 2003 - 01:15 AM

The Sony allows selection of any HD output resolution from the remote. As noted, the Zenith does not. The Zenith does toggle between the last used HD output resolution and 480i via the remote. For 99.9% of you this should not be an issue. You should be watching the output resolution that most closely matches the native resolution of your set. IOW, if you have a 720p front projector you should be watching 720p because overall there will be less artifacting (i.e. the projector is seeing a signal that is wants to see and there is no need for the projector to alter the signal). Most RPTVs are only going to accept 1080i anyway so choices are very limited. Regards.