Monday, October 27, 2014

Channel Master FLATenna (CM4001HD)

Flat-Out Economical TV Reception

Channel Master is no stranger to antennas with over 65 years of experience in the North American TV industry.  For a company used to successfully delivering high-quality, large, outdoor antennas, the surprising announcement of a new indoor FLATenna model in late August made a few waves for three main reasons:

1)      Channel Master went full tilt into the so-called “thin-tenna” market, already heavily saturated by the likes of the Mohu Leaf, Winegard FlatWave and dozens of imitation antennas.

2)      They put the price at $10US (including free shipping to continental America) whereas the products mentioned above usually retail for three times that amount

3)      The antenna was targeted specifically at people looking to try OTA for the first time. Also, the non-prohibitive price of $10 would be refunded should any users decide to subsequenctly purchase a more powerful CM antenna product or its flagship OTT box, the DVR+

Image courtesy of Channel Master

So how does Channel Master’s foray into the flat antenna market stack up? Have a look based on our testing:

Model: CM4001HD FLATenna
Size: 32.5cm W x 23cm H x 1mm T (12mm at hub) (13” W x 9” H x 1/32” T, ½” hub)   Cable: 6ft

Package includes: FLATenna, English /Spanish/French installation guide, one extra adhesive mounting strip

Output: One female F-type connector at the end of 6ft cable

Pros: Unbeatable price, good build quality, paper thin, reputable manufacturer, surprisingly omni-directional, reasonable performance and as advertised.
Cons: Considering the price and the fact it is credited back if you decide to upgrade… none!

Build Quality

The antenna comes in minimal packaging (clear bag); it was essentially shipped in a padded envelope in our case. Considering that shipping is free, there was not much to complain about and the antenna did not appear to be in any danger of being damaged.

For a product retailing at $10, the build quality exceeds expectations. Our expectation were quite low given that it is priced lower than clone brand name knock-off antennas and we were presently surprised.  The main part of the antenna is reminiscent of a thin plastic document cover, with the hub well –bonded together. The self-adhesive mounting square on the antenna is a high quality 3M product.
The cable is a bit thin in diameter but of good quality and flexibility and properly terminated.

Assembling the Antenna
No assembly is required; the antenna is ready to go out of the package.

The antenna is a sleek matte black with no visible hardware and is uber-thin. The main hub is nicely tapered and there are no ostentatious markings or logos on it besides a tastefully embossed glossy “Channel Master” in the bottom right corner. You can also make out the traces of the antenna pattern if you look closely enough under the right light.


 Side view shows the FLAtenna's razor-thin profile.

The installation instructions are well written with useful tips and proper alignment instructions. The instructions also take the time to promote Channel Master’s outdoor products for improved reception results as well as the merits of the DVR+.

Despite being a “simpler” product, the instructions for the CM4001HD are clear, professional and easy to read / follow.

The self-adhesive mounting square appears to be a semi-reusable 3M product. The paper peels off easily and once pressed in place sticks on well. We were able to remove the antenna for repositioning about three times. In all cases the adhesive mounted firmly and peeled away from the substrates (melamine, a painted wall surface and glass) without leaving any adhesive remnants or damaging the surface. We strongly recommend following the instructions and temporarily mounting the FLATenna with tape during initial positioning and aiming. 
For a small application pressure, considerable more force was required to pull it off. The adhesive square never peeled off the antenna during removal / repositioning, showing good quality bonding. A second “sticky pad” is provided in the event the first one becomes damaged or unusable

Aiming the Antenna
The instructions show that the antenna should be mounted vertically and facing the transmission towers with its flat. We can confirm this is in fact the best scenario we found during testing with the antenna being fairly omnidirectional (roughly 80 degrees beamwidth on the front face).  We found the antenna performed best near the windows and away from other electronic devices, including the TV.

The FLATenna is completely passive and is listed at a decent 6dB of max gain on both VHF-Hi and UHF. The antenna was tested against a baseline main brand indoor passive VHF/UHF antenna available at most major Canadian retail stores. For comparison purposes on signal strength, the values from an outdoor antenna for the same test location are provided.    

Station (RF)
Distance (mi)
Baseline Indoor Antenna ($50)
CM 4001HD FLATenna ($10)
Baseline Outdoor Antenna Setup
No signal
No signal
No signal
No signal
No signal
No signal
No signal
*Unstable reception; image macroblocking and drop-outs

Overall, the CM4001HD pulled in all the locals as advertised and was able to lock in some long-range signals coming from beyond its listed 35 mile range. Very good performance for an antenna of its price range.

Prices and Where to Buy
To date, the CM4001HD FLATenna is only sold from the online CM Store. Shipping to a US address is free of charge, whereas shipping to Canada will about double the price. Even with this shipping, it is still reasonably priced given the price of the competition from domestic sources.

As mentioned above, the price of the antenna is credited back to you (and you get to keep the antenna) should you upgrade to a more powerful antenna or buy the DVR+. So for $20 CDN or less, there isn’t very much to lose.

When Channel Master announced the FLATenna, they announced as part of their press release: “it’s not our intention to build a profitable business model around FLATenna … we want to help people discover free broadcast TV, and if they like the experience we want to introduce them to our DVR+ platform.” This, they have done. In return, consumers get a very reasonably-priced antenna with good local TV performance.

And at $10 retail, Channel Master has essentially crushed the flat antenna market with a product that undermines the established players and knockoff clone products alike.

Final Score: 9.5/10

More information on the FLATenna is available on the ChannelMaster website.