Give the gift of free HDTV this year with this powerful, compact antenna.
At the heart of any over-the-air setup is the single most critical component that will make or break your experience: the antenna. The antenna is your lifeline to free TV. Remember, even the best TVs, signal amplifiers and receivers can only make the best out of what your antenna is feeding them. With a bad antenna (or the wrong antenna for your geographic location), your reception will be weak and spotty and you may not get all the channels that are available in your area. The good news is that many good antennas exist out there; the bad news is that a lot of bad antennas exist too.
So how do you know what antenna is right for you? Well as we outlined in many earlier posts, the internet is a great resource to learn the most you can about what you need to get the perfect OTA setup. Sites like TVFool can let you know what is available for free in your area and who strong the signals are and from which direction(s). Other discussion forums can link you to members in your area who may post on what works for them. In the end, you should have an answer to all your questions and get the perfect setup for your location.
However, I often get emails and messages asking which antenna I recommend for general purpose use in major Canadian cities and suburbs. After testing various models, the Antennas Direct Clearstream 2 is a good general purpose antenna that delivers the most bang for the buck for the majority of urban or suburban Canadian consumers. Let’s get into the details on antennas and why this one is probably a sure bet for you.
Model: Antennas Direct Clearstream 2 Antenna (also “CS2 Complete” or SC2 VHF upgrade kit)
Size: 12” wide by 20” high x 4” thick. Back mounting brace requires another 4”.
Package includes: Clearstream 2 antenna and all necessary hardware to install to a mast (not included). Assembly required.
Output: One F-type connector (cable coax) for RG-59 or RG-6 cable.
Pros: Powerful antenna in a small package, wide angle reception, good gain on distant channels, indoor friendly, finished look, easy to point and install. Great for metropolitan and suburban areas. Testing showed it was able to consistently pull in DTV signals originating 70 miles away. Robust reception in poor weather conditions.
Cons: Basic Clearstream 2 model is UHF only (channels 14 and up), a VHF upgrade kit or “CS2 Complete” model is required to get the UHF and VHF-Hi channels (7-13). For rural areas, this antenna may not be the best choice.
Antennas come in many different shapes and sizes, mostly to serve different purposes. Some are meant to be highly directional, only picking up channels from a specific direction and ignoring noise from other directions. Others are meant especially for long-range reception.
In general, the larger the antenna, the better the ability to pick up distant signals and to hold onto them during bad weather. The higher up you place your antenna, the better your reception will be as well. Ideally, if your antenna is within the line of sight with the transmission tower, all but an act of God could break your flawless reception of the DTV signal. Indoor antennas are easy to use and install but TV signals can easily lose 50% of their strength by the time they’ve fought through the bricks, pipes and siding in your house’s walls.
The biggest challenge I’ve seen for consumers is that not everyone can (or wants to) put up 80-foot towers with antennas the size of a 4-wheeler in their backyard, yet everyone would love free HDTV. So, Average Joe went on a mission and reviewed and tested a few antennas to find one that was compact and powerful enough to be used indoor or outdoor, and would be easy for consumers to install and mount.
What to Look For
First and foremost I suggest to any consumer to do their research first. The good news is commercial TV antennas have been around since the 1950s so there are a lot of good companies with years of valuable experience out there.
• Look for a reputable company and analyze their line of products. A company with many different makes of antennas and accessories (masts, rotators, amps) is usually a good sign.
• Who do reputable vendors carry? No not just the big box stores or discount electronics outfits, call some well-known installers to see what they recommend in your area and what brands they carry.
• Do your research online. Sometimes a Google search for reviews or hitting up a discussion forum may save you from a costly mistake.
• Avoid antennas from companies that make outlandish claims. Antennas the size of a coat-hanger than can pick up TV stations from 100 miles away in all directions are usually too good to be true. Reputable companies will honestly post the limitations of their antennas for consumers to see and even provide charts showing how it fairs for a given frequency (channel) and distance.
Beware, there are many “junk” antennas out there on the internet and your money may be better spent elsewhere! Antennas such as the one above have been proven by experts to not live up to their claims and to be cheaply built. On the plus side though your neighbours may act nicer to you seeing as you have a death ray on your roof pointed at their house.
• Try to see the antenna before buying it. If you are mounting it outdoors, look at the hardware and the construction of the antenna. Does it look sturdy? Will metal parts rust or are they sufficiently protected? Does it look like it can handle years of wear and tear from wind, rain, snow and ice? If you are looking for an indoor installation only, look at the size of the antenna – will it fit in your room? Where will you put it and how will you adjust its position? Does it have sharp edges or pointy parts that may scratch your paint or even injure sometime?
Clearstream 2 Installation
The CS2 antenna came with a great instruction manual showing the gain chart of the antenna as a function of direction. Using this chart and TVFool, I was able to find an orientation that would allow me to capture signals coming from two major directions without the need to rotate or adjust it.
If you want to go way up high with this antenna, the antenna easily installs to a any standard antenna chimney mast or tower. One great option with this antenna model is that you can also use a satellite dish J-mast to mount it to the roof, eaves or siding of your home. The mast also acts as a stand for use indoors.
Rather than but the Antennas Direct mast, I purchased a J-mast from a satellite store as it was available at a much lower price (it was grey instead of black but whoop-de-doo). With the antenna mounted on the mast I added a flat wooden foot to keep it from toppling and was able to easily install it indoors on a bookshelf.
Using a satellite J-mast also makes it easy to install the CS2 outdoors as it would install like an ordinary satellite dish. With a few screws it installs easily to the roof or siding, or if you’re switching from satellite to OTA, simply toss the dish and replace it on the existing mast with this.
The clamps and mounting hardware are well built, sturdy and easy to adjust and tighten into place. My test model was up during early winter snow and ice and a late fall rain storm and it hasn’t budged a bit.
If installing outside, check your local by-laws to see if you need a permit. The important thing here is that this is not a conventional antenna, most city by-laws or restrictions are to limit those enormous roof or tower mounted antennas that are 10 feet long. Average Joe says that if people are allowed to install satellite dishes, then you should be good to go with this baby as it is more comparable to a satellite dish than those eyesore antenna juggernauts.
Clearstream 2 Performance (Outdoors)
Wow, wow and wow. They weren’t kidding round with this antenna. For the test, given my location it was deemed I would require a small 26dB amplifier. The tests were then run with about 50ft of RG-6 cable between the antenna and TV (amplifier is in-line about 5ft from the TV).
My first test consisted of just holding the antenna out a second floor window in the general direction from my TVFool analysis and easily yielded all my channels as predicted. The tuner showed strengths of 92% and up for my locals (less than 30 miles) and strengths of 80% for the distant (60-70 miles). A second test with a permanent outdoor mount adding a bit more height, kept the local signals rock solid with some topping off at 100% giving the farther stations a jump to 86-87%.
During inclement weather, the weakest distant channels would drop closer to 60% (yet no issues in terms of viewability) and the locals were bulletproof.
Clearstream 2 Performance (Indoors)
If you really have no option to install this antenna outside (hard to believe since it’s so compact, versatile and easy to install) you can use the CS2 indoors. Reception was degraded by about 50% by aluminium, brick and shingle siding, especially for long range (30miles+) stations. Vinyl siding was OK but finding a “sweet spot” indoors was trickier than outdoors. In general, the best locations for the antenna were high up on bookshelves and/or near windows. Forget about use in a basement or inside thick stone / cement walls that you may find in an “industrial condo loft” environment.
Overall, it definitely won't be worse than other type of indoor antenna being sold on the market, just be careful as it is larger than most typical indoor-only antennas so make sure you have enough space to give it the elbow room it needs for andjustment and installation.
Unlike other types of antennas (i.e. bowties or arrow-style directionals), the CS2 has no sharp protruding edges. The plastic cover on its “figure eight” front end gives it a nice finished look and does not look too out of place when used indoors (if you really have no option). Also, the nice black finish on the reflector and large spacing between grids won’t make it seem like you have a BBQ grill hanging over your TV.
When mounted outside, the antenna is no more conspicuous that a satellite dish, and will cause even less strain on your siding or roof as the wind will blow through it much easier than a solid Shaw or Bell dish.
Prices and Where to Buy
Before we get into pricing, I would just like to give kudos to Antennas Direct on their support of the Canadian market. Being a US company, its primary interest is the US market so most promotions from its website do not apply to Canadians and certain products are not available north of the border. The good news is that when contacted the US offices were always supportive and willing to assist Canadian inquiries. In certain cases they offered to do special shipping for products not yet available through Canadian distributers. For another inquiry, they offered to work through a Canadian distributer of their product to provide a product also not yet available in Canadian as a special order. This is great customer service as opposed to some other companies that seem to think of the Canadian market as just an afterthought.
As for where to buy, Antennas Direct products are not yet carried by any major Canadian retail outlets or electronics big box stores. Your best bet would be a specialized antenna dealer or smaller scale electronics store (a list is available on the Antennas Direct website). The good news is these retailers ship from online orders and luckily the CS2 is lightweight and small enough so shipping costs are reasonable, but not negligible. A Google search may also pop up a few specialized stores in your area that carry this product as well. Prices vary by about +/- 10 dollars from retailer to retailer.
If you can’t pick it up locally, generally your best savings will be on shipping so be sure to shop around online and getting the complete total from two or three different retailers before purchasing. Buying from out-of-province may be an option as the shipping fee may be marginally more but you may save in the end on the local provincial sales tax.
The Antennas Direct Clearstream 2 Antenna is a great general purpose antenna that comes at a reasonable price and is compact enough to have an installation solution for everybody. Don’t waste your time and money on junk antennas; if you’re looking for a good antenna to become serious about going with an over-the-air TV setup, this is a good model to start with!
More info on this antenna is available on the Antennas Direct website.