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REVIEW

FIVE EASY PIECES -- TV AERIALS

 

If you live reasonably close to a TV transmitter you might not need an elaborate  roof-top aerial. Weíve been trying out a selection of set-top antennas, with built-in boosters, to see how they compare with a simpler low-tech aerial, at our South London test sites

 

MAXVIEW CONTOUR PLUS        £24.99

This stylish Ďflat-plateí design is housed inside a plastic wedge-shaped case, about 25cm (10-inches)  high. It comes with a 2 metre aerial lead, fixing kit and brief fitting instructions, showing the antenna attached to a wall, or standing on the top of a TV. In fact the narrow base means itís a bit top heavy and it topples over easily. The built-in amplifier is powered by two AA sized pen cells which the manufacturers claim last for up to 1000 hours. A small indicator lamp on the front panel blinks every few seconds, to show the battery is okay, and the unit is functioning. The instructions are rather vague about how it is switched on and off, suggesting the small button on he front of the box is depressed for ten seconds; we found this was just as likely to switch it off, as on. The simplest thing to do is press it once, and wait to see if the LED starts winking, if it doesnít press it again.

 

The snazzy high-tech image takes a knock when you look inside the box. The antenna element is actually a piece of cardboard, laminated with two strips of sliver foil. This makes it quite directional so it may need to be re-oriented for each signal, tricky if itís been screwed to the wall... Itís not especially sensitive and within a mile or so of the transmitter it makes little difference if its switched on or off. We found it worked best when tilted at 45 degrees! Further away (3 miles) picture quality drops off quickly and although the amplifier yields some improvement the picture is still very noisy and thereís noticeable patterning if the unit is placed close to the TV. It looks okay but performance is fairly mediocre, itís expensive for what it is and we wouldnít recommend using it too far from the transmitter

 

Value 65%

Maxview Ltd., (0553) 810376

 

MAGIC CIRCLE      £19.95

The aerial element on this unit is a thick steel loop, about 19cm (7.5 inches)  in diameter, rigidly fixed to the top of a small black plastic box.  The box contains a simple one-transistor aerial amplifier and a battery holder for four AA type cells. A 1.4 metre long aerial lead is permanently connected to the box, the cable is terminated with a male coax plug. On the top of the box thereís an on/off rocker switch, and an LED indicator, to show when the unit is on. The instructions are very scant: Ďuse anywhere -- the choice is yoursí... moreover thereís no advice about placement, sensitivity or battery life, however, itís fair to assume the LED consumes far more power than the amplifier circuit, and we wouldnít expect the battery to last for more than a few days, if it was left switched on all the time.

 

Construction is adequate but care needs to be taken when fitting the battery as the bottom panel is not held in place very securely;  if itís pressed too hard the base caves in, possibly damaging the circuit board beneath. Surprisingly, in view of the simple design this was one for the better performers and thereís was a marked reduction in picture noise levels and an increase in clarity at one mile and three miles from the transmitter, compared with our reference aerial. Itís not very directional, so itís usually quite easy to find a good compromise position for all stations. Itís still no substitute for a proper aerial but itís one of the better design and it might be worth considering in borderline reception areas, where itís a toss-up between a roof-top or set-top aerial.

 

Value 75%

Mercury Telecraft  (0702) 511222

 

SUPERLOOP  £19.99

Superloop has two circular aerial elements, 8cm and 7cm in diameter, pushed into the sides of a small curvy black base unit; a 2-metre long aerial lead emerges from one end of the box. Inside thereís a small circuit board containing a microchip and two LED indicators, this  is mounted beneath a transparent panel in the top, one or both of the LEDs come on to show the unit is operating, or the batteries need replacing; the card insert in the packaging calls them Ďmultifunction LEDsí  unfortunately it doesnít go on to explain what they mean. One clever feature is the automatic on/off switching, the device senses when the TV is on and switches in the booster circuit, which should help to prolong battery life. It also has a manual power switch on the base, in the form of a pair of contacts; touching them makes the second LED come on; trial and error suggest this overrides the automatic on/off function as they remain on, when the TV is switched off.

 

Itís not especially directional, so finding a good position isnít usually too difficult. Sensitivity is fair, reception at one mile is good, with little noise, further away with a weaker signal thereís some patterning if itís placed too close to the TV, and noise levels increase, nevertheless the picture remains reasonably clean. Itís a fairly smart looking design, reasonably well built, and it works okay; the auto switching is a good idea, even so itís still only slightly better than most non amplified set-top aerials.

 

Value 70%

Tandy (0922) 710000

 

 

VIVANCO TVA 01                £28.99

A case of everything but the kitchen sink. This bizarre aerial is dominated by a 28cm black mesh dish; in front of it thereís what appears to be a dipole reflector. Behind the dish there are two swivel-mounted telescopic antennas that extend to 93cm. The whole caboodle is mounted on a moveable base that turns through almost 180 degrees. In spite of the somewhat misleading references to satellite TV channels on the box this is most definitely not capable of satellite TV reception. The TVA-01 is mains powered and thereís a an unmarked knob that appears to be some kind of tuning or gain control, the instructions arenít very clear on this point. The control box has a 1.3 metres coax cable, and a coax socket, so it can be daisy-chained with an other aerial. Itís a dual-band design, the telescopic aerials are for VHF reception, so theyíre not much use in the UK where all of our TV channels are broadcast on the UHF band. Pulling them up and waggling them about does have an effect on picture quality -- though itís mostly bad... The dish and dipole make up the UHF aerial, the reflector loops can be turned to optimise picture quality.

 

Whilst the dish looks impressive the parabolic shape has no significant effect at UHF frequencies, it is simply a circular antenna element. It is quite directional and this can be a problem when it comes to changing channels. This wasnít too bad in an area of good signal strength but further away it proved difficult to find a satisfactory position for all four channels. Noise levels are fairly average and the directionality can cause problems with excessive ghosting. To be brutally honest itís a bit of a mish-mash, itís technically suspect, dual band reception is of doubtful value and the dish is pretty much a cosmetic frippery.

 

Value 65%

Vivanco (0442) 231616

 

WIRE COATHANGER                    £0.60

The coathanger came from the Croydon branch of Sketchleyís, itís a conventional bent-wire type, though it had an unusual brown protective coating. The hook was removed with a pair of wirecutters and the hanger opened out to form a 35 cm square. The two ends of the hanger loop are held in place using a plastic terminal block (60 pence from a local electrical shop), the brown coating was removed to ensure a good electrical contact. A small off-cut from a wooden shelf forms the base. A spare aerial lead from an old VCR was connected to the terminal block and held in place by a saddle clamp. The top from a toothpaste tube (Mcleans spearmint) was nailed to the wooden base to make it look more technical....

 

This design proved to be very effective;  within a mile of the transmitter reception across all channels was clear and largely free of noise, though it could be quite fussy to set up. Altering the shape of the hanger helped, altering the position of the  toothpaste cap had no effect and proved to be largely cosmetic in nature. Further away from the transmitter the lack of amplification became evident and noise levels increased significantly, even so it still worked better than couple of the aerials with boosters, and thereís no need to worry about the battery running out...

 

Value 90%

Sketchley Cleaners (Croydon branch) 081-688 5883

 

CONCLUSION

 

WHOíS BETTER, WHOíS BEST?

 

Best sensitivity                      Magic Circle

Best (least) directional          Superloop

Features                                 Vivanco TVAA-01

Ease of alignment                  Magic Circle

Best value for money             Wire coathanger

 

SET-TO AERIALS -- PRICES AT A GLANCE

Make/model                           Price £££s                   Rating

Maxview Contour Plus          £24.99                         65%

Magic Circle                          £19.95                         70%

Smart 2 Superloop                 £19.99                         70%

Vivanco TVA 01                     £28.99                         65%

Wire coathanger                    £0.60                           95%

 

---end---

1994 1211

 

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