Week 43, 2016: Internal and external HDTV tuners, Asus ZenBeam E1


Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 43, 2016

Q. I have a cabin in the middle of nowhere and we use a big outdoor antenna to receive TV. Our old TV died and we replaced it with a 39″ Vizio. We now can no longer get all the stations we did before. Which of the new TVs has the best tuner?

-D.F., St. Cloud, MN

A. I don’t know of any tests or ratings of the tuners in individual TVs. Buying a premium TV from a company like LG, Samsung or Sony might get better results, but there is no way to know for sure without trying it in your specific situation.

Before you buy a new TV, why not try an external tuner, like the Mediasonic HomeWorx  HW-150PVR or HW180STB? Both work as a tuner and digital video recorder that record full high definition programming to external USB drives. Just connect it to your TV and antenna, scan for channels and you are all set. You can also manually tune channels not found by autoscan. Selling for between $25 and $35 online, they are some one of the best values in electronics. The interface and operation are not state-of-the art, but once you learn your way around the menus and remote you will be able to tune, record and watch pretty easily.

Combine it with a $40 antenna and a $20 64 GB USB stick and you have a system that can receive and record over-the-air HD video for under $100. It’s a nice combination to use with this week’s holiday product highlight, detailed below.

Asus ZenBeam E1: The Asus ZenBeam E1 is a pocket video projector with an HDMI port, built-in speaker and a 5-hour battery. It sells for only $249 and has an LED light source so there are no expensive lamps to replace. These specifications alone make it noteworthy, but what makes the ZenBeam E1 special is the picture quality, which is surprisingly good given its size and price.

The ZenBeam E1 has WVGA resolution, which is between standard definition and high definition. Given this it can’t compete with the sharpness of a 720p or 1080p projector. You won’t worry about that when you see the big, bold projected image, then remember it was under $250 and you will never have to change any expensive lamps. The ZenBeam picture looks natural, has good color and provides 100% of the immersive quality that makes projection so addicting. I used it to watch Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” and the dark scenes were rendered with exactly the right atmosphere, and the scenes of the castle in the mountain were gorgeous. Just remember that though the ZenBeam E1 works with some ambient light, the darker the room, the better off you will be.

The ZenBeam E1 works well with lots of other devices. Connect a $30 OontZ Angle 3 speaker to the headphone jack and plug a $39 Amazon Fire Stick into the HDMI port to create a tiny streaming theater that can throw a 120-inch image with clear sound, all for around $300. Connect a HomeWorx DVR/HDTV tuner and antenna to enjoy the big game just like they would at a sports bar. You can also use it with MHL-compatible Android smartphones and tablets (check to see if your device supports MHL) and iPhones and iPads with the Apple Lightning to HDMI adapter. Of course, DVDs and Blu-ray are great, too.

Given the sub-HDTV resolution I don’t view the ZenBeam E1as a replacement for a TV or high-def projector, but it is tremendous fun and brings the movie experience home. See it at http://tinyurl.com/asuszenbeam (direct product link) or asus.com.