Evaluation: Why I Chose the Channel Master 4221HD

#1
I thought I'd briefly outline the reasons for this decision, mainly to help other newbies in my situation, but also in case I missed something, in which case I trust all you savvy antenna buffs to show me the error of my ways. Nothing here is to cast aspersions on any of the great recommendations made by the experts on this forum.

I have no financial interest in Antennas Direct, Channel Master, or any of companies or products mentioned here. I originally outlined the details of my situation in this thread: http://www.dtvusaforum.com/dtv-hdtv-reception-antenna-discussion/46844-no-stinkin-twc.html

At that time, I was enamored with Antennas Direct DB4e. The ads for this antenna are nonstop and exciting. I can't go anywhere on the net without the "Range: Up to 65+ miles,"Succeeds in difficult areas" DB4e popping up on my screen. THAT is an aggresive martketing campaign! :eyes: And I believe some of the claims are misleading.

AD claims:
- Peak gain: 14.5 dBi
- Front to back ratio greater than 18 dBi
- Flexible aiming characteristics, 60° beam-width
- Works great in attics

Certainly all true. In addition, this is a very handsome, well made antenna, by all accounts. Then AD continues: "With its added gain of 14.5 dBi, the DB4e is the strongest multi-directional antenna in the world. ... The unique bowtie design that is exclusive to our DBe series of antennas provides solid UHF performance. By using new geometrics instead of rods, the DB4e has a massive increase in bandwidth allowing it to cover the entire UHF band. This antenna is above and beyond what other traditional multidirectional antennas can promise."

Let's examine each of these claims in detail.

"With its added gain of 14.5 dBi, the DB4e is the strongest multi-directional antenna in the world." Notice they don't say because of the added gain, yadayadayada. Also, a high front to back ratio generally makes the case for a unidirectional antenna, not "multi-directional." But there is no generally accepted standard for those terms, nor for the term "strongest."

"The unique bowtie design that is exclusive to our DBe series of antennas provides solid UHF performance." I'm not sure what's "unique" about AD's bowtie design, but bowtie antennas have been around for many years.

"By using new geometrics instead of rods, the DB4e has a massive increase in bandwidth allowing it to cover the entire UHF band." Very few antennas use rod reflectors.

"This antenna is above and beyond what other traditional multidirectional antennas can promise." Very clever wording. They stop just short of saying it's above and beyond what any or all other traditional antennas can promise.

Channel Master's 4221HD has been around a few years now. It doesn't sound, or LQQK, quite so impressive. "45 mile range," "average UHF gain" = 11.5 dB. But let's look a little closer...

Range figures are meaningless. Even so, a claimed 45 mile range -- if it's a dependable outdoor range in clear weather -- is a lot different from a range "up to 65+ miles." I've had a range "up to" 127 miles, with a cheap little indoor antenna. So that's no basis for solid comparison. Gain, front to back ratios, and beam widths, are a little more objective.

Now the gain for the DB4e is given in dBi. It took a lot of scratching and searching for me to confirm, in two separate ways, that the 11.5 gain for the 4221HD is in dBd, not dBi. You can see one way by reading this thread, and studying their charts: UHF Antenna Gain Comparison Charts - Digital Forum

So? 11.5dBd = 13.65dBi, still a little lower than the DB4e. Ah, EXCEPT there's a difference between average gain and peak gain! In one of those charts, you can clearly see the 4221HD has a higher peak gain of 15.05dBi (or 15.15, if you want to count channel 60) than the DB4e. You will also notice the 4221HD has the same minimum FB ratio (18db) as that advertised for the DB4e.

In addition, the 4221HD is a little smaller than the DB4e, which turns out to have some importance to me and my indoor installation.

So how do they do it? How does Channel Master make an antenna with equal, or slightly higher, gain and FBR numbers, in a smaller package than the latest from Antennas Direct? Probably beam width. The 4221HD has beam widths as low as 28 degrees, with one channel as high as 66. The DB4e may have a wider average beam width -- they advertise 60 degrees. But a large BW ain't necessarily the cat's meow in an indoor situation where there's all kinds of signal bouncing and bending.

I may have to twist my 4221HD a little more often, but I might get a slightly cleaner, stronger signal for my trouble. And it'll fit on my desk with just enough room for a turntable underneath for trouble-free twisting. :cheer2: The 4221HD is 33 inches tall. The DB4e -- 37.5 inches.

Here's a huge, enthusiastic thread on the DB4e: [Home] Antennas Direct DB4e Antenna $45.00+shipping - RedFlagDeals.com Forums
At least they're enthusiastic at the beginning. If you flip to the last 4 or 5 pages of the thread, you'll see many complaints about poor packaging and broken or missing parts. Consensus seems to be that AD still has some bugs in the packing process for their new star. I'm betting the packers have learned how to fit a 4221HD into the box by now.

Best price I've seen for the DB4e was $49.99 incl. S&H from electronicsshowplace.com, and they're a highly rated reseller. (It's up to $50.99 now.) I can get a 4221HD for $43.10 on eBay, so I save a few bucks by not caring about that "new antenna smell."

Reports are that the DB4e is built a little better/stronger than the 4221HD, but for an indoor situation, I don't think that's a crucial factor.

To summarize, both the DB4e and the 4221HD are probably very good value for the dollar, and excellent performers. By the numbers, they are equal in performance, for all practical purposes, so the differences center on packaging, appearance, size and price. And those considerations guided my decision.

By all accounts, both the DB4e and the 4221HD come almost completely assembled. I think the 4221HD is slightly better for someone like me -- spotty indoor reception, with just enough room to install, not worried about appearance -- and the DB4e may be better for someone in the same price range looking for a small outdoor antenna.

Rick
 
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rabbit73

DTVUSA Member
#2
Thanks for telling us about your comparison of the two antennas for your situation.

Yes, you need to watch the claims for gain to see if it is dBd or dBi.

Both are good antennas. Of the three CM4221HDs that I ordered, one had a manufacturing defect that put one of the reflector screens at a slight angle because the holes in the square aluminum vertical member had not been drilled straight. The box had been previously opened, so I think it was a return that was sent to me.

I did some measurements to compare the 4221HD with the original 4221. The new version has superior performance, but it can be improved further with a few modifications. I don't, however, approve of the reduction in size of the reflector:

CM4221HD Hardware Hacks
CM4221HD Hardware Hacks - Digital Forum

My post is #221:
Digital Forum - View Single Post - CM4221HD Hardware Hacks

I would like to compare the 4221HD with the DB4e, but I haven't been able to do it yet.
 
#3
Yes, you need to watch the claims for gain to see if it is dBd or dBi.
Yeah, and how do you WATCH when they don't even print the dang d at the end??? :grumble: :mumble:

I did some measurements to compare the 4221HD with the original 4221. The new version has superior performance, but it can be improved further with a few modifications. I don't, however, approve of the reduction in size of the reflector:
Yeah, that wouldn't seem to make sense for me.

WOW! Very impressive mods and tests! I thought my work was done by making a decision. Now I see I might have to get some nylon spacers. That really seems like a blockhead move, putting the baluns off center.

Thanks again,
Rick
 

rabbit73

DTVUSA Member
#4
Yeah, and how do you WATCH when they don't even print the dang d at the end??? :grumble: :mumble:
Some magazines, like QST, haven't allowed antenna ads to give gain figures because of the confusion and possible inflated numbers.

The DB4e has a safety advantage for indoor use: its element ends are less hostile than the elements on the 4221. I have scratched myself many times on the "whiskers" of the original 4221 when changing baluns.

I modified a 4221 for safer use indoors by putting a wooden frame around the edges of the reflector and put protection on the ends of the elements. See the attachments.
 

Attachments

#5
Thanks again, rabbit.

I ordered my 4221HD Sunday night, but I'm still curious: Do you see any problems with the DB4e similar to those addressed by the hardware mods you recommend for the 4221HD? Can you tell from the pics whether the balun is properly centered?

Always another question. ;)

R.
 

rabbit73

DTVUSA Member
#6
Do you see any problems with the DB4e similar to those addressed by the hardware mods you recommend for the 4221HD?
No, I don't. I didn't recommend the initial mods I saw on the DHC thread and thought that I would be able, by testing, to confirm the claims that were made for the mods. I was able to verify the benefit of the mods for removing the plastic caps where the elements join the vertical phasing lines and for moving the phasing lines away from the vertical support. I did recomment the mod for centering the balun between the two inner bays, because something didn't seem right when I first looked at the antenna.

I did, however, read about some quality control problems with the initial runs for the DB4e, but I think that has improved, and AD stands behind the quality of their antennas and will work with you until it's right.
Can you tell from the pics whether the balun is properly centered?
I can't tell from the picture of the front of the DB4e (attachment 1), but looking at the video of the DB2e, it seems probable that the balun for the DB4e is properly placed on the phasing lines (attachments 2 & 3).

The phasing lines seem a little too close to the vertical support to suit me, but I don't know if it makes any difference in performance. It's not too serious when they are at right angles to each other, only when they are parallel which increases the coupling between them.
 

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rabbit73

DTVUSA Member
#8
Thank you for your kind words, Rick.

I still have a lot to learn.

I had to solve a reception problem for my location. It is impossible to receive digital signals inside the apartment because the insulation in the outer walls has an aluminum vapor barrier, which forms a shielded enclosure. We don't have any windows that face the transmitters.

My landlord said that I could put an antenna at the end of the porch if "it looked nice and couldn't be seen from the street."

You can see my solution in the attachments. My 4221 is inside a cage behind a decorative block wall. Yes, the signals have to come through the holes in the blocks. It doesn't harm the UHF signals very much, but it attenuates CH13 a lot. The holes act like a high pass filter.

I later added a folded dipole antenna for CH13 and combined it with the 4221.

Best regards,
rabbit
 

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#9
My landlord said that I could put an antenna at the end of the porch if "it looked nice and couldn't be seen from the street."
From the picture, it looks like that porch is your exclusive use area (i.e. other tenants couldn't enter without your permission). If so, you could legally put any kind of antenna you want there, as long as it doesn't destroy property or create a safety hazard. But I understand the desire to keep the peace.

I now learn that my landlord deliberately disconnected our roof antenna right around the time of the digital transition. It's still up there, ugly as ever. It probably helps for prospective renters to see it.

I think there should be a law saying landlords must either provide working roof antennas or allow any individual antennas up to 10 feet out the window, regardless of appearance. It would be difficult to write in minimum standards for the roof antennas, given all the different conditions in the U.S., but that's OK. Give 'em sumpin ta do.

R.
 

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