You may have seen the commercials about this “magical black box” that’s supposed to change the way you watch your TV, but what is ABS-CBN TVplus exactly? Well, I bought one to find out and here’s my review.
In the era of internet and widescreen digital smart TVs, over-the-air (OTA) TV broadcasts in the Philippines still remain in the analog 4:3 format. While analog broadcasts still do work well, their quality isn’t always the best. The source is low resolution compared to digital broadcasts and signal isn’t always great so even if you have the most expensive and advanced TV money can buy, analog OTA TV is your last resort. ABS-CBN TVplus is supposed to make TV watching much more pleasant by making pictures much clearer.
Digital broadcasts has been around in the country for many years now but the standards (ISDB-T) had not been defined by National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) until the middle of 2010 so unless your digital TV (DTV) is sold recently, chances are it’s incompatible and is using the former DVB-T standards the broadcasters used before the announcement. Analog broadcasts are supposed to end by the end of this year (11:59PM December 31, 2015) but it seems that it has been postponed to 2020. So the closest thing we currently have to DTV would be though the ABS-CBN TVplus.
ABS-CBN TVplus is actually a DTV receiver and a really simple box. You just attach your antenna (labelled “ANT IN”) and connect the supplied RCA cables to your TV. There’s also a USB port in the front but it’s currently only used for software updates. Speaking of which, software updates are normally received OTA. I’ve managed to receive an OTA software update on my initial use of ABS-CBN TVplus and I was actually surprised how fast it was! No internet connection or Wi-Fi required.
I got my ABS-CBN TVplus from an appliance center and the sales person was very honest on what it can and cannot do. I admit I was a little disappointed with the quality as when I think of DTV I immediately think HD and the output of ABS-CBN TVplus clearly is not, but I still got one otherwise because OTA TV signal on our ground floor was not good so we’re missing some channels, ABS-CBN in particular. Compared to using just an antenna, ABS-CBN TVplus really does receive OTA TV signals much better so the missing channels were back, but there are also channels that I also lost!
Here are the channels that I can receive in north Quezon City with our ABS-CBN TVplus (in order of appearance):
TVplus Xtra Channel
GMA NEWS TV
BEAM SD 1
BEAM SD 2
BEAM SD 3
Notice that the stations do not appear as they do typically (i.e., 2 for ABS-CBN, 5 for TV5, 7 for GMA, etc.) and there are channels that you don’t receive OTA. Interestingly, I was only able to receive some of these channels after texting a keyword to a specific number (as shown on screen) using the supplied ABS-CBN Mobile. Looking back at the list closely, did you notice the missing channels? Those that I’m missing are:
Most of the UHF channels (21 and above)
I retried a few times to do a full scan but I really was not able to successfully receive these stations. I even used our roof antenna to no avail. One probable reason is that these channels are not yet broadcasting in the DTV frequency, or those that do are not in range.
According to Wikipedia, we currently have these DTV stations available OTA:
Eagle Broadcasting Corp. (NET25)
When it comes to the promise of delivering clearer pictures, ABS-CBN TVplus really delivered. I got ABS-CBN clearly with just the supplied antenna whereas I wasn’t able to before using this device. In fact, all the stations that it was able to receive was much clearer than the just the OTA analog reception. But like any OTA signals, it may still suffer from poor reception. When it does, you may expect the picture to freeze or sometimes have that sharp squeaky sound like you’re watching a scratched DVD or VCD. The supplied antenna is pretty good but it can only do so much with whatever signal it receives.
Clearer picture quality over analog OTA broadcasts
Relatively inexpensive (SRP ₱2,500) with no recurring costs (aside from electricity of course)
Supplied antenna is compact but good and comes with a long cable (5 meters) and has a base made of magnet for easy and fixed placement on metal surfaces
Additional free and exclusive channels
OTA software update
Output is not optimized for modern TVs (still 4:3 by default and not HD)
Audio volume on the softer side
Box gets a bit hot during operation
Box is inoperable without remote
Overall, I could say that ABS-CBN TVplus is a good buy if OTA analog TV broadcasts is your only source, especially if your reception is a bit poor. It has its limitations though, but it really improves on what it has. The “missing” channels though are a bit of a letdown especially that there are good channels missing. But you can always use your free antenna as a workaround to get these channels back (reverting to analog OTA broadcasts). What you can’t escape though is its analog output. You may have the most expensive and sophisticated TV but your only option to connect is through RCA cables. Nonetheless, using it is still better than just your plain antenna. The additional channels may be worth considering too!