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How to choose a HDTV Antenna

(Cross posted from Wonderwave.net)
In this installation, we will discuss how to get TV for free via an antenna on your roof.  Until 1972, cable TV was only used to get broadcast TV programming into remote areas.  After that cable companies started putting out their own programming.

Everybody used to have a TV antenna on their roofs.  I’m not sure why nearly everyone has gone to cable and satellite.  Maybe because there is perception that the digital signal is better quality.  Since June of 2009 that is no longer true.  All US TV stations now broadcast digital content using the new ATSC or digital TV (DTV) standard.

It is a little known fact that with the right equipment you can actually get a better picture over the air (OTA) than with cable or satellite.  Because the  OTA signal is not compressed it is actually a better quality picture.  Because it is digital you will no longer get snowy or poor pictures.  If you have enough signal the picture will be perfect.

Another misconception is that you need a special antenna and TV to receive this new standard.  The truth is any TV antenna can receive an ATSC signal.  There really is no such thing as a HDTV or digital TV antenna.  And you don’t need a HDTV either.  Any TV made after March 1, 2007 includes a digital tuner for the new standard, as well as all TVs over 25” made after March 1, 2006 and all TVs over 36” made after July 1, 2005.  Or you can buy a separate DTV tuner for about $60 at Radio Shack.

If you want to use your old TV antenna clean up any oxidation with steel wool.  Pay special attention to the feed points where the cable is connected.  Replace old wing nuts or screws with new ones.

The first step to choose a new TV antenna is to go to http://antennaweb.org.  Plug in your address and the site will tell you the color code of the antenna you need.  You can also see what channels are available and what direction you will need to point your antenna. 

For example, when I put in Wonderwave’s office location it tells me my color code is violet which is a large directional antenna.  I can receive up to 23 channels and all but one is in Milwaukee.  I would need to point my antenna at 24 degrees which is NorthNorthEast.

There is a lot of hype in the antenna business.  At Wonderwave we know something about antennas from our work with wireless Internet.  The strength or “gain” of an antenna is measured in db.  The only vendor that we have found that publishes these numbers is Wineguard.  Other reputable vendors are Antennas Direct, Antennacraft which is resold by Radio Shack and ChannelMaster.

TV antennas have been around for almost half a century.  The original Channel Master 4228 is one of the best rated UHF antennas ever made for analog or digital use, yet its design is over thirty years old.  Any vendor that says their antenna is better for HD is full of it.

Digital TV channels are broken up into three ranges.  Lo-VHF is channels 2-6.  Hi-VHF is channels 7-13.  Most of the channels are UHF, 14-69.  A lot of antennas can only pick up UHF.  If you are trying to pickup VHF channels or FM radio, make sure your antenna is a “combo-type” that supports that.

The two basic types of antennas are corner reflector yagis and bowtie reflectors. Yagis are very directional and have good immunity to noise.  They are good for when you have an unobstructed shot up to 50 mi. and fixed mounting.  Bowtie reflectors are less directional.   They are better at collecting a signal that goes through obstacles or for longer distances and often are used with rotors. 

If you live in a city you can use a smaller antenna like a Clearstream C2 or the little Mohu Leaf that you can hang on your wall.  For those of us that are further out the bigger the antenna the better.  More elements catch more signal. 

For Wonder Lake residents I would recommend the Wineguard HD8200U.  Mount the antenna as high as possible.  Use good quality RG6 cable and attach a grounding block outside before the cable enters the house. 

A good place to buy antennas is http://solidsignal.com

Obviously you will not get specialty channels or pay-per-view with an OTA antenna.  But you can supplement your antenna with a streaming box and a service like Netflix or Hulu.  Check out http://titantv.com for an OTA schedule and http://tv.com to see what is available online.  Look for a future blog here for a complete explanation on how to view that content. 

For more information check out the “OTA FAQ and Knowledgebase” of the Canadian OTA Television Forums here: http://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=41102&pp=30
And these links to hdtvprimer.com:

Contact us if you need antenna installation