In my latest review I look at the ZapperBox M1, a device designed to tune the new ATSC 3 signals in the United States.
The ZapperBox M1 is a great example of a “minimally viable product.” It’s an ATSC 3 tuner box that currently just tunes live TV, but with future firmware updates it will eventually gain DVR capabilities along with in-home streaming to other TV devices.
The ZapperBox M1 is available in two models: a single tuner unit priced at $249 and a dual tuner unit at $279. The dual tuner unit will allow you to record something while you watch something else live or record two shows simultaneously once the DVR functionality is implemented. It also has a Micro SD card slot and USB ports for external storage devices that will be required for that future DVR functionality.
The initial DVR release, due out by July 4th weekend, will allow you to schedule recordings, but won’t do recurring recordings or season passes. Those features will be added in subsequent releases. There will be an annual fee of $30 for the DVR service, which covers the cost of the channel guide data.
The device is simple to use and set up. It connects to a TV via its HDMI port and boots right up to live television. It has a YouTube app installed, but no other apps are installed nor is there a way to add any.
The ZapperBox M1 works with both ATSC 3 and ATSC 1 signals. It has a nice old-school channel flipping capability, allowing you to quickly go through the channels by pushing up and down on the remote. It also has the ability to filter out channels, so you can customize your viewing experience to favorites, remove duplicates, or have it focus only on the ATSC 3 Nextgen signals.
One of the complexities of ATSC 3 broadcasts is the Dolby AC4 audio format, which many TVs do not support. The ZapperBox M1 handles this by doing all the audio down-mixing in hardware, ensuring compatibility with all TVs.
Another issue is that many broadcasters are beginning to encrypt their content with DRM. The ZapperBox M1 does not currently decrypt this content, but it will in the future once it goes through an approval process. The makers of the box say that they have DRM decryption working with DRM broadcasts at their lab in Tampa, FL.
For regions like mine where all of the local ATSC 3 stations live on the same broadcast frequency, the ZapperBox M1 might be worth considering vs. buying a new set with an ATSC 3 Tuner built in. The set up process took less than 10 minutes and it performs its single task of watching live television quite well. But it is quite expensive for its limited feature set at the moment.
Check out all of my ATSC 3 content here!