Subtle, it ain't, but the Antop AT-800SBS HD Smart Panel antenna ($169) does a very respectable job of receiving TV stations that smaller models will miss. Primarily intended for outdoor installations – although you can use it inside – the Antop AT-800SBS comes with a variety of hardware and the necessary cables to accommodate most situations.
Priced at nearly $170, this antenna represents a more substantial investment in money and installation time, so only serious cordcutters – or those beyond the reach of cable – need apply. Our results proved it was one of the best outdoor models we've tested, with an adjustable amplifier and FM-tuner option to boot.
Antop AT-800SBS design
Big and bold, the Antop AT-800SBS may not be beautiful, but its white plastic housing should protect it from all but the most serious hail storms and severe weather.
The Antop AT-800SBS is nearly two feet tall and more than 4 inches thick. A pre-installed metal bracket on back means that it's ready for wall, roof or pole installation. The package includes a wall mount, as well as a 13-inch J-pole mount for installation on a roof. Two matching, screw-on pole antennas that extend outwards horizontally are intended to improve VHF reception. The antenna also comes with a plastic, snap-on stand should you decide to use it inside.
The included amplifier is about the size of two decks of cards, with two coaxial output ports for connecting two TVs, or hooking it up to a TV and a receiver for better FM reception. A power adapter is supplied for the amplifier. Antop says this model should filter out interference from nearby 4G LTE towers, and its multi-directional design means that you shouldn't have to aim it at particular stations. For FM connections, the Antop amplifier, similar to the one that comes with the company's Antop SBS-301, includes several adapters: a female coaxial connector, a 3.5-millimeter stereo audio adapter and a two-pin male AT733 adapter for older radios.
Antop AT-800SBS setup
Antop certainly gives you a lot of installation options. We tried it indoors and out with the plastic-sheathed pole antennas attached for better VHF reception. When both poles are installed, the antenna has a 35.75-inch wing span, nearly 3 feet, making it pretty obtrusive for most living rooms or dens. And although Antop suggests that the AT-800SBS is also suitable for RVs, we think that campers will find it unwieldy, since the antenna really requires a stable, permanent perch.
To set it up, we found the included 40-foot cable enough to reach outside. If you've got a larger home or looking to put it, say, in an attic, you may have to spend another $15 to $20 on a spool of extra coaxial cable to reach more remote spots. On the TV side, the amplifier needs to be put somewhere that owners can access the box, in case they want to adjust the power boost. The included 5-foot box-to-TV cables again proved sufficiently long. Overall, do-it-yourselfers shouldn't have any trouble installing the AT-800SBS, but we suggest having someone spot you if you're going to be working above ground outside.
One note: If you're planning on indoor installation, there's an included snap-on plastic stand. The Antop manual instructs owners to first remove a metal bracket on the back of the antenna to connect the stand; this requires a large Phillips screwdriver. However, the step is unnecessary, since you can slide the stand on without removing the bracket.
Antop AT-800SBS performance
Like Antop's indoor SBS-301 antenna, the 800SBS includes an adjustable amplifier called Smart Boost, to help with weaker signals, and a 4G LTE filter to reduce unwanted cellular tower interference. The amplifier can definitely improve the picture quality and reliability of specific channels, but it won't work magic. If a station is completely out of range, an amplifier still won't bring it in.
Antop AT-800SBS specs
Range: 85 Miles
Channels Received: 68
1080p Reception: Yes
Cable Length: 40 Feet (plus two, 5-foot coaxial cables)
Size: 21.7 x 10.4 x 4.1 inches
To see what the antenna would do inside, we first plugged it into our test Samsung KS9000 4K TV's tuner, with the power amplifier set to the maximum. The Antop AT-800SBS pulled in 38 channels at this location, the same number as a powered Mohu Curve. We received the local CBS affiliate crisply, but not the nearby Fox stations. Furthermore, while some shows, like The Brady Bunch, came in as clear and sharp as possible in an upscaled mode on MeTV, other stations were distorted and subject to dropouts. Ultimately, we found 33 reliable channels indoors.
Where the Antop AT-800SBS really shone was in our outside test spot set to full power.
An initial scan in this location tuned in 69 stations – all of which came in clearly save for one. (For those counting, that meant 68 reliable channels.) All the big network affiliates were easily tuned in, including the Fox stations, as were PBS stations, which elude most indoor antennas, including our powered Mohu Curve. The Antop even captured tricky channels like Buzzr, which plays old game shows from the '70s (Match Game, anyone?). All of the major Spanish-language stations also came in clearly in our New York City location, as did Chinese ones.
These results compared favorably to one our outdoor editor's choice, the Winegard Elite 7550 Outdoor HDTV Antenna. That model tuned in 73 stations (tested before some stations had their spectrum reassigned). The Antop AT-800SBS also easily bested the indoor/outdoor ClearStream 2MAX HDTV Antenna, which only received 44 stations in our tests.
For further comparison, we tested the AT-800SBS outside, using a variety of amplification levels. At about 50% power, an initial scan also listed 69 channels, but 10 of those stations proved to be unwatchable. CBS, NBC and ABC looked fine, but the weaker PBS stations were marred by sound and picture glitches. Several shopping channels also had trouble, with regular dropouts and distortions.
Some shoppers may be surprised to learn that at just 25% amplification, the Antop AT-800SBS found the most stations, 75, in our tests. This time, the PBS stations came in clearly, but many other stations closer to the top of the dial were not viewable. In total, only 55 channels came in clearly at this setting, demonstrating that owners should experiment with the amplifier settings, depending on which channels they want to pull in. (Without any amplification, we couldn't get the local PBS stations at all, for example.)
Radio fans will appreciate the option of using the antenna to improve FM reception. The antenna's outdoor location definitely boosted the quality of the audio, especially for marginal stations in our area. However, don't expect to find stations that are far out of your area; the amplifier can only accomplish so much.
The Antop AT-800SBS clearly did a good job tuning in TV stations in our metropolitan area, and it compared well against other outdoor models we've tested. For example, the Winegard Elite 7550 Outdoor HDTV Antenna turned in roughly the same performance and costs about $60 less. However, the Winegard Elite's black design – bristling with antenna arms – may be less aesthetically appealing to some buyers. And the Antop AT-800SBS definitely bested many other indoor/outdoor models like the ClearStream 2MAX HDTV antenna we've tested (that model received 24 fewer stations). In the end, we feel that most TV fans will find the price premium for the Antop AT-800SBS worth it, given the antenna's wider array of viewing options.