A multi-talented indoor antenna with a lot of touted features, the Antop HD Smart Antenna SBS-301 ($89) might seem like a reasonably priced option for cord cutters. The device includes features seen on some of the best TV antennas, like an adjustable amplifier to boost weaker signals, and an FM antenna to improve radio reception. But if you're simply looking to pull in as many TV stations in your area as possible, there are less-expensive, simpler solutions.
Antop SBS-301 specs
|Cable Length||10 Feet (plus two 5-foot coaxial cables)|
|Size||8.9 x 17.6 inches|
Antop SBS-301 design
Looking like two pieces of bread attached on their edges like butterfly wings, the Antop SBS-301 is essentially twice the size of typical flat indoor-HDTV antennas. The device is more than 17 inches wide, giving it a more substantial presence in terms of placement, but it includes a snap-on stand for tabletop positioning (used in our testing), as well as a pair of push pins that fit into two complementary holes in the antenna itself for hanging the antenna on a wall. Alternatively, you can use the four supplied adhesive Velcro pads to stick it to a window or to the wall of, say, an RV. There are also three supplied screws with drywall anchors. The plastic Antop SBS-301 is multi-directional, and is black on one side and white on the other, which makes it reversible. In other words, you can choose to expose the white or the black side of the antenna, depending on what works with your décor, without affecting reception.
The other part of the Antop package is a separate power-booster module for signal amplification. It's about the size of a pack of cigarettes and has a dial for adjusting the level of amplification, as well as a plug for DC power and a USB port in case you receive power directly from your TV. The module also has a coaxial antenna input, two coaxial outputs for your TV and an FM receiver (or 2 TVs if you so choose). For the FM radio connection, Antop 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 SBS-301 setup
Although you don't have to use the included power amplifier, most buyers will want to install it. The power pack creates more of a tangle of cables, however. In addition to the 10-foot antenna wire (which is permanently attached to the SBS-301) there's the power cable to plug in and the two additional coaxial cables (one for the TV and one for the FM receiver).
You can hide the power booster behind your TV, if it's sitting on a credenza or table. Alternately, you can hang the amplifier like a smoke detector with the supplied screws. Just make sure it remains accessible, so that you can adjust the level of amplification as needed. And for those looking for an RV or glamping solution, the Antop SBS-301 is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of setups.
Antop SBS-301 performance
With its adjustable amplifier – a feature Antop calls Smart Boost – and a touted 4G LTE filter, we were anxious to see how the Antop SBS-301 performed in our tests. The results were mixed, demonstrating the challenges of getting reliable reception, even in an urban environment.
To get a baseline, we tested the Antop antenna without the boost module or any amplification. Initial scans from our standard-test position reported 29 stations. The list didn't include the local CBS channel, but NBC and ABC came in clear as a bell. About half a dozen of the remaining channels experienced pixelation and picture distortion, so in the end, only 23 stations could be tuned in reliably without the power assist, which was better than average.
Then we tested the SBS-301 with the power booster in line and the dial set to its maximum position. A scan with the Samsung KS9000's tuner revealed 31 stations. That's not many more channels than were reported without the amplifier, but there was a significant difference. We could now watch the daytime soaps on CBS, clearly and cleanly. Furthermore, from MeTV reruns to community programs, we could tune in all 31 channels reliably without experiencing any picture breakups or audio drop outs. This was, again, above-average reception compared to similar antennas, such as the Moho Curve.
Not content to watching oldies like Adam 12 with the power booster set to the maximum, we decided to test the antenna at a variety of amplification levels. At about 50% power, the Antop SBS-301 actually recognized more channels, 33 in total. However, we lost the CBS affiliate at this setting, while we gained a couple of Spanish-language stations at the upper end of the dial. Cutting the power boost to around 25% revealed 37 channels on an initial scan. However, many stations were shaky at best, such as a retro channel running episodes of I Dream of Jeannie. CBS was also unwatchable, while a local arts channel was – for the first time – sharp and solid.
These differences demonstrated the vagaries of interference that can be generated when amplifiers are used with antennas. If you're in a remote location with only sporadic reception of a couple of stations, an amplifier can be a great help. But if you're in a metropolitan area with dozens of stations competing for your attention, an amplifier can help or hinder, depending on the channel you're trying to tune in.
The same caveat goes for FM reception. Using the same test location, we connected the antenna to a stereo receiver with a coaxial cable. Cataloging all the stations available in our metro-New-York-City location wasn't practical, but we did find that the amplified antenna improved the audio quality of many stations, such as a jazz outlet and an NPR station that were otherwise marred by noise and static. We still could not tune in stations that were previously unavailable, however, so don't expect the antenna to perform miracles. And shoppers should note that the placement of the antenna for receiving FM stations is often more critical than the use of the amplifier.
Although a reasonable performer with some interesting extras, the Antop SBS-301 is surpassed by several of Tom's Guide Editor's Choices. The Mohu Curve, another indoor amplified antenna, is more affordable than the Antop model and pulls in more stations. However, if you're looking for a single antenna to do double duty that improves TV and FM reception, this Antop model may be right for you.