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TV Converter Box Problems: A Look At The Digital Transition A Year Later

With the digital transition having come and gone quite some time ago we felt it was appropriate to report on how converter boxes have been working out for people and the news is not great. It's actually quite an unfortunate circumstance and it appears that a lot of electronics manufacturers took advantage of the fact that the transition was mandatory and the government was funding the purchase of converter boxes. These manufacturers knew that all they had to do was create a box that met the bare minimum features required to be accepted into the government coupon program and then watch the dollars roll in. The result was a lot of very low quality, cheap converter boxes that just met the minimum standards required by the government. And naturally consumers thought, if it's approved by the government it must be good right? Wrong! Many of these boxes have been horrible in terms of long term reliability due to how cheaply they were made.


We have been getting comments daily telling us about how certain converter boxes are broken or rarely work properly and this is quite troubling to us. It appears as though a lot of these electronics companies just put a piece of crap converter box together without extensive testing and then produced as many as possible as quickly as possible simply to make some quick cash off the government. These companies knew that people were getting coupons that allowed them to get the boxes for free and that these coupons would expired before anyone could compile true long term performance tests on their converter boxes. The result is that a bunch of people ended up purchasing crappy boxes that aren't lasting for the long haul.

Unfortunately now many Americans are left with cheap, broken converter boxes that no longer work or only work half the time. As a result these people are being forced to go out an spend their own money on new converter boxes only to have them be the same cheap ones as before and have them break again. This is of course because demand for converter boxes has dropped greatly and it's really hard to find one of the good ones in stock.

So the question begs to be answered then... What should Americans with these bad converter boxes do? The best solution we have is to save up your money and buy a new TV that has a digital tuner built into it. It may have to be small one if you are on a limited budget or perhaps you could find a used digital TV. Unfortunately if you can't afford a new TV you'll likely have to deal with a sub par converter box. That is of course unless you were one of the lucky ones that happened to purchase one of the best boxes.

We would like to hear from all of our readers in order to compile a list of converter boxes that are consistently working as they are suppose to and also a list of ones that aren't. In order to do this though we will need lost of comments because we of course can't rely on one persons experience with a converter box in order to categorize it either way.

I can say with strong certainty however that the Tivax STB-T8, Tivax STB-T9, Channel Master CM-7000, and all Dish Network converter boxes seem to be working quite well. We had a ton of readers purchase them through our recommended channels with very few of them contacting us to complain about their quality.

52 comments :

  1. I found your site very helpful and relevant as I am one of many consumers that now has to go out and buy a new digital TV converter box. I acquired the present one with the free government coupon. I have a perfectly functioning TV that unfortunately is analog, do not have cable nor a TV antenna.

    I did my research last year and decided on the INSIGNIA brand. However, the retailer, BEST BUY had sold out and highly recommended the APEX brand- model DT250. After 13 months it broke. I followed all the tips to fix and called the company who gave me an additional tip but it did not work. The cost to repair was $35.00.

    As now there are additional consumers ratings on-line on various brands,I found hundreds of consumers complaining about APEX DT250. I have filed a complaint with the FCC, as did some of the other consumers but do not anticipate that will do any good.
    Thank you for the info you provide on your site as it gives some degree of satisfaction that I was was not the only one duped.

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  2. I spent $80 on an Apex DT250A tv converter box. It lasted 4 months and now I will have to buy a different box. What junk!!

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  3. I had a Zinwell converter box with a timer. I can't remember the model number right now. It worked great for a year and quit working suddenly.

    To replace it, I bought an Access HD 1080U. It arrived in the middle of May and it quit working last night (6/8/10). I was changing the channel and the picture just turned fuzzy. Some channels are just barely visible in black and white with snow. Fortunately I should be able to get my money back.

    I would like to get a reliable box rather than just have to get rid of three analog TVs that are in perfect condition.

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  4. I bought three boxes from Radio Shack. Not sure what model or brand. (whatever was on the shelf)
    They are all three working fine. No problems so far.

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  5. Same here. I purchased an APEX DT250 from Best Buy with the government coupon. It lasted 8 months.

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  6. ApexDT250A- stopped working last night 10/11/10.

    Checked the batteries (low) changed, OK for 2 hrs then nothing again. All connections sound & rebooted. Shopping today for a better box. Thanks for the site.

    Hope others will share re: reputable, reliable DTV boxes.

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  7. i have a apex 250 it just broke and i called them they said it is out of warranty now i have to buy a new one

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  8. I bought an RCA DTA800 before the switch was made to digital. Didn't get a single channel so put it back in the box until the switch was complete. I still got nothing. Put it back in the box and forgot about it. I live in a rural area. Nearest "city" is 140 miles. I have an outdoor antenae and tried an indoor digital antenae with the converter box and my screen still says "low signal". Is this a problem with the box or my location? Before all this digital business came up I got at least one channel.

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  9. We thought that our 8 year old had broken the box. We were planin on buying a new one for chrismas, but thankfully we found ur website and now we are planing on buying a new tv with the tuner installed...... thanks

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  10. I bought both APEX DT250 (best buy) and the RCA DTA800 (walmart pre conversion). Biggest pieces of junk!!! Neither lasted 6 months, with half of the channels I had to begin with. Got a used Channel Master (cant find new boxes now), works like a dream.... so far. I miss fuzzy television, BOO digital!

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  11. my tv just up and stopped bringing in the channels ..i knew right away it had to be the convertor box which is a dolby digital tuner ..i got this with a coupon from the government ..i can not afford to buy another as i am on a fixed income..nor can i afford a new tv..i do feel this is a shame as a lot of seniors tvs are bringing up no data ..i dont know what to do ..if you have an answer for me..please let me know raewade1@hotmail.com..thank you

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  12. We bought the cheapest brand about a year ago, Coship N9901T last year. It lasted one year. I now have a big black square in the middle of my t.v.

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  13. I made sure I got two different brands, with the government coupons. Interesting that there was no mention whatsoever of a warranty...

    Don't even remember exactly when that was, but it was near the very end of the coupon program. Couldn't find the boxes in any store until then.

    One, CAX-03 -- that's all it says, no brand name -- quit working a month ago. I suppose I'll eventually open it up and see if I can fix it, but it just completely quit, no lights or anything.

    The Coship N9901T, so far, so good.

    I just have to vent a little. This whole thing is so very aggravating. I bought a nice little under-cabinet kitchen TV/CD player/radio just before the conversion. How come I didn't hear anything about the conversion?! Just after that, I was looking for a new TV, and only ONE sales person told me about the conversion, and he said he wasn't supposed to say anything...

    TV reception -- I live close-in in a suburb of a good-size city, and the reception is still really crappy. I hate to think about the people who live out in the country, who don't want to pay for cable!

    And how exactly did this conversion happen...? Cable companies pushed for it?

    T

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  14. My t.v shows channels but channel 5nbc has no volume and channel 8 has a tone, but the tone is another channel. Anybody know what this is?

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  15. We bought two converter boxes..cheapest we could find with the government coupons at the time of the switch from analog to digital..Both worked great until a day ago. Suddenly one of our tvs just stopped getting any kind of signal..I don't know if it's the antenna or the converter box that has the problem. Strange it would suddenly just quit working. We had around 14 channels and now nothing will come in...the other tv still has great signal. Any thoughts?

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  16. I can tell you that over the last month, my channel 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 5.1, 5.2, 9.1 and 9.2 have been in and out (mostly out), with most of time 4.1-3 not there at all. The best I have gotten is pixelated pix, and since we are attached to an outdoor antenna on our roof (we live in an apt. bldg on floor 1, and the roof is the 9th), there is nothing I can do about getting a new antenna. I also notice that when I watch a tv station, I get ghosts of my lobby (we have channel 3 connected to our lobby...btw, when I watch the lobby and the box is on "off" no problem. I have replaced the cable from the vcr to the converter box, and then the antenna cable from the wall to the box. Not much improvement at all. At this point, I am seriously considering getting a new flat-panel tv, and hope that this solves the problem. Why they had to switch from analog to digital is beyond me!

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  17. My APEX DT250A just died on me after a little more than a year of use. I called APEX and they said they had received calls about these boxes dying. The tech had one idea to try to salvage the box if it was a software problem, otherwise told me either I would need to fix it or replace it. BTW, APEX doesn't even keep a list anymore of repair shops, which I think gives you an idea of the confidence they have in repairing their own equipment!

    When the "coupon program" was available, it was hard to find the converters boxes in the stores - you had to take what you could find. I found and bought 2 different APEX models. (I was still dealing w/ Time/Warner cable but anticipated leaving their horrible service, so I didn't hook up the boxes immediately.) I don't know if my remaining model will be any better. It's doing funny things. The DT250A always ran "hot" and seemed like junk.

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  18. We have had 2 Apex DT502 models which have both now quit working. Thankfully they were purchased with the coupon, so I am not out a whole bunch of money. I definitely won't be buying that brand again. Also would like to add that I am very thankful for this site.

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  19. Hey everyone I found a fix for a problem with a magnavox dtv converter I took it apart and there is a wire on the pcb that says like SAFTY or SAFETY I cut that in the middle then there is a wire next to it that says like 2.5V I hooked that one up to one end of the cut wire I used a multi meter to find out which side to connect it to hook the ground of the multimeter to the ground of the coax cable connectors and touch the posative to one of the cut ends if it reads current thats the wrong wire the 2.5V goes to the other wire and bam the picture came up and its worked ever sense its some kind of protection that shuts it down after 4 hours it burned out somehow

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  20. My first APEX250 converter went out @ 13 months and just yesterday the second one went out after less than 2 years. Pieces of crap. Are there any good ones out there?

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  21. I just bought an Access HD less than a week ago for $50. This thing is not even worth $5. My TV volume is so low, I have to turn it up to around 35 and there is such loud buzzing you could go insane from it. After a couple of days, from 6 channels, now I only get 3, with freezing and pixelating, the picture also has a tweed like look to it. The unit runs very hot. It's going back to Best Buy. Just reading the comments on these boxes leads me to think I will have to buy new TV when the one I have is perfect, but analog.

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  22. I bought two Apex DT250's at the end of the coupon program. And both broke the same week. This is a bunch of crap. I'm on a fixed income and cannot afford a new tv or a converter box. They should have built these to last for a long time. Not to break down after the program ended.

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  23. I just had the RCA 800 burn out. Bought it with the gov't. coupons. I still have a second one on my bedroom TV and is still working at this point. The gov't always seems to find a way to bother the hell out of people with one thing or another. NOW it's another gov't shaft job with our televisions.

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  24. Apex System DT502 Digital TV Converter 2 yrs old. Remote very difficult to use, must be very close to box and pointing straight at it and sometimes that isnt enough to get response and requires several pushing button to work. Now it will not scan channels anymore and new developments takes 20 min for tv to have reception, wait with static, and the red power button on box will not turn off. Anyone else with same problems? We cannot afford to purchase another box. Very unhappy with this product.

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  25. Apex DT502 converter. Second Apex box I've purchased, started having problems couple weeks ago. I thought that I would keep trying to see if I could resolve problem. Long story short, sure enough same problem as 1st converter box. Problem: The remote control, yes tried new batteries, still was unable to communicate with the converter box. Just as others have mentioned. Just a simple command, on/off, the remote could not. Therefore it was obviously the Apex Equip. Called Apex, was given another co. # who now takes care of Apex. Representative said that yes, bec. it's within a year, parts are still under warranty, although labor is not, would have to pay $10 and shipping one way. Hope this helps!

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  26. I bought the APEX product too, not the DT250, but the DT502, and it just quit. For about a month, it took longer and longer to get signal or come to life. One day, it wouldn't come to life.

    I got 24 months out of mine, which sounds like a lot more that some of the stories above, but then, I don't watch much TV, so it's par for the course. Can't buy a flat TV for about a year yet, so will probably have to buy another converter box.

    Kansas City.

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  27. Mark asks: I have two APEX DT502 digital TV convertors. Both remotes died after a year or two. I have an RCA and ONE FORALL univeral remote. Does anyone know if there is a code to make a universal remote work on APEX DT502?

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  28. Apex DT502. It just died on me today. But before it died, the up down channel button would sometimes switch the channel in the wrong direction. If you went to a weak station, it would automatically rescan the converter. Then I'd have to remove the unwanted channels all over again.

    POS! This is NOT a piece of equipment with a lot of stress on it. A Digital TV converter should last at least 10 years.

    My Sony TV is over 12 years old and it's still working fine.

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  29. I purchased an Apex DT250 at Best Buy during several months after the original conversion deadline in 2008. Like one previous commenter, Insignia was my first choice, but the Apex was the only available brand in stock, so I figured it was probably reliable. I mistakenly thought, how complicated is it to engineer a reliable digital tuner in 2008? I also was compelled to purchase the unit because the government coupons were set to expire shortly.

    Like hundred of other consumers have voiced, my Apex DT250 has proven to be an unworthy lemon. More like a rotting lemon. First, the remote broke after only 11 months of use, and the company would not replace it or appease me. Cost plus shipping was nearly equal to the entire original product with the government discount. I vowed never to give business to this company after this unfair, abusive expense. Someone in defect heaven must have heard me.

    Two months ago, the unit stopped sending video output. Only by powering it up and off several times is there any chance of getting video and audio output. Usually the unit freezes up and becomes unresponsive to the remote, which is the only way possible to operate it. Only cutting all power to the Apex and repowering will restore any functionality of the remote.

    I need to get the converter box fixed for nothing or I will just toss it, go without network television, and stalk/harass the FCC until a class action suit is brought and refunds to all Apex DT250 purchasers is made. I have no intention of getting cable television. ApexDigital, Inc., and the FCC have made an enemy.

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  30. I got an Apex250 in September 2011 and Dec 2nd, 2011 the thing went out. It just sits on the TV, didn't fall get hit or anything it just died. This is awful that we are getting ripped this way. Why the hell did TV have to go to this anyway. What was the point?

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  31. just bought 3 hd access 1030`s from best buys ,none of them worked,took them back

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  32. I bought an Apex DT502, which lasted all of two years,before the remote control burned out on it. There is no other way to control the functions of the converter box without it. I wouldn't recommend this model/brand to anyone.

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  33. I have been using the DISH DTV Pal Plus for quite some time now (well before the actual conversion) and it still works well as far as signal. My only problem is about two months ago it started losing time, sometimes as much as 20 minutes a day. I do a lot of time shift recording and use the event timers daily. When setting channel changes I have to guesstimate how much time will be lost and adjust accordingly. I keep looking for a way to permanently fix this problem. When I turn it off for a few minutes it resets but I must remember to do so daily.

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  34. I have purchased 3 apex products since the conversion. One dt250 and two dt520s. Stiiiiiinks!!!! two stopped giving signals within 2 yrs. 3rd one still hamgn in there. Might as well have gotten cable.

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  35. I have Apex 250. Thought my tv went out. But after reading this blog I think it is the converter box. Guess I have to save up for a new TV. Not happy!

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  36. My name is Roy Bennett..i am on facebook..i think a class action law suit is in line here considering the goverments involvement and access bringing this complete junk like the dt1080 to the table.I also am in touch with Dolby labs on this issue.If enough people speak up maybe something will get done.They should all be recalled.And contacting them...forget it!this is the biggest ripoff in the US in a long time!

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  37. One bout 3 in the past year. Diffetent brands, all broke. All from best buy as well. I give up trying to watch tv. I think these thangs ate a scam! Big waste of money.

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  38. using any cheap Digital TV boxes or converter will surely give you problems in long run. To stay away from frequent problem and enjoy good quality go for any branded one, such as Sky digital TV

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  39. I bought an Apex DT502. It worked properly for about 2 years, then it began to require about 10 minutes to begin working after turning it on. Within a few weeks, it was taking about 20 - 30 minutes to begin working after turning it on. Now when it is turned on it may take up to 2 or 3 hours to begin, or, it just never brings in any reception at all. This is similar to other posters' experiences with this product.
    I guess I'll shop for another converter box, but it won't be an Apex !!!!!

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  40. I bought 2 magnavox (tb110mw9 & A) they both failed after a few weeks of use, but later they both worked starting from cold and fail when channel is changed, the tb110mw9 lasted 2hr when channel was changed, the tb110mw9A lasted 5min as a result of channel change--same defect, is there a way to correct this.
    Ken---KO6RK

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  41. I bought two (count 'em, two) Magnavox converter boxes in 2008 shortly before the big conversion to digital TV. I didn't have too much trouble connecting the boxes to the TV and VCR, although I was somewhat miffed because the FCC really should have told consumers to buy two different brands of converters, and I'll tell you why. When I wanted to program my VCR to record shows when I wasn't home during the evening, which was quite often, I could only record shows on one channel. In other words, if I wanted to record a show on NBC, followed by one on ABC, I had to choose one network--the one that the converter box was tuned to. Another hassle--it was virtually impossible to watch one program while recording another on a different channel.

    Be that as it may, the converter boxes worked well enough for a while. Then there was a power outage and I found that for some reason I could no longer record shows with my VCR. Every time I tried to set the converter to the channel I wanted to record, all I got was a bright blue screen. I was still able to watch TV as usual. Then about a month ago there was another power outage and this time the power was off for about three hours. When I tried to get the TV to work, I had a rough time and ended up having to disconnect and reconnect all of the equipment. (I had called customer support at Magnavox for help before I did that, but they weren't really able to solve the problem). I don't really understand what happened, but by the next morning I was able to watch all of the channels that came in before the power went out.

    Now here is the current dilemma. I noticed last week that the picture was "hiccuping." By that I mean that every 10 seconds or so the picture would freeze, and then jump ahead. I fussed around with the antenna for about an hour, and was able to get somewhat better reception, but it wasn't as good as it had been before. When I turned on the TV yesterday morning, none of the stations came in. The TV was working okay the night before and there was no one around who could have messed with it. I tried adjusting the antenna in various configurations, but was only able to bring two stations in, and even then, there were glitches with the reception, such as having the picture freeze and then skip ahead, or I would lose reception all together. Now I can't get anything in, although I have again tried to adjust the antenna, I checked to make sure the cables weren't loose. Basically, I've done everything I know how to do, except disconnect everything again and start over. My next step will be to call Magnavox, but I just wanted to vent my aggravation with these dumb converter boxes. The switch to digital TV couldn't have come at a worse time for me. I don't have cable because I can't afford it and I really can't afford to buy a digital TV either. I don't want to compromise and buy a little 19" or 24" set, although I was over at Walmart earlier today and I looked at the televisions. I am a staunch supporter of goods that are made in the U.S.A. and am very reluctant to purchase a set that was made in China or even Japan. As far as I can tell, no TVs are 100% U.S. made, although some might be assembled here. I'm not criticizing Magnavox because I don't know for sure if the converter box (or boxes) is to blame, or if it's something that I'm not doing right.

    So I'll just shut up and call Magnavox now.

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  42. I am on my second KCPI DT504 which was purchased at best buy and I think is made by the same people who make the APEX models. JUNK JUNK JUNK.... the first one stopped working the day after purchase and this one has stopped working 3 months later. Their website is horrible, there is no self help section, I know that their is a way to reset the box and they should post that up. The phone number that came with the unit for questions or help just stays busy, so its off the hook or the boxes are so bad everyone has to call in. A company like Best Buy should look into the products they sell.. check online before buying any converter box, I didnt and should have. Just google KCPI DT504

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  43. I have a RCA800 that I kept on a shelf until needed. I bought it from Walmart, worked good for about 7 months, then wouldn't turn on anymore. I replaced it with another newer model of the same RCA converter box hoping that RCA had changed the design to fix the problem, it has a separate 12V power supply where the old model had a 120v plug...well see! I have been using it for about 1 month so far and all is well. Wish I had seen this site first before buying another!!

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  44. I have had my two converter box's sdtv-magnavox brand since they came out. My one in the living still works, but like someone else had said I have to have the volume cranked on certain channels. My one in the bedroom has been acting funny for awhile. At first it was putting a black bar across the middle of the screen. About 2wks ago I would turn the box on and it would immediately turn off. I swaped the two converters to see if it was my tv. Of course its the junk of a converter box! Just insane that I will now have to go in my pocket to get a new one. From the looks of it doesn't sound like its promising that if I purchase another that it will work in the long run. Government is ridiculous for this!

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  45. (Read on for a fix for some Apex converters.)

    I've lost a RCA digital TV converter and an Insignia digital TV converter, both purchased with coupons, both are dead and I think they both have problems with the main ball grid chip.

    I paid $20 on top of the coupon for the Insignia as it was the only one in stock at the time I got my coupons, I then got the RCA latter for $10 over the coupon both units barely made it a year before dying.

    I picked up a used Apex converter, it also went out recently, but I spotted two blown 470uF caps, one on the power supply board and one on the main board. The tops of the caps were bulged and split on the safety crimps.

    These things run hot and that seems to be the real problem.

    If you try to fix an Apex with blown caps, you need to replace the blown ones with high temp replacement caps.

    I am shutting the Apex off at night, so it stays cool, which should keep the caps from blowing for a while anyway.

    On most converters though you would have to unplug the power as they don't really shut off.

    The Apex is one of the few that shuts off the main power and only has a low current rail like on a PC power supply so its cools down when shut off unlike the rest of the junk.

    I'm also thinking of installing a small fan such as one like the PC motherboard chip sets use, or those on old GPU cards, they are small around 1.5inchs across.

    Anyway I hope the idea about replacing the two 470uf caps on the Apex to revive it works for a few of you.

    If you can do the soldering, its only gona cost a couple of bucks at most. I paid $1.80 for 10 high temp caps and shipping.

    Overall digital TV converter boxes are just made to fail, I figure manufacturers are trying to force people to have to buy a new one every year, or get an expensive new wide screen TV.

    We should get an organization to lobby these companies to give people free replacements for these junk converter boxes they have pawned off on us. Occupy RCA, Insignia, Apex

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  46. my apex dt502 went out after 8 months. the signal progressively took longer and longer to recieve and finally nothing . an experienced diy'er posted a fix concerning a capacitor that typically goes bad -costs about $1.50 at radio shack,can't rtemember where i saw the post. also, after repair i put a couple of 3/4" woon spacers under the unit to increase cooling because the unit runs hot .

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  47. Got the insignia ns-dxa1 when they were giving out the rebate coupons whenever that was (can't remember) plugged it in and NEVER turned it off. It's been on 24/7 for those years! It finally died last night. :(

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  48. If you replace the blown capacitors in the Apex, and then leave off the cover, the unit can be left on 24/7 with no problem. The cover keeps in the heat.

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  49. My APEX converter box is also dying. Last week it took 5 min. to come on, then 15, now 35. The remote doesn't do the number two, or back or "up" channel buttons. I've had the black box that partly cover certain channels, (PBS), sometimes, (putting it on closed captioning stops that btw.) It's clearly going down, and I can't afford a new one too soon. Maybe I'll just watch Hulu and Youtube - I'm sick of the news anyway, and radio failed to be good long ago (in San Francisco)

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  50. I'm on my second digital box I just got it worked fine for a hour then stated scrambling up on me I got it at Walmart and it a RCA going back and trade it in for another on hope this will do it

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  51. I purchased two Philco model#TB100HH9 converter boxes when the "switch over" occurred with Gov't coupon. This was the only box available in my small town (a hundred miles from anywhere). Both boxes have been working fine all these years with no problems.

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  52. My original Access HD converter bxes,purchased with government coupons worked for a short time, then started to take a long time for picture to come in, overheated and then nothing. Earlier this year my son brought me an Insignia TV, an RCA amplified antenna and a KCPI DT504 converter box. I was so happy, got lots of channels, good pictures too, then suddenly could not receive so many channels, re-scanned and re-scanned, that helped sometimes. Then could only get a few channels, the remote stopped working basically. Cannot get the guide or change channels, the up down buttons do not work, cannot key in a channel, or anything. After rescanning again and again I can get 2 or 3 channels, otherwise a blank screen. I have been forced to use the off button, which works fine so I use it often. I agree a class action suit should be brought against thezse companies.

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