Clear TV Key Antenna Review: Does it Work?

Clear TV Key is a television antenna advertised as a way to get "Free TV" by simply plugging it into the back of your television. But does it really work? Today I offer my Clear TV Key review with an in-depth look of the product and its predecessors.

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Clear TV Key

This product first appeared around mid-2015 branded as “Free TV Key” and in fact still shows up in the embedded advertisement on the website under that name. It was later re-branded as “Clear TV Key” to tie into the popular product named “Clear TV” which has advertised continuously since 2013. The original “official” website was freetvkey.com, but that now forwards to the current domain of cleartvkey.com.

It does appear that “Free TV Key” is still used, however. I spotted a Spanish language channel advertising it under that name in April 2017.

Origins: Clear TV

Back in 2013, late night television viewers were inundated with images of a man out in a boat watching free TV due to his Clear TV antenna. That product was advertised with the implication that it would allow you to sidestep expensive cable or satellite bills for a one-time cost of about $20. Once you looked beyond the impressive (and simulated) images, it turned out that Clear TV was simply a standard television antenna, no different in function than a decades-old set of rabbit ears. You may be interested in my full Clear TV review found here.

Despite the fact that Clear TV is just a fancy-looking TV antenna, the product continued to blanket the airwaves and internet advertising for years, only to be ultimately replaced by Clear TV Key. There have also been a number of knockoffs hoping to cash in on the “free TV” craze. You may have seen such offerings as HD Free TV, Ultra HD Clear Vision, or TV Free-Way, all of which are simply standard television antennas marketed similarly to that of Clear TV. Prior to Clear TV, there was a product called Rabbit TV, which supposedly allowed you to watch hundreds of internet television channels. That ended up being a simple menu which pointed to internet sites you could easily access without it.

In mid-2015, not to be outdone by the slew of knockoffs, the makers of Clear TV went back to the drawing board (in what seemed to be an attempt at going back to the well once more) by marketing their next-gen product, Clear TV Key. And back for another round is the same guy featured in the original Clear TV ads, a spokesman by the name of Brian Hyder.

Clear TV Key vs Clear TV

How does Clear TV Key differ from the original Clear TV? Clear TV is an antenna which attaches via a wire and must be placed somewhere near the television (ideally near a window), while Clear TV Key plugs directly into the back of the set and remains discreet. “No ugly antenna & no messy wires” the website states. Does that mean your original Clear TV is an ugly antenna with messy wires, too?

I will give the Clear TV Key website some credit in that it is a bit more transparent than its predecessor, stating, “Free TV Key works like your old rabbit ears!” I’m not sure why there’s an exclamation point to end that sentence, nor am I sure why they forgot to change the name from Free TV Key to Clear TV Key on portions of the website. But whereas the original Clear TV marketing seemed to imply that you’d get tons of free channels, the new round of marketing at least describes it more like it really is: a standard antenna.

What Channels Can I Get With Clear TV Key?

I wrote several reviews for Clear TV back in 2013 on a couple of different websites, and the most common question from readers was regarding the channels the product would receive. The answer is that it depends on what is broadcasting in your area.

You will be able to receive local stations that broadcast nearby. This will likely be major networks, maybe PBS, Univision, etc. You will not pick up cable-only channels such as ESPN, CNN, MTV, FoxNews, etc. If you live in or near a large city, you can expect to pick up anywhere from a dozen to 50 or more channels between network affiliates and other local stations.

When I installed Clear TV Key on three sets in my home, they all received a different number of stations. One found 50, another found 32, while the third only discovered 17. Placement seems to be the key to Clear TV Key.

How Much Does Clear TV Key Cost?

You can get Clear TV Key from the official website cleartvkey.com for $19.99 plus $7.99 “per antenna.” This means if you buy one, you’ll pay $27.98, and if you take advantage of their “double offer” it will cost you $35.97 for two. Keep in mind that a simple pair of rabbit ears from Radio Shack or Walmart may set you back about $8, and come without shipping costs or delays. There is a money back guarantee, but shipping is non-refundable.

I found Clear TV Key at a local store for about $20. You can usually find it on Amazon for about $13.

Clear TV Key Review: Pros and Cons

While I won’t say that Clear TV Key is the deal of the century, I also wouldn’t say that it completely lacks merit. Be sure to watch my video review at the bottom of this page. Below is a list of pros and cons which should help you decide if Clear TV Key is right for you.

Clear TV Key Pros

  • Discreet. The advertising for the product is correct that Clear TV Key is discreet and will not show any annoying wires. It connects to the back of the TV set and you won’t see it once it’s installed. As I’ll discuss below, this discreetness comes with a price in that you can’t position it for an optimal signal.
  • Local Channels. If you’re the type (like my parents) who pay a hefty cable bill, yet only seem to watch local channels, Clear TV Key may be right for you. I know a number of people here in Las Vegas who only seem to watch KLAS, the local CBS affiliate. For those people, an antenna may be a great alternative to high cable bills.
  • Picture Quality. Cable television compresses the video signal, but over-the-air broadcasts do not. This means that if you have a strong signal, your picture may be better with Clear TV Key than it is with cable. Having friends over for Super Sunday or the NBA Finals? A strong signal from a nearby television tower plus Clear TV Key may deliver your guests the best picture possible. A weak signal, however, will deliver a choppy and unpleasant viewing experience.

Clear TV Key Cons

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  • Cable Channels. If you’re like me and watch primarily cable channels such as The Weather Channel, CNN, E!, VH1, REELZ, etc., then Clear TV Key just won’t cut it. Sure, it could still work as a backup for local channels, but I have no intention of giving up channels I’ve watched for decades. I’m guessing most consumers won’t, either.
  • Design Flaw #1. What makes Clear TV Key stand out from its predecessor is its design which plugs into the back of the TV. This, to me, is also the product’s biggest flaw. Take a close look at the website and the advertising for the product. You’ll notice that all of the television sets shown in the examples are on stands. That’s because if you plug Clear TV Key into the back of a set that’s mounted to a wall, it may not fit properly behind the set. I have four wall-mounted TV’s in my house, and a 1 inch deep plug that stretches 16 inches long in the back simply won’t work on all of them. You may also need to take your TV off of the wall to install this, depending on where the input resides. As discreet as it is, it starts to seem very bulky on the back of a mounted set. See the screenshot below as an example of the mounting problem.
  • Design Flaw #2. In addition to being problematic for mounted televisions, the fact that Clear TV Key is stuck behind the set is actually not an optimal position for a television antenna. When you install a television antenna, you’ll want it to be near a window if possible. Being stuck behind the TV in a tight space is not at all an optimal way to install an antenna. You may sacrifice picture clarity for its discreet design.
  • Price. You can pick up a cheap TV antenna for under $10 at a local retailer. It may not be as discreet as Clear TV Key, but it will function the same – and can be positioned for optimal picture. If you buy it online, a price of $27 when you factor in shipping, puts Clear TV Key on the high end of the cost spectrum for this kind of product. Ordering online also requires you to wait for the product to ship. If you decided you don’t like it, the shipping is not refundable.
clear tv key review

How flat do you think your TV will mount with this attached to the back?

Other Observations

If you have no intention of giving up your cable channels (like me), Clear TV Key (or rabbit ears) may still have a place in your home. I currently use DirecTV for four of my TV sets, and I’m quite happy with that setup. There are a couple of TV’s around the house that are barely used and are not connected to DirecTV. Those sets may be a good fit for an antenna on the rare occasions they are used, so at least they will pick up a few local channels when in use. I finally placed Clear TV Key in my son’s room so he can get a few local channels on the TV he primarily uses for gaming.

Another item I touched on above is that your geographic location will dictate the number or channels you’ll receive, and how well they will look. Here in the Las Vegas valley, there are a number of local channels – up to about 12 – which have a fairly strong reception. To contrast this, in 2014 while at Table Rock Lake, Missouri, I attempted to attach an antenna to a television there and received no stations whatsoever. You are really at the mercy of your geographic location, and the number of towers broadcasting in your area when it comes to over-the-air television. If you live in a medium to large city, you will probably get about a dozen channels. If you’re in a remote area, you may receive from zero to three. It depends on your location and any obstacles that stand between you and any nearby towers. You may want to take a look at antennaweb.org to see how many stations are broadcasting in your area. When you visit that site, you merely type in your zip code and it will display the number of towers and channels in your area.

The Clear TV Key Ad

The commercial for Free TV Key (when that was the name) was posted to YouTube back in August 2015. It features the same “Clear TV guy” as the original Clear TV ad. Although the product name has since changed, this is still the ad that is featured on the official website. And, although the website is more transparent by noting that it’s the same as rabbit ears, there is still some implication that this product may actually be a suitable replacement for cable or satellite.

“You don’t need expensive cable or satellite anymore,” the spokesman says. “All you need is the Free TV Key from Clear TV.”

There is also a moment during the commercial where we see news anchor Bob Losure during a newscast. Losure was best known for his 11-year stint as a weekend anchor on CNN Headline News (before it was known as HLN) – a channel that cannot be received by Clear TV Key.

clear tv key review

Is Clear TV Key Available in stores?

As of this April 2017 update, I have only seen Clear TV Key in an As Seen on TV store. It has been my experience here in Las Vegas that the first retailers to get “As Seen on TV” products are Bed Bath & Beyond, Fry’s, and a local As Seen on TV store. To date, only the As Seen on TV store carries Clear TV Key, although all three still sell the older Clear TV antenna for about $15 to $20.

Conclusion

Clear TV Key by Clear TV is simply a television antenna which plugs directly into the back of your television set. It is said to include improvements over the original Clear TV by reducing wires and offering a discreet design. This hidden design, however, comes with a price, as it does not allow you to position it properly, nor is it friendly to wall-mounted designs.

Clear TV Key is not yet available in most stores, which means you are obligated to pay non-refundable shipping costs or get it on Amazon. That, combined with what I consider design flaws listed above, renders the product a step backward from the original Clear TV. While that product is is still no better (or worse) than a standard antenna, it can purchased locally at many stores and can be positioned properly for an optimal signal.

I can see this being ideal for a small set which isn’t used much and which resides near a window. You may want to take a look at the wide variety of television antennas available for sale before you make your final decision.

If you’ve tried Clear TV Key, or another product like it, please drop me a message below and give me your observations.

Updated April 2017.