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-inch Vizio. We now can no longer get all the stations we did before. Which of the new TVs has the best tuner?
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 invest in 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 also can manually tune channels not found by autoscan. 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.
Selling for between $25 and $35 online, they are some of the best values in electronics. 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.
Picture in your pocket
The Asus ZenBeam E1 is a pocket video projector with an HDMI port, built-in speaker and a five-hour battery. It sells for $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. It can't compete with the sharpness of a 720p or 1,080p projector, but 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 percent of the immersive quality that makes projection so addicting. I used it to watch Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle." The dark scenes were rendered with exactly the right atmosphere, and the scenes of the mountain were gorgeous. One note: The ZenBeam E1 works with some ambient light, but the darker the room, the better the experience.
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 as if you were at a sports bar. You also can 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.
Send questions to Don Lindich at email@example.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.