Review: Mediasonic Homeworx HW180STB HDTV Digital Converter Box with Recording
If you're like me and are joining the cord cutting movement, you'll notice an immediate benefit in your bank account the way cable providers prices continue to get more outrageous every year. But is it worth it, and can you still get similar benefits and conveniences?
Before you dive in
First off, let me make several things clear. This is a digital tuner meant to receive free, over the air broadcasts. It also isn't technically a DVR, as it doesn't include a built in hard drive or memory. However, with the purchase of two accessories you'll be good to go at a price cheaper than a standard DVR, and much cheaper than renting one from a cable provider every month.
The first thing you'll need is an antenna. Your safest bet is a newer antenna made specifically for digital, as two older antennas I've tried don't work. This will plug into the coaxial input on the box. Depending on your area a small table top antenna may suffice, while some places may require a medium sized one in the window, or even a larger one on your roof. A good place to check is on the FCC's website which has a map for every area code, telling you the viability of over the air programming and which stations come in best in your area. While cable channels can't be found for free, many others can such as ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CW, MeTV, PBS, ION, Qubo, QVC and many others.
The second thing you'll need is some memory to record on. Virtually any USB flash drive will do, but to avoid inconvenience by running out of space, I recommend going for a larger capacity. I bought a 64GB SanDisk USB drive from Amazon and this provides me with about 16 hours of HD recording, even more in standard definition. Just plug it in the back of the box and it's ready to use. A word of caution: Both eBay and Amazon are flooded with thumb drives and SD cards that promise very large amounts of memory for unbelievably low prices. The vast majority of these are really low capacity drives that have been hacked to display a larger amount when inserted. They will appear to work, but once the data goes over the real amount it will be lost forever. A good rule of thumb, no pun intended? Buy only brand names at logical prices.
Once your antenna is in place, the flash drive inserted, the box plugged in and the channels scanned and coming in (see directions) the device functions in a pretty straightforward way. The remote control takes a little getting used to, as some of the buttons and their use for different functions aren't always readily obvious, but there's no question that the manual doesn't answer. To record programs it isn't necessary to set an internal clock, as it already knows the shows and what times they're on from the over the air metadata. This is convenient for power outages or simply unplugging the box, as resetting a clock won't be necessary. An on screen guide shows the names of shows, when they're on and sometimes a description. Simply click on the show to have the option of recording it. If you know that a program will run overtime, you can always manually adjust the timer by the minute. Shows can be set to record daily or weekly, or you don't have to set a timer at all if you just want to press record and stop manually. HD shows will record in full HD 1080p without copy protection, so your recordings can be backed up and saved.
The bottom line
I've been using this box for almost a year and it still works fine. I much prefer it to DVD recorders, which don't record in HD, and I'm glad to cut another cost from the budget. I'd call it a good investment, but at less than $30 it barely qualifies. Definitely worth it.