Saving money is something that everyone can relate to — regardless of how the economy’s doing. Too many folks have “given in” to the idea that the only way you can get a high-definition TV signal from a broadcast network is to pay for it — along with other channels. Hence the proliferation (and monopolistic attitudes) of cable and satellite television services. Those who feel that a TV signal should be taken care of by a third party (i.e., TV service provider) don’t want to know more than how to screw in a cable from a signal box to the HDTV. But for those who feel that the local broadcast towers — which are outputting a HD signal for free — should be taken advantage of, there’s the Antennas Direct CLEARSTREAM MICRON XG Indoor Digital TV Antenna. The name also has “reflector and amplifier” in there, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Either way, the name IS a mouthful, so let’s call it the MICRON XG for short. This is a 10-by-11-inch squarish, thin antenna made of plastic — its only purpose as an indoor antenna being to bring in TV signals from the outside to the HDTV. Not fancy by definition, for sure. But how well does it work in gathering signals from UHF is the second question — the first being how difficult is it to set up.
As to the first question, not very. Oh, there are a few “bells and whistles” added to the MICRON XG that makes it a bit more involved, but seriously, anyone who has ever set up a DVD player can handle it. And its fairly “plain-Jane” look obviates any mucking around with figuring out how it works.
The box is crammed with everything that you’ll need, so let’s get at it. Antennas Direct suggests you do a basic scan of TV channels with the MICRON XG connected to your TV to see if where you intend to place it works — I know from past experience that I can get a better-than-decent signal from an antenna placed in proximity to my balcony (knowing I’m well within the 35 mile range of the local broadcast towers in my part of SoCal that the Micron XG’s signal gathering power can handle).
You get the hardware needed for mounting the MICRON XG in two ways: standing it on a tabletop and mounting it to a wall or some other vertical surface. Having this choice is good as a “one size fits all” mounting option is much more restrictive.
To use the MICRON XG on a tabletop, follow the well written manual that is included. The included u-bracket goes into the mounting base, along with a base insert, followed by some screws. The MICRON XG then slides into the base to reside upright. The reflector grill is then slide into the u-bracket as well — when you’re using an indoor antenna, you need all the help you can get and the passive reflector will do just that. I move the table I have the MICRON XG on so it is closer to the balcony’s screen door –it’s a temporary placement after all.
The rest is simple enough: run the 75 ohm F connector attached cable from the MICRON XG to the HDTV and screw it into the “Ant in” (or compatibly-named) socket. Select this input from the HDTV’s menu and then do a channel scan to “lock” in the channels.
Now if tabletop use isn’t doable, or you want to compare the quality of the results against it, go with wall-mounting the MICROX XG instead. The manual covers both flush and raised wall mounting and, while this requires a more intrusive procedure and needs a few tools, anyone who’s hung a painting on drywall shouldn’t find any surprises — weekend DIY-er or not. Again, all that is needed, except for tools, comes in the MICRON XG’s box.
Speaking of which, it’s best to open the box and remove all of the contents first — use an area that can be kept aside from pets and small children since there are small parts that could prove harmful if mishandled. Besides, losing screws is pretty much part of the human condition.
For the testing done with wall mounting, I used the side of the wall, next to the sliding screen door leading outside to my balcony. And of course once I mounted the MICRON XG to the wall, I then ran the cable over to the HDTV and repeated the setup and scanning procedure as was done earlier. Since the cable that is attached to the MICRON XG is not very long, I am using an extension cable of high quality that is on hand for this very purpose.
If you’ve been keeping tabs, I now have had two different testing procedures to write up: tabletop and wall mounting.
To add an additional test to each of these, I take out the included amplifier. While simple looking — you screw the cable from the antenna into the input end of the amplifier and then screw another cable from the amplifier’s output t the HDTV — there are two things to take into consideration. The first is that the amplifier is AC powered (a power plug is supplied) so you do need to have an AC outlet handy, or at least an extension cord. The second is that you will need to adjust the “gain” of the amplifier in order to get the best picture results. Rather than a knob, the MICRON XG’s amplifier consists of a series of buttons to vary the gain. Start with 10 dB if the signal you’re getting without the amplifier just isn’t up to snuff (in my case, using the amplifier was found out to be unnecessary). The amplifier must be used indoors only in order to be safe, I will add.
Of course it’s the results from using the MICRON XG that counts. First let me say that I found no difference in the quality of the TV signal when it was tabletop or wall mounted — of course your results here may vary since it’s all about the location of where the antenna is. In both cases the HDTV I was using for the test had no problems with doing a channel scan. As to the resulting image, I found it indistinguishable from that of the signal being presented through my satellite service provider (when eyeball compared). If anything, the image from the MICRON XG was a bit more contrasty than I was used to — a simple adjustment in the HDTV’s menu took care of that. I also notched up the level of the brightness ever so slightly.
When the amplifier was added, things changed a bit. Keep in mind that I really didn’t need the amplifier to get a good signal, so when I adjust the variable gain up, the image started to suffer. Left at 10 dB, I did have to lower the contrast back down, although I left the brightness where it had been set earlier. Color purity was fine here (as it was when using the MICRON XG without the amplifier), although minute adjustments to taste can make a different, if only in the mind of the HDTV’s owner. Go online to Antennaweb.com and find out the distance from your local broadcast towers first. If it turns out that you are well within their range, you can leave the amplifier in the box and forget about possible issues with radio-frequency (RF) interference as well.
Bottom line: The MICRON XG performs its task of gathering in high-definition TV signals in a straightforward and competent fashion. Its portability (i.e., tabletop use as opposed to intrusive wall mounting) and small size makes it a good companion for use at summer homes/rentals or even that trip to Grandma’s whose broadcast network’s coverage ala cable just doesn’t look good. Spending $99 retail is no big deal here when you consider what you’re getting. After all, who can live without television?
- Amplifier and reflector’s use is user-optional
- Compact shape
- Customer service help
- Cable is permanently attached to antenna
- There is no real design esthetic to the antenna
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.