How to Buy the Right HDTV Antenna
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How to Buy the Right HDTV Antenna

There are a few things you should know before you buy and install a HDTV antenna. Here is a great summary of HDTV antennas.

There has always been confusion about TV antennas for digital television since the change from analog to digital. There was analog and now there is digital TV and there is HDTV which stands for high definition TV.

There is no difference between digital TV antennas and HDTV antennas. An antenna is built to operate at certain frequencies regardless if it is analog, digital or HDTV. For television there is low VHF (channels 2-6), high VHF (channels 7-13) or UHF (channels 14-69).

Buying the Right HDTV Antenna

Most digital TV stations are on frequencies in the UHF range, but there are still enough channels in the VHF range that some have to buy an antenna for both VHF and UHF. You can buy an antenna for low VHF, high VHF or a UHF antenna or you can buy an antenna that covers all ranges.

Digital TV can at times be frustrating and not easy to receive. Buildings can get in the way and even leaves on trees can interfere with digital TV signals. There are also situations where your local TV transmitters are in different directions from your house. For this you can get an antenna that receives all directions (omni-directional) or you can get a directional antenna that you can turn towards the TV transmitter for best reception.

What TV stations you want to receive and where they are located will help you decide which type of antenna you need. A directional antenna receives very well in one direction, the direction it is aimed. An omni-directional or bi-directional (two directions) HDTV antenna can receive stations in different directions from your house well, eliminating the need to turn the antenna. This works best if your TV transmitters are in different directions from your house. An omni-directional antenna usually will not have the same amount of gain that a directional antenna will have.

Antennas are rated in db gain (decibels) and the higher the db figure, the more gain the antenna has and the further distance it should receive.

Know Your Local TV Channels

When deciding on which HDTV antenna is right for you, you need to know the RF (radio frequency) channel of your local TV stations. After the switch to digital, television stations were allowed to keep their old channel numbers, known as virtual channels, but most actually changed their RF channel frequencies. For example, I have virtual channel 2, but it is actually RF channel 34. When buying an antenna, I would not buy one for low VHF, I would want a UHF antenna to receive channel 34.

To find out the actual RF channel frequencies, you can find this out on several different websites for your city like Antenna Web and TVFool.com.

How Digital TV Differs from Analog TV Signals

With analog TV, when the signal was weak, you could still see the picture and hear the sound though it would be snowy. With digital TV signals, when the picture is weak or there is interference, the picture can become pixilated with the picture freezing or drop out.

With today’s digital and HDTV signals, anything that gets in the way of the TV transmitter and your antenna can interfere with you receiving a clear strong picture. During the spring you might notice what was a clear picture in the winter is now dropping out. That is because the leaves blooming on the trees are interfering with the signal.

If you live in an area with many tall buildings around you, another problem is called multi-path. This is a TV signal bouncing off of buildings causing a pixilated picture. A directional antenna or preamp can help minimize this problem.

Outdoor HDTV Antennas:

  • Channel Master CM 3671 covers the VHF, UHF and the FM bands with good gain across all of these frequencies and a range of up to 100 miles. The CM 3671 is built sturdy with a double boom to withstand ice and wind storms.
  • Winegard HD-9032 is a good lightweight HDTV antenna for the UHF band covering channels 14-69.
  • Winegard HD-5030 is a good VHF antenna for channels 2-13.
  • Antennas Direct 91XG is another good UHF HDTV antenna. You can read a review of Antennas Direct antennas at Product Review of Antennas Direct.

Small HDTV Antennas

If you live in a close proximity to the local TV transmitters, you probably won’t need a large directional antenna. Or you might live in an area with restrictions against having an outdoor antenna. These small antennas can be mounted outside in inconspicuous places and still get very good HDTV reception.

Many of these small HDTV antennas can be used indoors near your TV or put in the attic with good results.

The RCA ANT751 and the AntennaCraft AC-9 are also highly rated small antennas. You can also put these small antennas in your attic.

Indoor HDTV Antennas

You might be surprised; your old VHF/UHF rabbit ears antenna might just work fine for your location. Other good indoor HDTV antennas include:

  • Winegard SS3000
  • AntennasDirect ClearStream 1 or C1
  • AntennasDirect DB2

HDTV Antenna Accessories

  • Antenna Rotors: If you need an outdoor directional antenna and your TV stations are located at different directions from your home, you might need a rotor to turn the antenna. With the rotor you will also need rotor cable to power it.
  • Coax: Most coax is known as 75 ohm coax. There are several types, RG-59U, RG-6 and RG-11. The longer the length of coax, the better quality coax you should buy. RG-59U can be used for 100 feet or less. RG-6 or RG-11 is best for longer lengths.
  • Matching Transformers usually need for a HDTV antenna. They are small and cheap little devices that connect between the antenna and coax line. A matching transformer is also called a 3-to-1 (3:1) balun. Make sure to ask if your antenna comes with one it needs one.
  • Preamps can be useful if you are trying to receive TV stations from a long distance or your reception is still not good. Some of the highly rated preamps are Channel Master 7777 and Winegard AP 8275

Antenna Safety

Do not try and put up the antenna by yourself. The antenna can be heavier than you think when you try to get them up with a mast, and even heavier and more awkward when you add in the coax and rotor. And you have to be aware of where the power lines are and stay away from them.

Copyright © May 2011 Sam Montana

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Comments (11)

Very informative and useful subject matter, thanks.

Thank you Ron.

Brilliant resource, thanks!!

this is good to know

Here in Ontario, all transmissions are switching to digital on Sept. 1rst so anyone still using an antenna will be required to purchase a converter box (cost: approx. $10.00??) to make the signal compatible...

Hi Stickman and Carol and everyone else up in Canada. There are two things to know when the change occurs. The TV part is, if you have an older analog only television, than you will need a converter box to receive the new digital signals. If you have a newer digital television, than you will NOT need a converter box to receive these signals. Here in the US, televisions that were sold after (I think) March 2007 had to be digital. If you have a newer digital TV you will not need a converter box. If you do need a converter box, I will try and find out which ones are the current good ones, since some of the good ones from a couple of years ago are no longer being made. I wrote a couple of articles about the analog–to-digital change and I put those links in this article, up in the linked articles box. The antenna is important in most cases because most channels will be moving up to UHF frequencies.

We're having just as much trouble in the UK with the digital switchover... it's a nightmare!

Truly informative article on types of antennae. I saw differences in the signals produced by our old antenna and the new one.

Very nice.

Thank you for such informative article about tv signal reception.

Do you know if RCA's ANT751R would work to receive analog VHF, and UHF signals?  Like in Mexico.

Well, you can read review here as well http://usemyreviews.com/hd-clear-vision-indoor-hdtv-tv-antenna-free-air-digital-tv/

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