So I seldom blog – if ever other than to post photos and videos of our kids. But tonight I discovered the WordPress app for iPhone, which I am writing on as as speak.
So over the last few weeks I’ve gotten our house ready for DTV…..
Ok, we were already ready for DTV because we had cable and now have satellite. But in any event, I still got ready for DTV. In part because DirecTV (who in general I am really happy with) doesn’t carry a couple local sub-channels and they don’t carry PBS and My Pittsburgh TV in High-definition.
First, some history. When we first moved in, before we got cable, and I tried getting tradition over-the-air broadcasts and had little or no luck. I was able to get CBS (2.1) and if I was really lucky Fox (53.1 and 53.2). This is in part because we’re in a rough spot for over-the-air broadcasts. I’m in a townhouse and not on the end facing the right direction. I’ve also got a ton of high buildings, trees, and hills in the way as well.
But with some work I can report that I receive all the major Pittburgh channels with only minor challenges on one network who by their own admission does not transmit well where I am . But in the process I’ve learned a lot about Digital TV in general.
But first…. why this silly transition anyway? Isn’t this just the government bowing to telecommunications companies who wanted to force us to buy new TVs and converter boxes and the like? Actually no, this transition has caused numerous headaches for broadcasting companies and believe me they are far better at lobbying Washington than the people who make TVs and converter boxes.
The advantages to digital are numerous actually. The first is that under analog, each channel had to be on a separate frequency. Under digital this is no longer the case as multiple channels can be put on the same frequency. This is why under digital you’ll see channels like 13.1, 13.2, 13.3. This allows traditional broadcast stations to take advantage of multiple channels – something that is normally exclusively the territory of cable stations like ESPN (who has ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, etc.).
The second advantage is in picture and audio quality. The new digital standard allows for stations to transmit much higher quality transmissions than they can under analog – and this isn’t exclusively the territory of HD telecasts. With analog your signal quality can vary between 0% (basically no signal) and 100% and everywhere in between. Now, very very seldom would an analog telecast reach 100% – there was always some fuzz in the telecast. Plus, you often had to rotate your antenna to get a slightly better signal, etc.
With digital there are two options: (1) No signal at all (2) A perfect signal. Under the digital format you’re getting data – so you either got it or you didn’t. What this means is that if you can find a good alignment for your antenna that gets most of your stations you can just leave it.
Ok, that being said – here’s some of my advice.
- Your antenna is king – and get your antenna outside. In working on DTV I owned five different antennas but ended up using a RCA exterior antenna. I’m not at all convinced its the best antenna at the price point, but it does an acceptable job for me.
- If you are lucky enough to be able to use an indoor antenna, you may want to try a multi-directional antenna. These are flat and attractive looking and help you avoid the need to aim and re-aim your antenna.
- Don’t skimp on your antenna – if there’s one area not to skimp cost-wise its your antenna. The quality of the signal is entirely dependent on how good the signal is coming from your antenna.
- I don’t recommend buying antennas online actually, since you can’t return them if they don’t work. After I found the antenna I ended up using I bought another, more expensive and in theory better antenna, but it was actually worse than the cheaper one. While reviews on places like Amazon.com are helpful I prefer to be able to purchase, try, and return.
- Powered antennas, that include built-in amplifiers are especially helpful if you’re in a difficult area.
- Even though I had a decent antenna, I still was getting very little. So I looked for a signal amplifier. These are both great and awful – because if your signal is bad to start with amplifying it won’t help in the least. But, if you’ve got a weak signal that is good an amplifier can give you a new lease on life. I highly recommend this one (Motorola Signal Booster) This was a complete game-changer for me – before I was struggling to get much more than two channels. As soon as I added it in I was in great shape, even getting WTAE most of the time (which is 24 miles away and notoriously difficult to get). There are other signal boosters on Amazon.com including a multi-port version of the one that I am raving about. (see the whole list here)
- The key to using a signal booster is to put it as close to your antenna as possible. Don’t use other splitters first – that will only allow the signal to degrade more and more.
- Cables matter, but not neccessarily more expensive. I bought one really expensive 25 foot Radioshack Gold-Edition cable for my DTV set-up and that was the cable that runs from my antenna outside into my house. I chose it because it had weather protection built-in etc. Other than that I went with generic RG6 cable. (Note, not RG59. For whatever reason when I used the RG59 cable that came with my antenna I had terrible results. Monoprice.com has outstanding prices on RG6 cable and I highly recommend them.
- Find out where your channels are coming from. Antennaweb.org is helpful for this. Put in your address and it’ll show you a map that will help you aim your antenna. In my case I am lucky because all of my channels are coming from the south so I set my antenna facing south.
That’s a little of what I’ve learned!