My new champion OTA antenna: the Cable Cutter

Rooftop TV antennas

The Cable Cutter antenna on my roof, with the Radio Shack yagi that it vanquished.

There’s been a major change at FTABlog World Headquarters in Denver. My decade-old yagi-style antenna (I always call it the old-school, pointy kind of antenna), featured in my brief burst of international almost-celebrity, finally met its match. It was defeated by HD Frequency’s Cable Cutter antenna, which now provides a wider selection of over-the-air TV channels to my OTA device test bed.

That yagi had a lot of history behind it. I bought it from Radio Shack way back in 2004 when Dish Network had its first major retransmission tussle with CBS. Since then, it survived a new roof and a growing list of new OTA antennas. Some of the contenders came close to the yagi’s performance, but none ever beat it.

One major factor in the yagi’s longevity was its emphasis on VHF signals. With the switch to HD, most stations moved to UHF, but two Denver channels stayed on the VHF band. The most magnificent, impressive UHF antenna isn’t any good to me if it can’t somehow deliver my ABC and NBC affiliates.

Then at the International CES last month, Theodore Head, CEO of SiliconDust, maker of the amazingly useful HDHomeRun tuners, told me about HD Frequency’s antennas. Head said that they were simply the best, and he referred me to HD Frequency founder Josh McDonnell, who sent along his top-of-the-line Cable Cutter for me to test.

One of the really nice things about the HDHomeRun is the number of tools available for it, both in-house and third-party. To measure the signal quality for various channels, I started out with Signal GH for iOS, but later switched to HDhomerun (sic) Signal Meter for Android. The Android app was a little easier for me to read, and it’s free. I’d recommend the Signal Meter app to help point or position an OTA antenna, but your mobile device OS will probably determine which one is better for you.

The great thing about either signal measurement app is that it provides a good, solid number for signal quality, which makes it a lot easier to compare one antenna to another. When I got my Cable Cutter last week, the first thing I tried was sticking it in my ground-floor window. I was amazed to see that from there it matched or beat my yagi’s numbers for every channel except that VHF pair, which were weak but usable. I could recommend the Cable Cuter right there as an excellent indoor antenna, but when I later moved it to the roof, it kept its strong UHF signal and matched my yagi’s VHF reception.

(I’ve got a whole page full of numbers for all of the channels and all of the antenna position experiments I tried, but I’ll spare you the details. I’ll only mention one fact, verified during this process: Signal quality can change from minute to minute even when everything else stays the same. It takes more than one pair of readings to verify that Antenna A picks up a channel better than Antenna B.)

One more disadvantage of the yagi is that it’s very directional. Most of the channels in Denver come from Lookout Mountain, about 12 miles east of downtown, so that’s where the yagi pointed. There are a couple of other channel clusters that are broadcast from a point over 20 miles north of downtown. From my roof, those two towers are about 80 degrees apart, and my carefully aimed Cable Cutter can just see them both.

Thanks to the Cable Cutter, for the first time I can actually receive all the channels that says I ought to be able to get. For anyone who needs an OTA antenna, I can’t imagine a better choice.