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Just how good can a $10 TV antenna really be? Amazon is flooded with cheap antennas from no-name brands that come and go so quickly. But recently Channel Master, a decades-old U.S.-based brand-name antenna maker, came out with one of its own.
The Flatenna is a thin TV antenna a little bigger than a sheet of U.S.-letter or A4 paper that is intended to be used indoors in areas that enjoy strong TV reception. Channel Master says it should work up to 35 miles from TV transmitters, although that’s only a guide. Indoor reception is influenced by myriad things, including the position of the antenna, the walls of the house, surrounding trees and other buildings and even furniture in the room.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best TV antennas, where you’ll findreviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.
With that said, I wanted to give it a try. The testing location was about 10 miles from the main TV transmitters for Washington, D.C., so well within the stated range for the antenna.
Considering the price, the Flatenna surprised me with how substantial it felt. It’s noticeably thicker than many of the other thin, plastic antennas I’ve tested.
The antenna comes in a plastic wrapper, not a box, and with a sheet of instructions and some sticky foam pads for mounting. You’ll need to supply your own coaxial cable to connect the antenna to your TV’s tuner, but this shouldn’t put you off as coax is very inexpensive. (Editor’s note: At the time of publication, Channel Master was offering a 12-foot black coaxial cable free with purchase, but this is/was a limited-time deal. Channel Master now includes a coax cable in the box.)
In TechHive’s reception tests, the Flatenna was able to receive all local network-affiliated TV stations.
An automatic scan of TV stations in the Washington, D.C., area resulted in 8 TV stations with a total of 39 channels. An additional 4 stations from Baltimore were received, but too weakly for a picture. That’s identical to our current top-pick antenna, the Winegard Flatwave Amped antenna. Signal strengths were also comparable on both antennas.
A second version of the Flatenna, called the Flatenna+, bundles a Channel Master CM-7776 micro amplifier that provides a moderate 10dB of amplification. That should be enough to bring in a handful of extra channels, but that depends on reception conditions at your home. In our test location, the addition of the amplifier didn’t pull in additional channels.
In fact, it wasn’t the amplifier but placement of the antenna that proved most effective at improving reception.
For all indoor antennas, you should hunt around for a good place to mount the antenna on your wall. Always use a wall or window on the side of the house facing the local broadcast towers, and then move it around on the wall to find the best spot. Unfortunately, this won’t always be in the most aesthetically pleasing position, but it’s one of the compromises you’re making with an indoor antenna. We always recommend an outdoor antenna if possible.
With the Flatenna, I hung it on a wall and did a basic scan. Once I had a handful of stations, I pulled up the antenna level indicator on the TV’s on-screen display and carefully hunted for a location with maximum signal strength.
In my test, mounting the antenna in the window wasn’t the best location, as I had assumed it would be. It turned instead to be on the wall, a little to the side of the window. You’ll need to find your own sweet spot.
Depending on where it works, this might mean the antenna becomes a permanent item on display in your room. It has a black and a white side, so you can choose the one that blends in with your wall the best, but it’s never going to look great. This is another compromise with using an indoor antenna.
The Channel Master Flatenna can’t be beat for the price. It’s well made, performs well and comes from a brand that can be trusted.
But before you buy, do some research and make sure it will work where you live. As mentioned above, indoor reception is a compromise. This antenna is recommended only for areas with strong TV signals. To get an idea of what might work where you live, check TechHive’s guide to choosing a TV antenna or check on a website such as Rabbit Ears or Antenna Web.
If you’ve done your research and still have problems, Channel Master has a U.S.-based customer-support team that can help. This isn’t the case with many of the other cheap antennas for sale online.
Best Prices Today: Channel Master Flatenna 35 (model No. CM-4001HDBW)
Martyn Williams produces technology news and product reviews in text and video for PC World, Macworld, and TechHive from his home outside Washington D.C.. He previously worked for IDG News Service as a correspondent in San Francisco and Tokyo and has reported on technology news from across Asia and Europe.