Channel Master Smartenna+ review: This TV antenna tunes itself to pull in all the channels it can

Did you ever have a pair of “rabbit ears” on your TV set when you were growing up? If you did, you might have had to adjust them different ways for different stations. That’s because different frequencies are reflected, amplified, and attenuated by things in your house in different ways, so getting constant, strong reception across all channels can be difficult.

The same is true of digital TV, but without rabbit ears, the only way you can influence reception is by moving the antenna around the room. Channel Master’s CM-3001HD Smartenna+ changes all that.

At first glance, the Smartenna+ looks like a typical indoor TV antenna. It’s a flat plastic panel with a case around the antenna cable connection. But it’s a lot more intelligent than a typical antenna. Inside is a basic TV tuner and an amplified antenna that can be electrically changed into any of seven reception patterns.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best TV antennas, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.

When you plug in the antenna, it cycles through each of the patterns and counts the number of TV channels it can receive with each pattern. After it’s done, it settles on the one that will bring you the greatest number of channels. The technology is based on the “antenna steering” that is used in some smartphones and Wi-Fi routers and access points to improve reception.

It sounds almost too complex for a small antenna, so we put it to the test.

smartenna 1 Martyn Williams / IDG

A small button on the base of the antenna manually cycles through reception patterns.

Installation 

There are a couple of things to remember when setting up the Smartenna+. The first is that you’ll need to find a position near a power outlet, because the antenna requires power. Channel Master supplies a 6-foot power cord and a 16-foot coaxial cable with the antenna, and the power adapter sits in the middle. If you can’t find a place within reach, you can buy a longer cable.

The supplied cables have a neat new cinch connector, designed to maintain good conductivity without needing to be screwed on (you simply push it on, instead).

The second thing to remember is that you should hang it on the wall before you plug it in. That’s because as soon as you connect the power, it starts scanning for channels. A white LED on the base of the unit flashes to show its scanning and after a few minutes, when the LED goes out, it’s done.