Antennas Direct ClearStream Micron XG Indoor DTV Antenna

Antennas Direct Micron XG indoor antenna

I grew up in a small town with the closest television station transmitters more than 60 miles distant; a situation then termed “fringe” area reception. “Rabbit-ears” and similar set-top antennas just wouldn’t cut it when you were this far removed from even max ERP TV stations. Lofty outdoor antennas were the norm in those pre-cable days.

I suppose this explains my lack of experience with “indoor” TV antennas. I never hung aluminum foil on the rabbit- ear elements or spent half the show trying to adjust those telescoping rods for the best picture. To me, these were merely “shticks” that filled time in some sitcoms.

That changed earlier this year with the arrival of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. (I perhaps need to explain that I have two homes—a weekday “city” model and a weekend version about 45 miles out in the “country.”)

During the week, I don’t have much time to spend in from of the “tube” (in this flatscreen era, can you still say tube?) and virtually all of my TV viewing is done at the house located out in the boonies.

This was fine until the NBC began their coverage of the Olympics on weekday nights, necessitating the resurrection of my trusty 30-something-year-old Sony and unpacking one of the set-top DTV converters I’d scored prior to the 2009 transition.

The only thing missing was a decent antenna. An ice storm a few years ago finished off a rather superannuated outdoor U/V combo array at the city house and I never replaced it. Prior to the Games Antennas Direct had sent me an indoor model for review and I decided this was a good time to put it to the test.

The Antennas Direct ClearStream Micron XG indoor DTV antenna is designed for indoor reception of fairly closely located UHF stations. The spec sheet says it has a range of “35+ miles.” The antenna’s footprint is small—a mere 10 x 11 x 4.5-inches, and it’s finished in a flat black so as not to stand out. A tiny in-line amplifier (and accompanying power supply) is included with four switchable gain settings: 5, 10, 15 and 20 dBi. The antenna’s cradle-type “mount” also includes a perforated reflector to aid directivity.

In accompanying literature, Antennas Direct terms the Micron XG “the most powerful compact antenna in the world.” The company also states that it provides “excellent gain and impedance matching across the entire UHF spectrum,” further noting that while it’s optimized for UHF reception, it also works with high-band VHF channels where signal strength is good.

True to its unpacked size, the antenna had arrived in a box reminiscent of that used for delivering small deep-dish pizzas— it’s that compact. I found it to be a perfect fit beside the Zenith DTV converter atop my 19-inch Sony TV. (This is something you can’t do with flatscreens!)

“Assembly,” such as it was, amounted to little more than connecting the supplied cables between the antenna, amplifier, power supply and the set-top box’s “ANT IN.” As the Sony set had baseband audio and video inputs, I elected to run signals to these from the converter box, opting for perhaps a better picture and no time spent in channel surfing on the Sony.

On powering up all three devices, I immediately saw the “sign-on” scan message from the Zenith STB and started the converter’s DTV channel scan function.

Things got off to a bad start, as it the STB locked on to only a few channels and these all suffered from the digital blocking and freezing associated with a poor signal and the infamous “cliff effect.”

Just like the Sony, my city house is an older model too and is equipped with aluminum siding. Well aware of the associated attenuation and reflection of TV signals, I removed the Micron XG antenna from its mount and began to slowly move it around the room, searching for a “sweet spot.” Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to really be one. I did get fairly solid reception of a couple of channels with the antenna near the end of its tether, perched on an adjacent piece of furniture. I kept playing with it and finally noticed something interesting—I got better results with the antenna on its side (low profile) rather than when it was in the upright position.

This odd behavior suggested a possible tuner overload situation and led to my removing the little in-line amp from the equation and connecting the antenna directly to the STB.

Bingo! I now had solid reception of everything that the Washington, D.C. transmitter cluster had to offer, albeit with a little “blockiness” on a few stations. I replaced the Micron XG back in its cradle and did a little tweaking (the mount is designed to allow the fl at panel antenna to tilt back and forth a bit). My experimentation with this tilting adjustment, along with angling the antenna to better line up with the transmitters quickly resulted in very solid reception from everybody on the air (the UHFs as well as the two remaining D.C. high-band Vs).

My wife and I watched that night’s show from Sochi without a hitch (although we did miss the HD imagery and picture size afforded by the 52-inch LCD display that we’d become accustomed to at our country home).

A few nights later a neighbor dropped in and commented on two things: (1) the “old-fashioned” CRT TV I’d temporarily moved into the living room and (2) his amazement at the quality of reception and number of stations that we were getting without a cable or satellite connection. Just goes to show that off-air television still has a purpose. (He asked about where to get an antenna of his own, so I suspect he may be contemplating becoming another “cord-cutter.”)

After the initial novelty of indoor antenna DTV wore off I tried experimenting a bit to see if I could reel in some digital signals from the neighboring Baltimore market. Unfortunately, this was a no-go despite reconnecting the amp and running the gain up and down the scale, as well as moving the antenna to the extent the cables allowed. By my reckoning, the Baltimore transmitters are some 40+ miles away, just outside the unit’s stated “35+” mile range.

In the interest of science, I also took the Micron XG out to my country home for a trial there. Again, with TV transmitters more than 40 miles distant, there was no reception to be had. Of course, I couldn’t blame the antenna as it wasn’t designed for “fringe” reception and it’s hard to get around the laws of physics governing radio wave behavior. Antennas Direct does offer several more models designed for distance reception. As mentioned, I reviewed their C5 model a few years ago (Dec. 22, 2010 issue of TV Technology) and it worked really well in dragging down the stations 45 miles or so distant.

If you live fairly close to where the TV transmitter action is, and want to save some serious cable or sat bill money, this is the antenna for you. Its small physical size and fl at black finish ensure that it keeps a low profile and in my experience its performance was rock solid, with all of the D.C. U and V stations available, providing more than 40 program stream options. Just make sure that you aren’t overloading the STB or tuner as I did initially.

It almost makes me wish I had more time to watch TV!

James E. O’Neal is technology editor at TV Technology and is also a retired broadcast engineer.


UHF and high-band VHF television reception

Compact size, good performance, RF amplifier included

List Price: $100, MSRP

Antennas Direct

James E. O’Neal has more than 50 years of experience in the broadcast arena, serving for nearly 37 years as a television broadcast engineer and, following his retirement from that field in 2005, moving into journalism as technology editor for TV Technology for almost the next decade. He continues to provide content for this publication, as well as sister publication Radio World, and others.  He authored the chapter on HF shortwave radio for the 11th Edition of the NAB Engineering Handbook, and serves as editor-in-chief of the IEEE’s Broadcast Technology publication, and as associate editor of the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal. He is a SMPTE Life Fellow, and a Life Member of the IEEE and the SBE.