As I contemplate cutting the cord and getting rid of my satellite service, I continue to explore other means of acquiring the TV content I enjoy. That includes adding an HDTV antenna to pull in free over-the-air signals from major broadcasters like ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW, and PBS. During a recent trip to Best Buy, I picked up the Terk FDTV2A Digital Pro antenna ($69.99), an omni-directional UHF/VHF antenna that comes with an optional amplifier that's designed to boost signal gain about 10dB. I wanted to see how this model compares to other antennas I've used.
If you read my review of the Mohu Leaf antenna, then you already know that the Colorado area in which I live is a somewhat challenging one for pulling in over-the-air HD signals, at least with an indoor antenna. The closest towers are over 30 miles south; CBS, FOX, PBS, and CW are all UHF, while ABC and NBC are VHF (Hi-V). The UHF stations are generally pretty easy to tune in with an indoor antenna, but I find it's a challenge to pull in both ABC and NBC at the same time. When I tune strong to one, I lose the other.
The FDTV2A is part of the new crop of flat, omni-directional antennas that can blend into your room a bit more effectively than the rabbit ears of old. This antenna is basically just a glossy-black plastic square that measures about 9 x 9.5 inches; it's less than one inch thick at its thickest, only a few millimeters at its thinnest. You can set up the antenna by simply laying it flat on a tabletop or by using the supplied base; it's also light enough to be wall-mounted. The attached coaxial cable is about 6 feet long. Terk wisely made the amplifier a completely separate, detachable unit that you can add only if needed; it's a little black box measuring roughly 4 x 1 x 1; to add it, you connect the antenna's coaxial cable to the amplifier box and then connect the amplifier to your TV via another 3-foot coaxial cable. Then you plug in the amp; the power cord is about 6 feet long, which gives you decent but not exceptional flexibility to reach an outlet.
I began my evaluation by setting up the Terk in the easiest location in my home: an upstairs bedroom. I simply set the antenna, without amplification, in its base station on the dresser and connected it to the TV. With zero tweaking of the placement, the Terk pulled in 30 stations, including all the major channels. The Mohu, by contrast, pulled in 19 stations and required a lot of re-positioning before I found the exact spot to pull in all the majors. We were clearly off to a good start.
Next, I moved the Terk down to my theater room, which is located just below the bedroom (ground level, not basement level). In this location, I had to experiment a bit more with placement to get both ABC and NBC, but the process didn't take too long. I did need to add a longer coaxial cable to position the antenna in the ideal spot. Even without the amplifier, the Terk tuned in all the majors and offered very reliable signals across the board. In fact, adding the amplifier actually caused me to lose several channels, so I opted not to use it.
Finally, I moved the Terk to my living room, the area where I have the most trouble with an indoor antenna, perhaps because it's surrounded by other rooms to the sides and above. There is a large window, but placing an antenna on that windowsill doesn't seem to improve reception. The Terk's performance proved to be no different than other antennas in this area; I tried numerous placements, but the antenna never successfully pulled in all the majors at the same time. Only when I moved the FDTV2A to a different room and fed a long cable to the living-room TV did I get all the channels I wanted.
Read about the high points and low points of the Terk FDTV2A antenna on Page 2 . . .
I also compared the FDTV2A with another Terk antenna, the non-amplified HDTVi that I've owned for years but seldom use. The lower-priced HDTVi looks more like a traditional antenna, combining a set of rabbit-ear dipoles for VHF with a directional element for UHF. In terms of tuning channels in the bedroom and theater-room locations, the HDTVi was able to do so, but it demanded more precise, careful positioning of its UHF/VHF elements. The rabbit ears needed to be fully extended, which made the HDTVi a far less attractive solution than the FDTV2A. And ultimately, the signal simply was not as reliable as what I got with the FDTV2A.
Competition and Comparison
You can compare the Terk FDTV2A with the Mohu Leaf antenna. You can also check out indoor antennas from companies like Antennas Direct, Channel Master, RCA, and Winegard.
Reviewing an HDTV antenna is tricky because its performance is so dependent on a person's individual circumstance: channel signal type and strength, distance to local towers, sources of interference in your home and surrounding environment, etc. The first thing any antenna shopper should do is go to AntennaWeb.org or the FCC DTV reception map and figure out the signal type, strength, and distance for the channels you want. Based on how the Terk FDTV2A performed in my challenging situation - and how its performance compared with other indoor antennas under similar circumstances - I'm giving this omni-directional antenna a good rating. An outdoor antenna is probably a better choice for those people who have the most challenging reception issues, but the FDTV2A is definitely worth a try for apartment dwellers and other people who want a clean, discreet indoor solution. If (like me) you find that you don't need to use the amplifier, Terk also sells a non-amplified version of this product, the FDTV2, for about $20 less.