How to Get (Nearly) Free TV
Many Americans are currently paying for television service through a cable provider or a satellite provider. With the upcoming complete conversion from analogue to digital broadcasts, many could probably ditch their service and switch to free over-the-air (OTA) reception.Analogue TV
Up until recently, televisions signals have been broadcast with an analogue signal. The problem that many viewers had with the analogue broadcasts was that if the reception was poor, the picture and sound were poor, often with a snowy picture or ghosting images. This led many people to purchase their television service from a cable or satellite provider. With cable and satellite, the picture is always (or almost always) clear, and there are a lot of stations available.The Switch to Digital
Currently, most stations are broadcasting in both analogue and digital signals, but after midnight on Feb 17, 2009, all television stations will be broadcast in digital only (with a few exceptions). The difference with a digital signal compared to an analogue signal is that you either get good reception, and the picture is clear (and often in Hi-def), or you get nothing. In addition, some stations broadcast multiple channels in digital (my local PBS station has 4 different broadcasts with different programming on each station, for example). For these reasons, I think that many people that were turned off by analogue broadcasts may now find that digital OTA broadcasts are much better, and could save a lot of money by ditching their TV service.Getting (Nearly) Free TV
So what do you need to switch to free OTA TV? Every situation is different, but generally speaking you will need the following 3 things:
1. A TV with a digital tuner, or a digital converter box for an analogue TV
2. An antenna appropriate for your location
3. A distribution system, usually coax cable. Depending on the installation you may also want coax signal splitters and a distribution amplifier if you’re using multiple sets on the same antenna.
All three elements are important to getting good digital OTA TV reception.The Antenna
Selecting the right antenna is technically the most challenging part of receiving OTA TV, and is very dependent on each individual site. Contrary to some claims, there is no such thing as a digital antenna. The exact same antenna that is used for analogue signals can be used for digital signals.
Some of the factors involved in choosing an antenna include the following:
1. Distance to transmitting towers.
2. Directionality of the transmitting towers (located in one location or multiple locations).
3. The station broadcast frequencies (UHF and/or VHF).
4. Signal strength.
5. Where the antenna will be installed (on the roof, in the attic, indoors near the TV set).
6. The local topography (mountainous or flat), and surrounding obstructions (buildings or trees).
Items 1 through 4 above can easily be determined for your location from the AntennaWeb website . Click on the button to “Choose your antenna”, and provide your address information on the following page. Click on the “Submit” button and you’ll be directed to a list of the stations in your location, the distance to the transmitting towers, the compass direction of the towers, and the frequency assignment of each station. The station list will be sorted by the heading “Antenna Type”, from the strongest signal stations (and smallest antenna required) to the weakest signal stations (and the largest antenna required). Choose an antenna type based on the largest antenna required for the station you want to view, but keep in mind that these antenna types are based on outdoor antenna installations -- if you install the antenna indoors, either in the attic or near the TV set, you’ll probably want to upgrade the antenna to the next larger size.
Armed with the information from AntennaWeb, you can now select an appropriate antenna for your situation. Depending on the distance to the transmitting towers, you can either select a large, medium, or small antenna (choose the next size up if installed indoors or if the signal is blocked by buildings or trees). If the stations you want to receive are located in multiple compass headings, you’ll either need an omni-directional antenna or multiple directional antennas. If all the stations are in the same location, you could use, but are not limited to, a directional antenna that will need to point in the compass direction of the transmitting towers. Many antennas will work with both UHF and VHF signals, but some will only work for UHF (channel frequencies 14 through 69) or VHF (channel frequencies 2 through 13) signals. Choose an antenna that will work for all transmitting frequencies for all the stations you want to watch (a note of caution – pay particular attention to the frequency assignment from AntennaWeb and not the channel number. Some stations appear as channels in the VHF spectrum, but are actually broadcast on the UHF spectrum). There are even some specialty antennas that are designed for urban centers, and can pick up signals that have bounced off of other structures. If you are in an area where you will be trying to pick up a weak signal, may need a pre-amplifier for the antenna.
If all this sounds too confusing, talk to a local professional who can help you buy and install the right antenna for your situation. Digital Signals on an Analogue TV
If you want to watch a digital station on your analogue TV, you will also need to buy a digital converter box for your TV. Digital converter boxes cost approximately $60, but you can apply for a government coupon that is good for $40 at <<a href="https://www.dtv2009.gov/" target="_self">https://www.dtv2009.gov/>. There is a limit to the government coupons of two per household.
Digital converter boxes work much like VCRs or DVD players, in that you put your analogue TV on channel 3 (similar to VCRs) or change the input setting (similar to a DVD player) to your converter box. Changing channels is done on the converter box and not on the TV. For this reason, you’ll probably want a digital converter box for each TV used in your household. You could have a central converter box that is split to multiple sets, but all sets would only be able to watch that one station from the converter box.Return on Investment
So all this sounds great, and the reception is free for the life of your antenna, but it will cost some money up front to implement. Divide the cost of installing a good antenna, the distribution system, and the converter boxes (if needed) by the amount you’re paying for cable or satellite to see how many months it will take to pay for itself. Sure, you’ll be getting fewer channels, but after a while you may find that you don’t miss them.
As times are tight, and people need to cut costs and save more, consider switching back to over-the-air (OTA) reception for your TV and ditch the monthly cable or satellite bill. The quality of the new digital signals may surprise you.