The Antenna Groomer, by Bob Haines

Televes Avant X, Televes "Scorpion" 148383s, and ZapperBox 

 

Bob Haines, The author lives in Beach Park, Illinois. He likes to research and review the latest in OTA TV technology. 

I have constructed an elaborate OTA TV reception and analysis setup and have been experimenting with practices to maximize the number and quality of OTA channels that I can receive. I am intrigued by the potential of NEXTGEN TV and have been testing the two early receivers HDHomeRun 4K and the ZapperBox M1. 

This article describes my setup and summarizes my experiences with both these receivers. After several months of testing, I can say that I received my highest channel count yet of 161 channels with the ZapperBox. 95% of these channels are watchable. 

I think the ZapperBox has a better tuner than my HDHR 4K. Even though they both use the same Sony tuner chips, ZapperBox always gets more stations on the fringe. By "fringe" I mean channels that are weaker than others, usually due to station transmitter ERP assignments, also known as LP or low power stations. Other fringe situations are due to distances and obstructions like hills and mountains. I don't include trees or buildings as that can vary within a city block. 

Let’s start with an image of my channel scan showing 161 channels. This screen itself is worth something. It gives a complete picture of all 35 RF bands in a single page. The signal information is right there as well as ATSC 3.0 info on RF6 & RF15.  You can take a picture and email it to ZapperBox for support. HDHR will not give you that info and only signal info available is by using a GUI app on a PC. Too much for just watching TV honestly.  

 

 

I will attribute some of the Channel count to RF15, an ATSC 3.0 Lighthouse in Green Bay Wisconsin well over 137 Miles away. I have also received Rhinelander, Wisconsin 237 miles north. There are days when 166 channels come mainly due to summer tropospheric signal enhancement.  

I also need to give credit to the Avant X Multiband filter-combiner-amplifier teamed up with twin Televes 148383 "Scorpion" antennas. My main DMA is Chicago, but I also catch channels from Milwaukee and Green Bay. 

The Avant X is key to getting spectacular multi-market OTA reception. This amazing device is well worth every dollar, about $400 on Amazon. The key is that the Avant X does not just amplify blindly. It “grooms” each antenna output independently and filters only the desired channels from each antenna. It balances the signal level for all the selected channels to the same desired level and adds the desired amount of amplification. It filters out FM, LTE, 5G and other potentially interfering signals. The Avant X can filter, equalize, and amplify low-VHF, High-VHF and UHF channels, keeping the output level constant using AGC. It can also remap channels to different RF channels. This is really, really important when you are receiving overlapping RF bands (co-channels) from other markets.  

I also use the SmartKom, shown below, which is a lower cost alternative to the Avant X with reduced features. 

 

 

Following are some spectrograms produced by the SmartKom.  

 

 

The next most important items are the twin Televes 148383 "Scorpion" antennas. Installing these antennas above the tree line was the hardest part in this entire setup.  

 

 

The ZapperBox M1 has a phenomenal signal meter. The following screenshot shows a strong signal from the RF 15 lighthouse in Green Bay, Wisconsin. 

 

 

Here are some of the markets that I am receiving with this setup. In conclusion I will say that all this is a bit of work, but it is worth it. When I posted all this on the ZapperBox User Group on Facebook, someone asked me “what did you spend?”. The answer is $1,100.  

But my question is, what’s your monthly cable bill? About 6 months to save over cable? This is like putting up solar panels and getting free electricity! 

I am getting 161 unique channels, not the same programming repeated over and over with different channel numbers. 

The local programming that I get is most relevant to my part of the world. I can check the weather in Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, Chicago and Green Bay.  

Finally, local sports in 1080p+HDR upscaled to 4K with Dolby Atmos is spectacular! 

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