General Evans Above Archive for Mar 09, 2015

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

Mar 09, 2015permalink

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.