Broadcast TV

If you are satisfied with your broadcast prospects, it’s time to spend a little money.  The first thing you want to do is select an antenna based on your TVFool report and buy 100′ feet of coax.  Figure out where the broadcasters are located relative to your home using your TVFool report and a compass.  Assemble the antenna, connect the coax, and walk your home looking for a good place to mount it.  Plug the other end of the cable in to your television.  See what you see.  If you have a TV or DVR that includes a signal strength meter, use that to fine tune your installation.  If you have a HDHomeRun, it includes an excellent utility that can help you point your antenna.

If you can mount it in the attic, there is no need for a mast or grounding hardware, no wear from weather, and no need to climb on your roof.  If you are going to take the antenna outside, check the weather first.  Whether you are temporarily or permanently installing the antenna outside, consult this guide for mounting and grounding best practices.

Watch broadcast television for a few weeks.  Is it reliable?  Do you like the programming?  If the answer is yes, then it’s time to dive in.  If the reception was good, but you were not happy with the available programming, consider adding Netflix, Amazon Instant or some other premium programming.  If the reception was unsatisfactory, consider amplifying the signal or moving the antenna.

Reading a TVFool.com Report

TVFool.com is a great predictor of broadcast television success.  Go to http://www.tvfool.com, click >> Click HERE <<, enter your address and anticipated elevation of the antenna above the ground and click the Find Local Channels button.  You’ll get a report that looks like this…

tvfoolhome

The polar chart in the upper left corner shows the strength and direction of broadcasters relative to your antenna (the center of the graph).  The bottom graph shows channel strength and is ordered by ‘real’ channel number.  The table in the upper right corner is the most useful.  It lists channels from strongest to weakest.  For each channel, call sign, real channel, virtual channel, strength, path, distance, and direction are shown.

You will likely recognize the call sign and virtual channel of each entry.  If you are unfamiliar with the channels in your list, check your broadcast schedule using TitanTV.com.  The real channel corresponds to the actual frequency of the tv broadcaster.  2-6 are VHF-LO, 7-13 are VHF-HI, and channels starting with 14 are UHF.  The virtual channel is the channel you tune to on your television.  During the digital changeover, stations changes frequencies and virtual channels were created to help people recognize their familiar stations.  In my market, WBX moved from 4 (VHF-LO) to 20 (UHF), but it still shows up as channel 4 on my TV.

You will want to use this report and TitanTV.com to make a list of channels you will want to watch.  Divide that list into three parts — VHF-LO, VHF-HI, and UHF.  Within the three parts, group your stations by azimuth (it doesn’t matter true or magnetic).  If all of your broadcasters are in one direction and UHF, then all you need to do is get a UHF antenna that has a suitable range and mount it with a line of sight to the horizon in the direction of the broadcasters.  If you want to watch UHF stations in one direction and VHF stations in another, it would be best to buy separate UHF and VHF antennas, point each towards the station(s) you want to watch, and join the two together.  If you have UHF or VHF stations in multiple directions, you may want to go with an omnidirectional antenna or a rotor.  If you have multiple televisions or DVRs that record unattended, things get more complicated.  We’ll go over specific scenarios in the Broadcast TV section.

Choosing an Antenna

When people are discussing broadcast reception, the distance between the receiving equipment (your antenna) and the transmitting equipment (the TV station) is critical.  Use these area designations to discuss this proximity — especially when searching for help on the internet.  Area Designation For VHF/UHF…

  • Deepest Fringe 100+ miles/60+ miles
  • Deep Fringe 100 miles/60 miles
  • Fringe 80 miles/45 miles
  • Near Fringe 60 miles/40 miles
  • Far Suburban 50 miles/35 miles
  • Suburban 45 miles/30 miles
  • Far Metropolitan 30 miles/25 miles
  • Metropolitan 25 miles/15 miles

CEA-certified Antenna Mark for Outdoor Antennas…

Antenna color codes are broken into six different zones. These  zones identify the different types of antennas that are required for a consumer to receive optimal reception. Typically, the closer consumers live to the signal tower, the better reception they will receive. They may also be able to use an indoor antenna versus an outdoor. The farther away a consumer lives, the opposite is true. However, there are many variables that impact exactly which antenna a consumer will need.  I’ve listed examples of highly rated antennas for each category.  The label on the box may not match the CEA code, but the antenna serves the purpose described.  Google for price and availability.

Small Multi-directional
DESCRIPTION The smallest of TV antennas, they receive equally well from all directions.
APPEARANCE Good looking designs including novel shaped disk and patch antennas, and antennas that attach to satellite systems.
USE This is where signal strength is highest and away from reflecting structures or low areas.
COLOR CODE Yellow
EXAMPLES HD Frequency Cable Cutter (UHF/VHF), Monoprice MDA-5600 (UHF/VHF), Mohu Leaf Ultimate (UHF)
Medium Multi-directional
DESCRIPTION Somewhat larger and slightly more powerful.
APPEARANCE These antennas include novel stick, wing shaped or disk antennas with long elements.
USE An amplified antenna is recommended in the green area anytime a long (20 feet or more) cable run from the antenna is required, or when more than one device (TV or VCR) is to be used with an antenna. They work best away from reflecting structures or low areas.
COLOR CODE Light Green
EXAMPLES Mohu Sky (UHF/VHF), RCA ANT800 (UHF/VHF), Winegard MS-2002 (UHF/VHF)
Large Multi-directional
DESCRIPTION Bigger in size, these antennas receive more signal power. Better for greater distances from signal source and areas with low signal strength.
APPEARANCE Styles include element antennas. These antennas can be used to reject simple ghost situations.
USE When mounted at rooftop heights (30 feet or higher) outdoors, amplified antennas can be used in light green color code areas away from reflecting structures or low areas.
COLOR CODE Green
EXAMPLES
Small Directional
DESCRIPTION Antennas that act like large multidirectional on channels 2-6 but on higher channels these antennas start to have useful ghost reducing effects. Picture quality is excellent when no signal reflecting structures are around.
APPEARANCE Multi-element rooftop antennas.
USE Suitable for far edge of light green color code areas. Amplified antennas with rooftop mounting can be used in these areas if the area is free of signal reflecting structures and is not in a low area.
COLOR CODE Light Green
EXAMPLES
Medium Directional
DESCRIPTION Most popular rooftop antenna because of its modest size and ghost reducing characteristics.
APPEARANCE Multi-element rooftop antennas.
USE If there are ghost producing reflective structures near TV receiver antenna location, this kind of antenna is best for yellow, green, light green and red color code areas. Amplified antennas with rooftop mounting can be used with the blue color code.
COLOR CODE Yellow, Green, Light Green, Red, Blue
EXAMPLES Antennacraft Y5-7-13 (VHF),Antennas Direct ClearStream5 (VHF), RCA ANT751 (UHF/VHF)
Large Directional
DESCRIPTION Large antennas used in weak signal areas for maximum possible TV reception.
APPEARANCE Multi-element rooftop antennas.
USE Can be used in any color code area, but requires an amplifier and roof mounting for blue and violet color codes. Amplifiers are not recommended for yellow color codes.
COLOR CODE Green, Light Green, Red, Blue – with amplifier, Violet – with amplifier
EXAMPLES 91XG (UHF), Antennacraft Y10-7-13 (VHF), Channel Master CM-3020 (UHF/VHF), DB8 (UHF), DB8e (UHF), HDB8X (UHF), Winegard HD-9032 (UHF)

Walking the Roof

Once you have purchased the best antenna using the guidance above, it’s time to ‘walk the roof’.  Believe it or not, reception of a signal that originates 35 miles away can vary widely by the positioning of your antenna.  In the living room, in the attic, or on the roof, simply moving your antenna a few feet can mean the difference between no reception and rock solid reception.

Connect a long cable between your television and antenna and position the antenna in any location your would consider permanently mounting it.  At each position, point the antenna using a compass and your TVFool.com report. Scan for channels and record the strength/quality of any channels you want to receive.  Once you have identified the best location for your antenna, permanently mount the antenna.  If it is outside, be sure to properly ground the antenna, the mast, and the coax.  Here is a guide for installing antennas: Solid Signal Professional Antenna Installation Guide.

Pointing An Antenna

Most people point their antenna by trial and error — using a compass then fine tuning by judging picture quality or watching a signal strength meter on a TV or DVR.  Some people invest in a signal strength meter.  I have a better way.

I use a Silicon Dust HD Homerun to point my antennas.  The HD Homerun has many advantages over much more expensive signal strength meters including…

  • inexpensive
  • easy to use
  • simultaneously monitoring two stations
  • dual use
  • better information

An HD Homerun is a dual tuner device that streams your antenna signal on your LAN.  The least expensive OTA HDHR available at this time is the HDHR Dual which retails for $129.99.

It’s very easy to use…

  1. Attach the HDHR to you LAN and antenna
  2. Install and run the HDHR app
  3. Open two instances of the HDHR Config Tool
    • Set each to a channel you want to analyze
  4. Adjust the antenna to achieve the highest possible Symbol Quality

Notice I said Symbol Quality.  The HDHR app reports signal strength, signal quality, and symbol quality.  Per Silicon Dust…

  • Signal Strength (ss) is the raw power level as measured by the receiver
  • Signal Quality (snq) is how clearly defined the digital data is
  • Symbol Quality (seq) is the amount of correct or corrected data over the last second

A less technical explanation where the concepts are explained in terms of the experience of listening to a radio…

  • Signal Strength represents the volume
  • Signal Quality represents how clearly you can hear the lyrics
  • Symbol Quality indicates the percentage of the lyrics you could hear or guess correctly

Signal Strength is somewhat irrelevant; if your antenna isn’t pointed properly, it doesn’t matter how loud you turn up the volume, the static will prevent you from hearing the lyrics correctly. Similarly, amplifying a weak HDTV signal can result in a high signal strength but too much noise to decode the digital data correctly.

Use the Signal Strength for a rough idea of direction, but align the antenna for the highest Symbol Quality, ignoring Signal Strength.

Let’s take a look at a real life example…

hdhrus config utility

Here I show my TVFool report next to two instances of the HDHR Config Utility.  As I adjust the antenna to pull in WMUR, I can easily see the impact of the change on WBZ.

Once you have your antenna pointed, the HDHR is a great tool for understanding performance issues.  When I am having a bad reception day, I pop up the Config Utility to see what is going on.

Finally, the HDTV was not designed as an antenna pointer.  You can use it to watch broadcast television via a number of apps and servers.  To sum things up, everyone should have an HDHR on their network!

Installation Tips

Here are some installation wrinkles and possible solutions…

  • Insufficient signal strength/signal quality: replace your antenna or amplify the signal at the antenna using an RCA TVPRAMP1R
  • UHF and VHF stations in different directions: join separate uhf and vhf antennas using an RCA TVPRAMP1R or a UVSJ UHF VHF Band Separator/Combiner
  • Distant stations in all directions: install a rotor and a directional antenna

If you want to discuss a specific situation, post a comment below along with your TVFool report.

Now that you have a great picture on your HDTV, let’s work on the viewing experience!

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