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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Zenith ZHDTV1 Indoor Antenna Review

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a little 19" widescreen LCD HDTV for my bedroom. Unfortunately, due to incompetence on the part of my cable company and inflexibility on the part of my condo association, I can't get cable run into my bedroom. This leaves me with broadcast reception only upstairs.

Of course, I knew that before I bought the TV. In fact, one of the things that finally pushed me into buying an HDTV tuner was the fact that my local ABC and FOX stations aren't carried by any of the local cable companies in high definition. When I bought my first HDTV, I thought it would be no time flat before ABC and FOX would be available. Someday maybe I'll learn to stop putting faith in the competence of others.

When I picked up my tuner, I bought an amplified indoor HDTV antenna that cost me $40. I could tune in all of the local stations but virtually all of them required the rabbit ears to be in a different position. If this weren't annoying enough, tuning in a digital broadcast is extremely frustrating. If the signal gets too weak, you don't just get a bit of snow, the picture goes completely garbled. Unfortunately, until it falls beneath that threshold, it's perfectly clear. As such, you can't tell if you're improving the signal or making it worse as you move around the antenna aimlessly and hope. The tuner I bought does have a signal strength indicator which is helpful but it's buried in the menu system. This really should be right on the front of the unit.

Things clearly weren't working out with my setup but I figured the chances of getting an outdoor antenna past the condo association were slim. After doing some digging around, I decided to order the Zenith ZHDTV1 HDTV-UHF Digital Indoor Antenna.

When I opened the box I was surprised at how flimsy and cheap the antenna felt. I suppose for less than $20, my expectations shouldn't have been high. Just about the whole thing is made from what seems like a low-grade, lightweight plastic.

I was also caught off-guard by how large it was. At 9.5" x 13" x 13.5", it's not enormous but it's bigger than it looked in the picture I bought it from.

Supposedly, the ZHDTV1 is a highly directional antenna that needs to be pointed in the direction of the tower broadcasting the channel you've tuned to. I set it up next to my TV, plugged it into the tuner and mentally prepared for hours of turning it an inch this way, an inch that way. Interestingly enough. I had perfect reception on every channel instantly.

So, in a nutshell - this thing is cheap, flimsy, piece of crap that likely to break if you drop it once but the damned thing works amazingly well. If it were sturdier, I'd probably have to give it a perfect score. As is, I give it 1 steaming pile.

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