Evans Above

Mar 27, 2015

Antennas Direct Ambassador

Ian Evans: writer, photographer, pundit, host, over-the-air (OTA) TV enthusiast, and ambassador.

Ambassador?

Let me explain. I’m writing this as full disclosure that I’ve agreed to join the Antennas Direct Ambassador program starting this month. Besides my regular Twitter media account (@digitalhit), I also have a personal account I use as a cord-cutting over-the-air (OTA) TV enthusiast: @TorontoOTA

My first antenna was a small Terk and it served me well until the fall of 2014, when I was able to get my hands on an Antennas Direct Clearstream 2V antenna. I loved it. It fixed many of the issues I was having. In my @TorontoOTA Twitter timeline, I often found myself boosting the products and advice offered by Antennas Direct or retweeting interesting OTA links they had found. I did this freely because I truly liked their product.

OTA isn’t just they way that I get TV, it’s a bit of a hobby too. Enthusiastic OTAers are quite often tweaking their set-ups or seeing what distant signals they can get during special weather events. So it’s a hobby – some might call it an obsession – but it keeps me off the streets.

So when I write about OTA TV, it’s personal. It’s not part of my journalistic beat. I cover movies, TV shows, film festivals and celebrity news minus the gossip. It would be wrong of me to become a brand ambassador for a film studio. Since I do not cover cord-cutting professionally, I do not see any conflict touting a company — Antennas Direct — whose products I believe in. As an “ambassador”, I’ll get a chance to try out some of their products before the public. I’ll tweet about events they’ll be holding. I’ll offer…and they’ve asked for…constructive criticism. If I talk about their products on this site, it will be in my column, Evans Above, and I will link to this disclosure post each time that I do.

Thanks.

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Mar 09, 2015

Reviewing Antennas Direct’s Juice amplifier and ClearStream 2V antenna

Antennas Direct Juice Amplifier

The Juice™ Amplifier from Antennas Direct.

I was recently given a chance to review Antennas Direct’s ClearStream™ 2V Long Range UHF/VHF Antenna and their Juice™ UHF/VHF Amplifier. More on them in a second, but first a little background.

I cut the cord back in the spring of 2011. I was paying $100+ a month for cable. One day, I realized that most of the shows I watched weren’t on cable-only channels but on the main U.S. and Canadian over-the-air (OTA) broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS as well as their Canadian counterparts CTV, Global, City and TVO.

Look at some of the top shows out there: The Big Bang Theory, CSI, NCIS, 60 Minutes, The Voice, Empire, Madam Secretary, Letterman, Fallon, Kimmel…The Super Bowl. Those shows, and in fact about 80% of the most viewed shows in North America, don’t require a cable subscription or even a Netflix account.

I realized that I barely watched the cable-only channels. So if I was paying $1200 a year for channels I could get for free, I was basically throwing money away on channels I wasn’t watching full of self-absorbed reality stars, over-sized families, battling housewives and long-haired bounty hunters. I picked up an antenna, set it up on my balcony and started watching free, legal TV.

My setup was good but I knew I could do better. I acquired an Antennas Direct C2V antenna and when given the opportunity to test out the Juice™ amp I jumped at the chance. My setup would be a good stress test for these two items.

Why a stress test? Toronto’s in a great location for getting OTA TV signals from multiple cities. With the right configuration, Torontonians get signals from the CN Tower downtown as well as from stations in Hamilton to the southwest, and Buffalo and Rochester to the southeast. It’s an embarrassment of TV riches. Notice I said the right configuration. This is my situation: I live in a midtown apartment building with a glass-enclosed balcony. The CN Tower and its transmitters are a hair southwest down by the lake. My unit faces east. So to aim at the Toronto signals, I’d be aiming through other units south of mine as well as several feet of concrete.

The good news is that there is a curved building northeast of me. TV signals reflect. Pointing my antenna at this building was like pointing at a dish reflecting the signals back at me. Toronto was fine on my first antenna except for one station. Buffalo was fair. Some of the channels came in fine, but a few were prone to pixelation and breakups.

I acquired the C2V antenna in the fall of 2014. It’s a compact UHF/VHF antenna that measures 50.8cm high, 30.5cm wide and 12.7cm deep. (20”H x 12”W x 5”D) It can be used indoors, in an attic, or even roof-mounted. It’s rated for signals 50+ miles away and is obviously at its strongest when picking up signals in front of the grid reflector.

As I said, my aiming situation is a bit out of the ordinary, aiming at a building northeast to get Toronto signals slightly southwest of me. The Buffalo signals aren’t helped by this building at all, so the Buffalo signals are actually coming in from the back right side of the C2V. With the C2V, the Buffalo channels were close to perfect, except for a couple that still had some breakup issues. As I said, the C2V says it’s good for about 50+ miles, but my Buffalo stations are 52 to 83 miles away. I’m obviously helped by the fact that I’m 100+ feet up, but let’s be clear, the C2V should be called the Sponge, as it’s sucking up signals from the south, southwest and southeast. Once again, I’m in a glass-enclosed balcony grabbing both reflected and backside signals and my experience with the C2V is close to perfect. If I was south-facing, I’d have to be looking for superlatives greater than perfection.

Time to add the Juice™ amplifier to the mix. The kit comes with a small low-noise amplifier, a low-loss power inserter and couple of 36 inch coax cables and a 12V DC power supply. The amp adds up to 17.5 dB to your VHF signals and 19 dB to your UHF signals. As I have signals that are both 4 miles away and 83 miles away, it’s good to know that the Juice™ has excellent overload protection that stops the close signals from overpowering most TV tuners.

Installing the Juice™ only takes a few minutes. You attach the Juice™ close to the antenna, while the power inserter is at the other end of your coax by the TV tuner. When I attached the Juice™‘d up configuration directly to my LG TV I had zero issues. All of my Toronto and Buffalo signals were 100% stable and I even added another channel 67 miles to the northeast.

I don’t, however, connect the antenna directly to the TV. I use the open-source MythTV PVR to record programs, so my antenna is a hooked up to Silicondust’s HDHomerun networked tuner. I have the third generation model, the HDHR3, and unfortunately its tuners are more sensitive to strong signals than the LG TV.

Here’s how the C2V and the HDHR3 fared with signals before the Juice™ was attached:

RF Strength Quality Symbol Virtual Name
9 100 80 100 9.1 CTV
14 80 67 100 29.1 FOX, ZUUS Country, Grit
15 100 81 100 11.1 CHCH-DT
19 100 56 100 19.1 TVO
20 100 60 100 5.1 CBC
25 100 86 100 25.1 CBC French
32 100 82 100 23.1 The CW, Bounce
33 88 75 100 2.1 NBC, Antenna TV, Justice
35 67 47 100 35.1 CTV 2
36 100 77 100 36.1 Yes!
38 94 79 100 7.1 ABC
39 90 68 100 4.1 CBS
40 94 68 100 40.1 OMNI 2
41 98 64 100 41.1 Global
43 89 72 100 17.1 PBS, World
44 90 65 100 57.1 City
47 92 72 100 47.1 OMNI 1
49 80 59 100 49.1 MyNetworkTV, GetTV

CHCJ, WNYO and WKBW all had various issues with pixelation or a disappearing signal.

While attaching the Juice™ made everything perfect with the LG TV, the HDHR3 has two tuners connected to an amplified splitter. According to Silicondust, trade-offs between loss from their splitter, gain from their internal amplifier and limits in the dynamic range hurt things when directly connected to the Juice™. I was knocked down to about four frequencies.

That’s when Antennas Direct support came to the rescue. They suggested I use their variable attenuator as it would allow me to reduce the strength of the signal coming from the Juice™ a little bit at a time until I hit the sweet spot that would strengthen the weakest signals while not overpowering the HDHR3 with the strongest ones. When I was able to test Antennas Direct’s variable attenuator, it took only a few minutes to find the sweet spot. The signals coming into the HDHR3 looked like this with both the Juice™ and the variable attenuator in the configuration:

RF Strength Quality Symbol Virtual Name
9 100 77 100 9.1 CTV
14 89 69 100 29.1 FOX, ZUUS Country, Grit
15 100 84 100 11.1 CHCH-DT
19 100 61 100 19.1 TVO
20 100 59 100 5.1 CBC
25 100 87 100 25.1 CBC French
32 100 88 100 23.1 The CW, Bounce
33 90 67 100 2.1 NBC, Antenna TV, Justice
35 72 44 100 35.1 CTV 2
36 100 80 100 36.1 Yes!
38 97 75 100 7.1 ABC
39 92 65 100 4.1 CBS
40 100 68 100 40.1 OMNI 2
41 100 64 100 41.1 Global
43 95 77 100 17.1 PBS, World
44 98 68 100 57.1 City
47 97 68 100 47.1 OMNI 1
49 80 57 100 49.1 MyNetworkTV, GetTV

I went from seven frequencies at 100% strength to nine out of eighteen total. Even though I had used the attenuator to slighty reduce the effects of the Juice™, my signals were now all rock solid. The Juice™ cleans up the signal with an integrated LTE filter which removes cellular signals. A few of the buildings nearby are bristling with cellular repeaters on their roofs. Any signal problems that I had before the Juice™ caused by all these nearby signals have now been cleared up.

For a quick experiment, I decided to turn the C2V and Juice™ away from my reflecting building and point it southeast. Suddenly, I was getting signals from Rochester. I’m sure that with a newer tuner like the one in the next generation HDHR4 my setup would be even better. In the future, I’d probably add a second tuner, Juice™ and antenna (perhaps Antennas Direct’s well-respected DB4e) and point that one directly toward Buffalo/Rochester, while my original setup remains for Toronto. Or I could add an Antennas Direct C5 to chase some of the VHF channels in Buffalo and Rochester that I’m currently not getting. If I change my setup like that, I’ll let you know. I’d also love to see Antennas Direct take a crack at creating their own networked tuner.

I can’t recommend the Juice™ and C2V enough. Toronto can be an interesting testbed with both local and distant signals that you don’t see in too many other cities. Toss in the fact that my reflected signal setup isn’t exactly normal and I was using an older tuner, yet the pair still passed with flying colors, and you can imagine how great they’d be in standard settings as well. Plus the whole Antennas Direct team are great cheerleaders for cutting the cord and saving you money and you just can’t go wrong teaming up with them.

Full Disclosure: After this article was written, I agreed to become an Antennas Direct Ambassador. I’ll still be brutally honest, but here’s my disclosure statement.

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Feb 23, 2015

Big Hero 6 Blu-ray review

I really enjoyed Big Hero 6 when I saw its theatrical release and you can take this Oscar-winning animated feature home with you. Let’s take a look:

The 1080p transfer with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio is about as close to flawless as can be. Though there’s occasional minor banding, it does nothing to take away from this transfer. Black levels are deep, the colours pop in the bright scenes and don’t wash out in the darker ones. Details are finely-tuned with fabric, hair and background elements having real texture and clarity to them. Simply said, Big Hero 6 looks great.

On the audio side, your ears are treated to an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. The atmospheric elements make great use of the surround sound tracks to place the viewer into the experience. The music supports the story but never overpowers it. On the subtitle end of things, we get English, English SDH, French, and Spanish captions. So not only does it look great, but sounds great too.

Now Baymax the robot may be a rotund hero, but his Blu-ray extras are a little lean. One jewel is the Oscar-winning animated short Feast, about a little dog with a big appetite. There’s a look at the origin of the film going back to the original Marvel comic, a roundtable discussion with the animators, deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer.

Big Hero 6 is a worthy addition to your home library.

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Feb 10, 2015

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Blu-ray review

I reached into the mailbox only to pull out a review copy of the Blu-ray release for Disney’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. When we reviewed the theatrical release of AatTHNGVBD, an acronym that won’t catch on, I said that the film was light-hearted family fare that would help kids pass the time on a rainy day. With the disc finally here, the rain can begin.

The disc’s 1080p transfer matches the theatrical release’s aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Any issues with the video quality will only be noticed by those watching the frames and not the story, so that’s not a problem. Colours are bright, skin tones are correct and the black levels are fine.

On the audio side we get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles come in English SDH, French, and Spanish. Dialogue is clear. There’s good use of your low frequencies and the rest of the speakers do a good job of immersing you in the family’s chaos.

The extras are fairly basic. We get the author and her grown-up son discussing the book and film, a look at the director and cast shooting one Aussie-themed scene, a behind-the-scenes tour and interview conducted by the film’s young star Ed Oxenbould, as well as bloopers and a music video.

If you’ve got young ones in the house who laugh at family chaos and innocent fun, then you’ll do okay adding Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to your collection.

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Feb 09, 2015

101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition released

Long before PETA, there was Cruella De Vil, a fur-obsessed villain with a desire to make a coat out of Dalmatian puppies. You can take the adventure home with you as Disney releases their 101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition Blu-ray on February 10th, 2015.

The video presentation is a 1080p transfer with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Purists will note the removal of grain and the use of noise reduction that does lend to some softness and blurring. Full of dark overcast skies and shadows, this is not a showcase for eye-popping colour, but the presentation is faithful to these scenes. There’s good contrast and black levels, and where there is colour, they’re faithfully reproduced.

On the audio side, the disc comes with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track as well as a French DTS-HD HR 5.1 track, a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track and the original English Mono track. The disc has English, English SDH, French, and Spanish captions. Obviously the 1961 release didn’t have a 7.1 surround track, but the audio team has done a nice job of adding some immersive and LFE elements without going to crazy. Dialogue is clean and intelligible.

The disc comes with a nice bunch of extras. Lucky Dogs examines the cost-cutting Xerox technology that trimmed the budget and saved the film. Dalmatians 101 is a small trivia segment hosted by Cameron Boyce. We get the animated short The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt as well as a complete episode of The Wonderful World of Disney called The Best Doggoned Dog in the World. We also get some “making of” segments, trailers, TV and radio spots, and even a music video by Selena Gomez.

If you’re building a library of Disney animation classics, then the Diamond Edition of 101 Dalmatians belongs in your collection.

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Jan 28, 2015

Gone Girl Blu-ray review

Gone Girl intrigued audiences with more twists and turns than a winding road, so needless to say, the home entertainment release is highly-anticipated. The Blu-ray released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is worthy of the hype.

On the video side, the Gone Girl Blu-ray is a 1080p transfer with a 2.401 aspect ratio. The production was apparently shot with a 6K Red Epic Dragon digital camera, so with that high res a source, the transfer is impeccable. It’s a thriller, so there are a lot of dark and shadowy scenes, but the detail is all there. Don’t adjust your set, director David Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth bathe the picture in a yellowish tinge. The whole presentation is fairly impeccable.

On the audio side, your ears are offered an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track as well as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Czech, Polish, and Turkish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. This is a thriller, so the 7.1 surround track subtly uses its tracks to create an ambient sound field. Dialogue is clearly placed in the mix. On the caption side, viewers get English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Polish, Slovak and Turkish captions.

The only extra on the disc is commentary from director David Fincher, but it’s pretty funny and well worth a listen. The packaging also includes a booklet called Amazing Amy Tattle Tale that will make sense once you’ve seen the movie.

Fincher’s a very interesting director to watch and you’ll enjoy adding Gone Girl to your collection.

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Dec 18, 2014

Corner Gas: The Movie Blu-ray review

Corner Gas: The Movie had a quick multi-platform release pattern this month. We reviewed it’s theatrical release a couple of weeks ago. It’s just been released on both Blu-ray and DVD while also airing on multiple Bell Media networks. If you missed it, you just don’t live in Canada.

The disc is in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Video quality is typical of an HD TV broadcast. I can’t report that you’ll be wowed by the yellow corn waving in the Saskatchewan fields or blown away by the details of the stitching on Brent’s gas station work shirt. But if you’re looking for a clean HD transfer of an excellent sitcom, then you’ve found it.

The audio side is not going to be giving your system much of a workout either. The disc comes with a 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio English track and English SDH subtitles.

Where this disc really shines is in the extras. You get a trailer, blooper reel, sing-a-long mashups, several extended scenes with executive producer commentary and quite a few behind-the-scenes featurettes that let us spend some more time with the citizens of Dog River.

If you love Corner Gas, which you should, then a Blu-ray of Corner Gas: The Movie belongs in your collection. Now we can hope for a Blu-ray release of the complete series…and yes, fingers crossed, Corner Gas: The Sequel.

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Dec 10, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Blu-ray review

Guardians of the Galaxy was a hit when it played in theatres with its irreverent superhero fun. Those who bring it home will find it’s also a hit with your home entertainment system. Please note that Marvel sent us a 2D screener, so my remarks are not based on the 3D disc.

The discs features a 1080p transfer at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 Despite the story’s sometimes dark and grungy settings, the picture quality handles the palette while. Good black levels, good skin tones and an excellent amount of detail on textures. There is some occasional crush, but nothing you’ll write home about.

On the audio side, the disc comes with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in Spanish and French. Subtitle are available for English SDH, French and Spanish. If you’ve got a 7.1 home theatre setup – or are hoping that Santa brings you one – this flick will give it quite the workout. You’ll find yourself thrown into the middle of an audio experience as spaceships fly by, engines hum and guns blaze. Your sub-woofer gets a well-deserved workout and despite everything going on, dialogue is always clear and well paced in the mix.

In terms of extras, you get several featurettes, commentary, a look at the special effects, blooper reel and a sneak peek at the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Add Guardians of the Galaxy to your collection. You won’t be sorry.

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Dec 08, 2014

When the Game Stands Tall Blu-ray review

As I said in my review of When the Game Stands Tall’s theatrical release, the film combines two of America’s greatest religions: football and, well, religion. The film follows the story of the De La Salle High School Spartans, who held a 151 game winning streak led by their coach and Bible studies teacher portrayed by Jim Caviezel. When a tragedy strikes both the team and its streak, the players have to see what they’re really made of.

The disc’s 1080p 1.85:1 transfer is clean. Details are sharp down to the blades of grass and the worry lines on Jim Caviezel’s forehead. Colours are accurate and the heat haze in one scorcher of a game will have you reaching for a cold drink.

On the audio side, the disc provides English and Portuguese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks and French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. On the subtitle side, there are English, French, Spanish, Portuguese subtitles as well as English captions with descriptions for the deaf or hard-of-hearing. The surround tracks are put to good use and the lower frequencies are perfect for each bone-crunching tackle. The only thing that would make you feel more in the game would be if a family member dumped Gatorade on you after a win.

The disc does come with the usual staple of extras. We get audio commentary from director Thomas Carter, a “making of” featurette with interviews with the cast and crew. There’s a scene by scene interview between Carter and Coach Ladouceur, a series of deleted scenes, a featurette with second unit/football director Allan Graf and a look at the philosophy of Bob Ladouceur and how we would get through to his players and students.

If you’re into the film’s spiritual or sports messages, you may want to add this one to your library.

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Dec 05, 2014

The Hundred Foot Journey Blu-ray review

Helen Mirren is a treasure, so I was looking forward to checking out the Blu-ray for The Hundred Foot Journey. Directed by Lasse Hallström, and co-starring Om Puri, Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon, the film tells the story of a feud between two restaurants. One is operated by an Indian family starting over in Europe, while the other is run by a celebrated French chef (Mirren).

The disc is a 1080p transfer with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Besides satisfying the foodies in the audience, the scenery is also lush and beautiful and the disc supports this with excellent vivid colours and sharp details down to individual hairs. The colours are excellent as are the black levels.

On the audio side we get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles come in English SDH, French, and Spanish. The audio mix is as elegant in the film, immersing you in the proceedings. You might think a surround experience is only for action flicks, but a great sound designer can use it to pull you into the story.

On the extras side, we get an interview with producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, a couple of behind the scenes pieces and, wait for it, a recipe for coconut chicken.

Not sure if you’re supposed to add this disc to your film library or your spice rack, Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

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