Thursday, January 1, 2009

Adventures in Free TV

Welcome to the Digital revolution. My latest project has been to set an antenna to get free digital TV.  It all started when my brother set up an antenna in his attic and got one of those digital converter boxes.  I was at his house, saw the picture - UNBELIEVABLE.  With the digital TV broadcast  picture... no more "snow" and static. I was looking at a picture quality that seemed to rival someone who had cable or a dish.  I couldn't get over the fact that this was free.  So the hunt was on. 

First element was to get the converter box.  Don't forget your $40 government "gift card". Went to walmart and after only paying taxes on a $40 box came home hooked it up.  Well.  Very disappointed. Nothing!  It couldn't find a single channel.  We had been watching "fuzzy" analog, but the signal wasn't strong enough for the converter box to pick up any channels.  The homeowner before us had dish network and an small outdoor antenna that we were using.  I tried aiming the antenna, tracing wires out, eliminating extra spitters, and doing anything to fix it.  Nothing.

Decided not to give up. Especially after Stephen Greene mentioned buying a radio shack indoor/outdoor ampified antenna, and he was amazed by the picture. I did a little research.  Check out for a start.  Found out that I need a big antenna! Well, I first tried what Stephen did.  Well, I tried the antenna inside.... nothing.  I tried the antenna outside...  Ahh first sign of hope.  After a little bit of aiming.  We got CBS and the CW and Fox.  I still wanted NBC and I kept hearing about other station from my brother (and a few others).  And I really wanted to get the Louisiana PBS station.  So higher we go.  I mount it on the chimney.  Little better.  But I wanted more. 

So the saving money part. $100 directional antenna(Channel Master CM 3020 Deep Fringe Advantage TV Antenna). When this online order comes in I run to Lowes to get a pole to put it on.  And up it goes.  Ahh even better.  Problem.  For me to get Arkansas PBS stations (yes I said Arkansas) I have to aim the antenna North-ish.  Then to get other stations.  I have to aim it East.  I have found one sweet spot where I get.  8-1,8-2, 10-1, 10-2, and 14-1. Which are the major ones we enjoy, but I kept having to go outside and twist the pole to reaim the antenna. 

One night I was all excited to watch Heroes.  The signal was beautiful, I was really into the show when the wind picked up. I realized then I installed a weather vane and not an antenna.  Since I set it up so I could rotate the antenna by hand to get different channels, so could the wind rotate the antenna.  I went outside about 12 times during heroes to fix it.  Frustrating.  So the idea of a antenna rotator came to mind.  

Jill and I got a new a 26" LCD tv for our bedroom.   Well, the reception on in for the Digital channels are much better than the converter box.  (Could be the length of the wire, the splitter or the TV itself - don't know yet). We could get 10-1 and 10-2 (KTVE NBC and KTVE's live dopler radar station - it's kind of like the silent local version of the weather channel without all the commentary) in the bedroom, when the converter box said "weak signal". This sure gave us a hunger to replace the living room TV... but that will have to wait for us to save some money. The issue was still the same and I knew Jill woundn't appreciate me sending the kids outside in the winter to reaim the antenna all the time.

$90 rotator at Backus True Value and now I can aim it and hopefully the wind won't aim it for me.  I am still experimenting with aiming it and finding sweetspots for all the channels.  But we are getting somewhere!

This has been a great fun project for me.  I apparently love challenges like this. I haven't been able to rest until I figured it out and even during the frustrating moments.... it's been fun to solve and learn how this stuff works.

So free has TV cost me a little over $200. I am a little jeaulous, because others have gotten more channels that live just a few miles away for much cheaper. But I have enjoyed the adventure. The only thing I might look into getting is an mast mounted pre-amplifier.  I got a cheap one from Lowes and I am taking it back.  It didn't work.  

The only other "tweak" I might do is raise up the antenna another 5 feet.  When I put the rotator on I had to lower it because I was by myself installing it and had to remove a section.  I think if I raise it back up and point it west I will be able to get a shreveport station or two.


wess said...

Live the adventure!

I enjoyed reading about your [little/big] project. I'm not sure I would have gone to that much trouble. I think when our little TV loses it's three fuzzy analog broadcast channels we'll just save up for a little digital TV and hope for the best - we do have a large directional antenna already mounted outside our house, so I suppose I could try using that when the time comes . . .

We mostly just watch Netflix dvds and online content anyway (hulu and netflix and podcasts), so we might just get something to stream that content in the living room.

Anyways, it's been great being the first commenter of 2009. Here's a motto for 2009 if you're looking for one: "Walk like Frankenstein, 'cuz it's 2009"

Peace out.

Brad said...

Hey Steve,

When you pick up Houston TV from there let me know, I'll run outside and wave, 'cause that'll be one heckuva tall antenna!

I experimented briefly with this too when Tiff and I got a new TV. I had an indoor/outdoor cheap-o and it actually worked okay. Here in Houston it's pretty easy to get a strong signal (eventhough most of them are in Spanish!). I looked into the mast antenna and all the hoopla and just gave in.

So no free TV here but I've heard that the signal is technically clearer with an antenna that it is with a Dish or Cable service. It's a purer signal that doesn't have as much filtering and signal processing. I can remember being amazed when I first hooked up our TV with the antenna at the clarity - but then it was also the first thing I saw on the new TV itself, so that's a part of it.

What, no picture of your antenna?

(Don't forget to ground that thing!)