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Winegard FlatWave FL-5000 Antenna review: Winegard FlatWave FL-5000 Antenna

Winegard FlatWave FL-5000 Antenna

Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
Matthew Moskovciak
4 min read

I've always suspected that one of the major barriers for would-be cable-cutters is the antenna. If you want to supplement your streaming video content with basic live TV, free over-the-air TV is the way to go, but the installation hassle and eyesore of an antenna is one step too far for many.

Winegard FlatWave FL-5000 Antenna

Winegard FlatWave FL-5000 Antenna

The Good

The <b>Winegard FlatWave FL-5000 Antenna</b> is a flat TV antenna that measures just 0.2 inch thick. It has a black finish on one side and white on the other, and can be positioned either way. And it comes with a 15-foot-long cable, making it easy to position for optimal reception.

The Bad

The FL-5000's permanently attached black cable doesn't look great against white walls, and you're not likely to get great reception unless you put it in a window.

The Bottom Line

The Winegard FlatWave FL-5000 is a paper-thin indoor TV antenna that performs nearly as well as bulkier, more traditional TV antennas and comes with a longer (albeit uglier) cable than the Mohu Leaf.

The Winegard FlatWave FL-5000 indoor antenna ($37 street price) is the best attempt yet to make an antenna more palatable, short of Aereo's "cloud antenna" subscription service. Looking more like a window decal than an antenna, its ultrathin design is much less intrusive than a traditional antenna, plus it can be more easily placed in unconventional areas to maximize TV reception. It may not do the trick if you're far from your local TV transmission tower, but for many in urban areas close to their TV signals, it's a great way to get your free over-the-air TV without worrying about an ugly antenna.

The real question is whether you should get the FlatWave FL-5000 or the nearly identical Mohu Leaf ($35 street price). They're very similar products, except the Leaf has a white cable that will likely look better in your living room, but is only 6 feet long, while the FL-500 comes with a 15-foot cable. Which antenna is better for you will depend on how your living room is configured, but both antennas are a much better option for prospective cable-cutters who want some free live TV without a big metal antenna in their home.

The FlatWave looks like no other TV antenna you've seen before. It's essentially a paper-thin square of plastic and it comes with plastic, Velcro-like adhesives that make it easy to stick to a window. It's has a radically different look than my current, more traditional, TV antenna, the classic Silver Sensor, which doesn't look great and takes up much more space.

The FL-5000 is white on one side and black on the other and can be positioned either way, so you can have either side facing inside if it's mounted on a window. It's a nice option and a smart design, since having the white side facing into my apartment looks much better than the reverse. Winegard's marketing materials show the FL-5000 positioned in a variety of different ways, including on the wall behind the TV or flat on the TV cabinet. It certainly looks convenient, but many years of finagling antennas to pull in digital signals made me skeptical about how effective those arrangements would be; more on that later.

The black cable is permanently attached to the antenna, so you can't swap it out for a white cable or a custom-length cable. That's too bad, because if you're planning on placing the Winegard high on a window, that black cable can look unsightly running by white walls. (Again, the Mofu Leaf includes a six-foot white cable.) The included 15-foot cable should be pretty workable for most setups, but there can be a lot of a lot of variability in antenna placement, so you may want to estimate how much length you'll need before purchasing it. You can add length to the antenna using an adapter plus another cable if you need to.

While I did a lot of testing with the FL-5000, my results are far from comprehensive. I don't have equipment for measuring antenna sensitivity, so my observations were limited to my subjective experience and my TiVo Premiere's built-in signal meter. Furthermore, all of my testing was done from a single urban location, although I did experiment with different antenna positions.

Caveats out of the way, my main goal of testing was to see if this ultrathin antenna could replace my more traditional-looking antenna, which I have placed on a windowsill angled up. I tested the Winegard in three locations: right in front of where my other antenna is, at the very top of the same window, and lying flat on my TV cabinet, as shown in the marketing materials.

You're likely to get the best reception if you place the FL-5000 high up on a window.

In my specific environment, the FL-5000's performance was about as good as you could ask for, although it can't work any miracles. It registered the same number of channels as my Silver Sensor antenna in each location, but the signal strength varied quite a bit. My instincts were right in that it performed best placed at the highest point of my window, behaving nearly identically to my original antenna. Next best was the same location as my original antenna, where it performed reasonably well, but had significantly less signal strength on all the major networks except ABC and PBS.

If you were planning on simply laying the antenna flat under your TV, I'd think twice. Unsurprisingly, signal strength was significantly reduced on many channels and there was more than intermittent breakup on several channels. In that position it wasn't nearly reliable enough to use as your main TV source.

As positive as my experience was with the FlatWave FL-5000, I have to confess that I'm still using my trusty Silver Sensor as my home antenna. I went into the review fully expecting to upgrade my home setup with a thinner antenna, but it wasn't quite good enough to get me to switch. A big part of my decision was aesthetic; I wasn't able to hide the black wire well, while my Silver Sensor antenna allowed me to use my own white RF cable. And beyond aesthetics, there was still that nagging feeling that the bigger antenna would provide better reception in the long run, even if short-run testing didn't bear that out. (Reviewers have our biases, too.)

But that doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend the Winegard FlatWave FL-5000 (and the very similar Mohu Leaf). In fact, the FL-5000 and Mofu Leaf would be my initial antenna recommendations for beginning cable-cutters: they're much less bulky and allow more placement options than traditional antennas, and because they can be easily installed in better signal-receiving areas, they perform nearly as well.

Winegard FlatWave FL-5000 Antenna

Winegard FlatWave FL-5000 Antenna

Score Breakdown

Design 8Performance 8