Monday, June 04, 2012

Make Like a Tree and Leaf...

So if you've been keeping up with your reading, you know I have given up cable television access and opted for HDTV over the air. And while I have been generally happy, I have found that a couple of channels have played back with an occasional stutter or pixellation. That is due to the signal strength/quality. Actually, the EyeTV software I use to record my shows offers both a Signal Quality and a Signal Strength value. Nearly all the channels I receive have 100% signal quality, but all of them have a lesser signal strength. I have found the channels that dip under 20% signal strength suffer poor playback (that's a full-house of alliteration, like that?). The cure for that other than moving closer to the signal is to get a good antenna.

I have been using Mohu's Leaf Antenna since my switch over and have been very happy with it. It's small, unobtrusive and easy to use. There was only one channel I used that had any playback issues. Recently, Mohu released the Leaf Plus. It's identical to the Leaf in almost all respects except the Plus has a USB-powered amplifier to boost incoming signals. The kind people at Mohu sent me a Leaf Plus to review and here are my findings.

Physically the Leaf Plus is the same. The circuitry is contained in a small rectangle, roughly the size of a pack of gum, mounted on the coaxial cable that connects to the antenna port of your tuner. There is a mini-USB port that, with the supplied cable, connects either to your powered USB port on your TV or computer or to the supplied AC adaptor. A small light where the coax cable connects to the antenna base displays the power status (only on the black side) as well as a light on the AC adaptor, if in use. What's nice about the USB power option is that the antenna will automatically be on when the recording/viewing device is on. If there is no power going to the Leaf Plus, the antenna seems to function as well as the basic Leaf.

But the proof is in the power. When plugged in, the Plus enhanced the signal by an average of 42%, the actual range ran from 28% to 58%, most of the numbers falling in the 30s. When it comes to those lower strength signals, the improvement was a significant enough boost to eliminate the problematic playback. Of course this is a big case of YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary), depending on your relative location to the signals, your geography and where the Leaf Plus is placed in your home. But a 30-40% improvement makes it worth the additional $39.00 ($74.99 vs. $35.99 for the original Leaf), since it's only a one-time investment. Plus, they seem to offer routine discounts, so I am sure you can get it for less if you bide your time.

ChannelLeaf (%)Leaf Plus (%)
2-12132
4-12533
5-12539
7-11825
25-12635
27-12231
38-11823
48-13*7*
50-11219
56-19*12*
58-11523
62-13143
62-23043
62-2 DT1215
* Fluctuating signal quality, probably due to distance.

In the interest of full disclosure, the first model I received from the company appeared to be a prototype (or at least a non-production model), and was DOA. There seemed to be a rattle in the circuitry package that might of indicated that something had broken. Alec Senese from Mohu was quick to send a replacement, which not only arrived the next day, but seemed to be more of the production model, with new packaging, a slightly new design, and a different power supply. This worked as reported above but only for a couple of days, when it, too, went kaput. Another email to Alec brought yet another replacement to my door the next day, which appears to be working just fine after several recordings. These things happen sometimes, but if Alec is any indication of the level of customer service and of the company as a whole, then I would not be concerned about the quality of their products.

Another friend sent me a link to a company called Antennas Direct which offers products similar to a Leaf. If I can get my hands on a couple, I will post the results along with these.