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Reviews placed here are based on our experiences with the units described. Faults & advantages of the various models are listed as we have encountered them.

Thomson DTI500AU

This latest release from Thomson has some big shoes to fill. We've often written & spoken about the signal hold on the earlier DTI352TH model, which is pretty extraordinary & it looks like this latest model does the job just as well. The whole package is a much more impressive look, including the Box itself, whereas the older model was pretty bare bones.

For those who have seen the DTI352TH, or indeed any other set top box, this is a tiny unit. Only the Panasonic TU-CT20A is comparable in size from the various brands & models we've seen. For it's size, the DTI500AU packs in a fair whack of weight, with some of the bulk in size of it's predecessor being removed by offloading the power supply to a plugpack.

Remote sensitivity is just as good as the DTI352TH & the remote control is a different look & feel, as befitting the look of the main unit itself. We were always a little dissapointed in the contents of the box on the older Thomson model, but at least this one comes packed with pretty much the lot - an S-Video cable, RCA AV cable, RCA Coax cable for digital audio & a SCART to SCART cable are in the box, in addition to the power supply & remote with batteries & instruction book. This is a big improvement over the DTI352TH equipment supply, but the one thing missing is an RF loopthrough cable, meaning you'll need to either have one at hand, or grab one at purchase time.

Another feature missed is the RF modulator, but again, this would have meant an increase in the size of the unit & I guess the days of older TVs which have only RF input are pretty much near their end & of course, that makes the need for an RF modulator an opsolete feature too, with the amount of free channels in various reception areas fast being filled by other services.

After connecting up & powering on, the DTI500AU pops up with the auto-scan screen, ready to roll. the default scan speed is slow, which we haven't yet used. Why the unit is set to slow by default is a strange question that I don't readily have an answer for, but a press of the right arrow to fast & zot, the fastest auto-scan we've yet encountered on any brand, completed in under 30 seconds. This is a vast improvement over the DTI352TH, which took anywhere from 15-25 minutes. We've tested a number of these units now & the auto scan has been solid in all cases on fast - I guess the slow scan may be useful in marginal reception areas where the box may miss low level signals on fast scan.

The issue of unit heat is something I always look at & with very minimal venting, I expected this model to run quite warm. The upper part of the case runs quite cool, giving you a sense that heat dissipation is working much better than expected, however, the underside of the case appears to be acting as a big heatsink & runs reasonable warm, a little surprising, as the 12 volt DC powerpack takes the power source for the main part, outside the unit. I have had a couple of units running for more than 24 hours on test & there is little change in the heat of either unit. The actual venting is comprised of a row of tiny holes around the 'ring' arc at the top rear of the unit. this may well be because the power supply has now been removed from the box itself, offloaded to a plugpack.

In use, the DTI500AU is pretty much all you expect from a current set top box - good quality composite video output, a second connection being a SCART socket & the inclusion of S-Video & coax-digital audio. The signal level hold seems pretty solid too, following on from it's predecessor & our 'tap-test' around the RF input shows no pixellation either. That said though, the lack of a front panel display is a disappointment, but this is not the only set top box on the market lacking that feature.

The channel changing is about on par with other brands & models, while Teletext response was surprisingly fast on all tested units, when compared with a couple of others we've seen. One minor niggle though is the slowness in responding to a single-number press, when waiting to change channels. Pressing a complete 4-digit number such as 0002 for ABC results in a much quicker change. Probably the biggest thing which will irk digital TV radio listeners is the confusing button allocation for radio - 'AV', which most people now generally associate with device switching on their TVs. It would have been nice to see a separate button for radio. This is probably a throwover from the remot e also being compatible with Thomson TVs

Switching between 4:3 & 16:9 is now done via the remote, simply with arrows, a big iomprovement, saving naivigating into menu levels, while speaking of menus, the signal level/quality meters are in the first menu level. Those meters are a lot more sensitive & convey useful information, whereas it was very rare to see the DTI352TH signal power meter move anywhere off 50%, even if there was no signal.

The Verdict - Thomson have done well with this unit, bringing it up to & in some cases beyond the level of other set top boxes on the market. The fast scan is a boon for installers & the quicker responses all round will leave users much happier. If budget was an issue for the box, then I'd have preferred to see the SCART to SCART cable dropped in favour of a SCART to RCA adapter & the inclusion of an RF loopthrough cable, as this will be an extra that many people will need. Space-wise, this set top box will fit where many others won't, however the unusual round shape will mean that it is not able to be stacked in line with other units in a system, so I guess this is truly what would be called a set top box.

The addition of digital audio is a good move with the current popularity of home theatres & the teletext function rounds out the features of this unit. As mentioned above, we'd have liked to see even a small front panel display so at least you could see what channel you should be looking at, but with the on-screen display during channel changes, that's not an essential. All up, I think Thomson have done fairly well in evolving the capabilities of the older model into the DTI500AU. I'm certainly happy enough with the performance of this model - as with the DTI352TH, it's not the perfect set top box, but it's certainly more than up to the job at hand.

IT & AV Services rating - 91%

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