5.4.14

Unbundle Yourself: Part 2 - A compact HD antenna for under $50 (Review: FlatWave Indoor HDTV Antenna)

 By Ed



We are still chasing ideas about breaking the shackles of cable/phone/internet company "bundle deals". 


Last time, we went hunting for ways to get our internet bill down. Unlimited Internet is a near-necessity in the unbundling process, allowing for the use of streaming services, VOIP and other web-based options. Finding low cost unlimited internet was priority one.


This week, we turn our attention to cutting the cord with your cable or satellite bill.  Even if you live in an apartment building or you don't want a bulky antenna on your roof - you can still get free channels over the air.  

Here's how...




I have written several times about Over the Air (OTA) antenna HD reception; for a primer check out:

Part 1 - What is Over The Air TV, basics, etc

Part 2 - A how-to for basic OTA reception and

Antennas Direct DB8e Review



Ahh, the memories - testing the DB8e last year vs my old array. I like to tinker...


I won't repeat myself too much - suffice to say OTA is: 
  • better than the antenna reception you remember as a kid, 
  • likely available in your area and 
  • totally legal and free.


But what if you need a smaller antenna?  Maybe you live in an apartment or find a roof top antenna a wee-bit conspicuous. Or maybe you just don't want to jump right in and spend $100+ dollars to find out it isn't for you (isn't this supposed to be a frugal blog?)

You might want to look at this inexpensive (under $50) sleek antenna from industry mainstay Winegard.




 


The Flatwave series is designed for indoor use. It is small and - as the name implies - Flat. You could hide it behind a picture, if that picture was also an ideal reception location for your local channels, but more on that in a moment.




I received a basic model to review from Winegard and here is what I found:



Pros:  
  • Small, clean looking, easy to hide - perfect for people who don't want a big antenna on their roof or don't have a roof to put one on in the first place.

  • Inexpensive - $50 here in Canada, cheaper still in the US. 

  • Good range - Advertises 35 miles; I was able to pick up several stations in Toronto which is more like 50 miles for me.

  • Brand Rep - Winegard is an established antenna maker with years of experience. They seem dedicated to OTA TV and spreading the word about free HD. They make the FlatWave in the USA and it comes with a 1 year warranty.

Yes, this baby is just that compact - I used a window frame to hold it in place for a test run.

Cons:

  • Very directional - I picked up stations in Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and Toronto, but I had to re-aim it to get each market. As I moved it to get new stations, old ones dropped out.  The package comes with a simple mounting system and you would want to use it once you lock a signal.

  • While still acceptable, range isn't going to pick up really distant signals - I got nothing out of Buffalo and several Toronto stations I usually get were either missing or breaking up. Understandable given the tiny size. If you lived over the 35 mile range, you might want to try the amplified version. Slightly more costly, but it offers a built in powered Amp. I didn't test it, but have to think it would do a decent job based on how the non-amplified version worked.


Best Use

From my point of view, this is an ideal system for someone living in or near a large urban centre (which is its suggested use).  It would not be a great solution for people in rural areas. Altitude helps with Antenna reception too, so the higher up you can place it (I tested this one on the second floor of our house) the better.


If you lived in an apartment building in the Greater Toronto Area, you could point this at the CN tower and get a bunch of local stations. NHL Playoffs and World Cup in HD this spring could pay for the unit in quality sports viewing alone. TVO (kids), CityTV (movies, network shows and NFL), Global and CTV (more network shows and football) would also be tunable.


My test station - the white cable in the bottom right connects to the Flatwave Antenna. The black box is an external HD tuner, as the TV is older and lacked a built in one. The Sailor Doll just happens to be a fan of the Big Bang Theory.


The Wrap-up

I would suggest this antenna as a way to try out OTA in your area. Maybe connect one TV to it before you cut the cable and see how you like it.  Remember to aim it carefully and be patient setting it up. You might find that most of the shows you watch are actually available for free. And at $50 to try it out - one month of cable/satellite bills for many households- it pays for itself almost instantly if you do cut the cord.



All in all, a very solid antenna that won't offend the eyes or result in you falling off your roof mounting it (Robin really liked both of those features). If you are getting curious, go back and read my old posts for a more detailed How-To, and at a bare minimum check out TV Fool to see what channels are available before you commit any money to buying gear.


Next Time - a look at a PVR system for Antenna users - also for under $50!



I was provided with a FlatWave Indoor HDTV Antenna to review, but, as always all opinions are my own.



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