Monday, October 21, 2013

Winegard FlatWave AIR


Catch the Wave, get some AIR
Thanks to Winegard, the list of excuses to not give TV by antenna a try just got a lot shorter. Most people still have the idea that antennas are big, ugly and require constant readjustment to bring in channels. Enter the new Winegard FlatWave AIR – an antenna that’s smaller than a satellite dish yet as powerful as antennas almost several times its size.
The new FlatWave AIR outdoor antenna from Winegard (Photo courtesy from www.Winegard.com)

In what appears to be the evolution/crossbreeding of Winegard’s outdoor Squareshooter series and newest indoor FlatWave, the AIR is a serious contender in the burgeoning market of uber-compact digital TV antennas.

Your one and only Average Joe and his team has been testing it for several weeks now and here’s a summary of what I’ve found. Let’s begin:

Model: Winegard FlatWave AIR
Size: 14”W x 14”H (24” if you include the mounting J-bracket) x 5” thick
Package includes: FlatWave Air antenna, proprietary J-mount bracket, in-line power supply, USB plug adapter, antenna-to-bracket hardware, instructions

Output: One F-type connector (cable coax) on the antenna for RG-59 or RG-6 cable, in-line amp runs off a USB connector

Pros: The most powerful amplified antenna we’ve seen to date in terms of line-of-sign reception range, compact form factor, wide reception angle, industry-leading 1dB low-noise amplifier, versatile USB power input, can drive up to 4 TVs without need for a downstream distribution amplifier, discrete appearance blends in to any home application
Cons: Price may be above some people’s price range

FlatWave AIR Build Quality
Even before you start setting up the FlatWave AIR, you immediately get a sense of the experience Winegard has in putting a quality product on the market. The large items are packed well, smaller components are well-wrapped and the instructions are clear and detailed (below).


The plastic casing of the AIR is solid and a good thickness. The overall finish is high quality unlike some plastic pieces we’ve seen on other clone (politely called “generic”) antennas. In light of this, I don’t anticipate the casing of this antenna to fade or crack over time.  
High-quality finished plastic is used on the FlatWave AIR

The design is also rugged: for example the mounting area is reinforced and uses metal mounting inserts for the J-pole clamp (below). 

The J-pole and its mounting bracket are of good strength and appear to have some sort of powder coating to avoid surface damage from installation or exposure to the elements. Both the case of the antenna and mounting bracket never scratched or scuffed in the weeks we subjected it to wear and tear including installing and re-installating. All pieces fit well together.

Overall excellent build quality, indicative of the “Made in USA” proudly displayed on the unit.

We took a peek inside and the design seems simple and clean, essentially it consists of Winegard’s proprietary FlatWave pattern with a reflector grid. The reflectors are held in place with a plastic retainer so when moving the antenna they will jiggle a bit, so a hearing a metallic “windchime” sound is normal when moving the antenna around. 
FlatWave AIR: here's what is under the hood, folks. The top half is only reflectors.


FlatWaveAIR Installation

The installation instructions were simple and effective and the antenna was a cinch to mount to its j-pole. It is easy to configure to any type of mounting be it vertical (wall), horizontal (flat) or sloped (roof).  A few tips we’d like to point out:

·       The AIR will not fit on standard satellite dish J-poles. The J-pole provided has a tube of smaller diameter so if your plan is to replace an existing dish with this antenna you cannot use the existing dish mount.

Satellite J-poles (1.75” in dia, left) are larger than the AIR’s mount (1.25” in dia, right).

·       Unlike satellite dish mounts, the mount / J-pole does not swivel: instead of a long slot allowing you to adjust elevation, there are a series of levelling holes. If you are used to installing satellite dish mounts and are planning on installing on a sloped roof we recommend you follow the instructions and do not pre-install the levelling bolt until you have adjusted the final elevation of the pole on site (easily aligned with a vertical level). It’s not ideal to remove the bolt in tight quarters or if you lose visibility to the other side of the mount.
The AIR J-pole uses leveling holes, not a continuous slot so please keep in mind the bolt needs to be completely removed when adjusting elevation.

·       Despite the installation procedure we found it was easier to install the coax cable before mounting the antenna to the J-pole as access is easier.

Assembling the antenna was easy as it’s essentially a three-step process without any way to really misassemble. The whole assembly once all tightened up is very rigid and super lightweight. It can easily be handled by one person.

Assembling the antenna is a snap and the result is sturdy and easy to adjust/aim.

Aiming the antenna was also a breeze as it sites very well on the J-pole mount and swivels easily. Minute adjustments in azimuths were possible, even with one hand.

The only drawback we could see is that as this antenna was designed to be mounted using the J-pole; people looking to install this antenna on an existing antenna mast greater than 1.25” in diameter may need to rig up something a bit more complex to attach it to their existing tower or pole.


FlatWaveAIR Performance
What else can I say but “WOW”? I had read up on some of the reviews online beforehand so I expected good reception of our local stations, all within an about 30km radius.
In suburban testing, what surprised me was the reception of even our far-away stations that are about 120km (80miles) away! All I had to do was mount the antenna high enough where I was guaranteed line-of-site to the transmitters using TVFool.com, aim the front of the antenna dead on and it brought in all those channels with a stable strength. The beam width was wide enough that my local channels which were off about almost 70 degrees came in from the sides. This was very impressive for an antenna of such a compact size. The built-in amplifier did its job and the published claim of a 60-mile range was definitely upheld.

In a more urban application, the antenna responded well to multipath and being mounted lower down before direct line-of-sight with the transmitters. Even when only mounted about two stories up, it brought in all the locals and the faraway stations (but with reduced strength on the latter as it was probably catching the signal bouncing off some of the taller builders in the vicinity). Overall, still very good performance and the built-in amplifier did not overload by being in close proximity to the local transmitters.
The AIR undergoes our testing using a temporary balcony mount about 2 floors up. Between its reception range and amplification power, this antenna delivers the goods people.
As for the claim in powering up to 4 TVs, there is definitely enough signal strength in there to make the use of a distribution/drop-amplifier unnecessary for most residential applications. There was no signal degradation when used with about 60 feet of RG-6 cable and standard low-loss passive splitters during our tests.


The antenna was not tested indoors as it is designed for outdoor use and its sister antenna, the Winegard FlatWave Amped, fills this need in the product line.


Appearance
The look of the AIR is clean, compact and well – black. There are no company logos or bright red or yellow trim to attract attention and when installed looks so compact and discrete that it blends right in to any d├ęcor. This would help to make it an ideal choice in areas where housing regulations forbid installations of antennas (most probably written with hulking 6-foot long antennas in mind).

Considering it is smaller than a satellite dish (see below) and looks more like a WiFi extender than a TV antenna, you have a good chance or your Condo board in giving you the green light to mount it outside. As always, please check with your landlord or any local municipal codes on restrictions/permits that may apply before mounting your antenna.

We've never seen such performance in such a compact and discrete antenna. (Photo courtesy of @MontrealOTA via Twitter) 


Prices and Where to Buy
Coming in at about $130 this antenna may put some people off. However when comparing to other antennas on the market, that fact that it is all-in-the-box solution and offers such high quality results makes this price range somewhat justified.

When doing research, I found that most other antennas from reputable manufacturers that provided this range of VHF-Hi and UHF performance would cost about $80-90. This does not include the mounting hardware (the AIR does) nor a pre-amplifier / distribution amplifier to maximize the signal and run multiple TVs (the AIR has it built-in). So overall when comparing to complete setup, you are essentially in the same price range.
Apparently there are promos from time-to-time so be sure to check in often on Winegard’s website. It can be purchased from Winegard directly from their store if you are willing to pay for shipping to Canada. The Source carries FlatWave products in Canada so I imagine the product will be available soon them as well (still awaiting confirmation at the moment this is being published)


Conclusion

In summary, Winegard has hit it over the fence with the FlatWave AIR. I would strongly urge anyone who is concerned about the appearance of an antenna on their roof / balcony but doesn’t want to lose any performance to seriously look at it as an option. It meets its published specs and delivers on the money while pushing the envelope for compact antennas.

Overall rating: 9.5/10


More info on the FlatWave AIR can be found here courtesy of Winegard’s website: http://www.winegard.com/get-free-tv/hdtv-antenna/flatwave-air/

UPDATE MARCH 2014: The FlatWave AIR is now available for sale in Canada via The Source. Although listed at $199, sale prices can go as low as $160