HDTV Antennas for Local & Long Range HDTV Reception
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HDTV Antennas and Reception : 

As many people have found out, you can't always bring home an HDTV set and use your old antenna system.  Here is the key:  If you have a "ghost" or "smear" to the right on an analog TV channel coming from the same direction as the Digital Signal you're trying to pick up, you're antenna system will virtually always need to be upgraded or replaced.  And who is writing this article?  I am the former Assistant Chief Engineer and Transmitter Supervisor of the old Channel 4 CBS affiliate in Miami Florida, WTVJ (now WFOR).

This first part is an ideal HDTV antenna installation:

Install a separate OUTSIDE antenna for your HDTV set for local TV reception.  Outside antennas provide a direct link to the television station, and give you the highest quality for local channels.

A DIRECTIONAL ANTENNA usually provides the best reception. Directional antennas help eliminate multipath that cause break-ups (picture "freezes" or "pixelates") on digital channels, and ghosts or smearing appears on analog channels. Directional antennas have higher gain (captures more signal) which helps make up for many DTV Stations operating at low power.

Your objective is to pick up the signal coming directly from the transmitting tower, without picking up signals bouncing off of buildings, metal roofs, etc.  The directional goals of a  "Suburban" or "Fringe" antenna is to reject signals coming from any direction other than straight ahead. This is what you want in many cities,, even though you may have to use an attenuator to reduce the high signal levels from this type of antenna in urban environments.  Mount your antenna away from all reflective surfaces or other antennas, and as high as practical. 

It is extremely important to mount an outside antenna on a pole that goes all the way down to the ground, rather than mounting your antenna on the roof or chimney of your house.  The reason for this will be apparent the first time your antenna is struck by lightning, and you DON'T have to call the fire department.

You should avoid using a mast or antenna mounted amplifier in urnan and suburban areas. These amplify everything, including the nearest telephone cell site and local police and utility 2-way radio and trunking systems.

The Federal Communications Commission guarantees you the right to install a TV antenna, even if local zoning codes or "Condo Associations" forbid it, << CLICK HERE. >>  

 

ATENNA CABLE - THE OVERLOOKED PROBLEM

Even if your antenna was juat installed a few years aga, buy new cable!.  TOday's RG-6 cable designed for satellite television is relatively cheap, and outperforms most other cables.  This is the stuff you want, and some companies will make weatherproof cables for you for around $20 for 75 to 100 feet.

ANTENNA ROTORS - DO I NEED ONE FOR HDTV?

Buy an antenna rotator for your antenna if the stations you are trying to receive are more than 70 degrees apart. 

An attenuator is used to lower the signal if you live near a TV Transmitter

If you live less than 5 miles from an HDTV station, you may have to buy a 10 or 20 db "attenuator" to reduce the signal to a level that will not overload your HDTV set. This is the equivalent of you putting on sunglasses on a bright day.  Too strong a signal can overwhelm (overload) your HDTV tuner, DVR, or other device.

TROUBLESHOOTING an HDTV antenna system:

If you are located far from the TV transmitter and have an airport or an aircraft flight path or an occasional airplane between you and the TV transmitter, you may experience momentary pixelation or interruptions in your Digital Television reception.  This commonly happens when the digital signal bounces off an aircraft between you and the transmitter. Now you have multiple paths, referred to as multipath. This "bounced" signal from the aircraft can occasionally cancel out the signal coming directly to you from the transmitter. 

One of the most common causes of poor HDTV reception is an AMPLIFIER in an antenna system.  Strong signals from Cell Towers, FM Radio stations, TV stations, and even 900 MHz telephone systems cause the amplifier to distort Digital Television (DTV) signals. These amplifiers don't just amplify the channel you're watching, they amplify EVERYTHING.  An FM TRAP (filter that removes FM stations) is sometimes necessary. All these signals can overwhelm an HDTV receiver, just like a camera's flash "blinds" your eyes.  Too high a signal is just as bad as too little.  Remember: your antenna delivers ALL TV, FM, cellular, and 2-way radio stations to your HDTV tuner at the same time. 

Use an antenna mounted amplifier with an antenna ONLY if you live out in the middle of nowhere, a.k.a. "DEEP Fringe."  You should be at least 30 miles or more from an HDTV station before even thinking of using an amplifier in your system. Make sure your amplifier has an FM TRAP, and be sure to turn the trap ON.  DON'T place your amplifier at the TV.  Place it at the antenna, and feed only one HDTV set for best results.

In some cases, it is necessary to use your antenna to "null out" strong signals, before you can receive a weak one.  This type of installation requires a selective signal strength meter or a spectrum analyzer or display.  This will allow you to visually null the strong signal, while ensuring that there is still enough signal on the weak channel.  This is a common occurrence when you are trying to receive a weak channel from a distant city, when you have a strong local channel nearby.  It is difficult to find a qualified technician to do this, and the equipment can run thousands of dollars. 

MAKE SURE IN ADVANCE THAT ANY TECHNICIAN COMING TO YOUR HOUSE HAS THE NECESSARY EQUIPMENT TO MEASURE SIGNAL OR SIGNAL QUALITY LEVELS.  DON'T LET YOURSELF BE CHARGED A SERVICE CALL FOR SOMEONE WHO IS JUST "GUESSING."

Seal all outdoor connections, especially at the antenna, with a product called "coax seal."  If none is available, use RTV.   Humidity in the atmosphere is your worst enemy, and can form water droplets and corrode your connections.  

see the next section if you need to feed more than one TV from the same antenna.


If you have multiple TV's, and cannot put up separate HDTV antennas:

IF ALL THE TRANSMITTING TV STATIONS ARE IN THE SAME DIRECTION, and you have more than 2 TV sets, consider replacing the splitter with a high quality MATV (Master Antenna TV) Antenna Amplifier, with multiple outlets - one for each TV.  Buy and install a termination for any output you don't use on the MATV amplifier.  Place this MATV amplifier as close to the antenna as possible, under an overhang, or in the attic, and run a separate cable to each Television or FM receiver .  

The purpose of this MATV amplifier is NOT to provide as much signal as possible to your HDTV set.  TOO HIGH A SIGNAL WILL MAKE YOUR HDTV SET USELESS (pixelate). The purpose of this amplifier is to provide ISOLATION from each of the other TV sets and their cable runs.  


Sec 1: How to Receive Distant HDTV Channels

Sec 2: How to Receive Suburban and Urban HDTV Channels click here

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Note: The antennas shown below are for example only.  We do not endorse or receive any money from the sale of these items.  We serve the Broadcast Industry, and these products are provided as examples only.

Section 1: How to Receive Fringe and Deep Fringe Analog and HDTV Channels (HDTV Channels Greater Than 35 Miles)

Things to consider:

  • The best method for receiving distant channels is to use separate UHF and VHF antennas.  Only use a mast-mounted amplifier if you have a coax line longer than 75 feet between the antenna and your receiver, AND the stations are more than 30 miles away.  Antenna pre-amplifiers do NOT make up for a smaller antenna.  The TV antenna is like a lens on a telescope.  If you increase the size of the antenna, weak signals appear clearer.
     
     
  • An HDTV antenna should be thought of as a spotlight in reverse; it should pick up a signal from only ONE direction, and reject all other incoming angles of the same signal (reflections) bouncing off of buildings, towers, et.  This bouncing is known in RF terms as multipath, and shows up as a "ghost" or "smear" to the right of an analog TV picture. With a digital TV signal, this multipath can result in picture break-up or no picture at all.

  • Don't try to "split the difference" when pointing your antenna between two distant digital stations coming from different directions.  If they're more than 30 miles away and more than 30 degrees apart, use a rotor and high directivity antennas, such as an 8-bay bow tie antenna for channels 14 to 70. These antennas also work fairly well on channels 7 through 13: 
     

    http://search.solidsignal.com/?x=25&y=13&q=4228&site=new&new_search=1&cart=2  This antenna provides the highest capture area, diversity, UHF gain, bandwidth, and directivity.  When mounted at a height of 30 feet or more above ground, and with no obstructions between your antenna and the TV station, you should be able to receive full-power stations up to 50 or more miles away.  If you are 20 miles or more away from the nearest UHF TV, paging, or 2-way radio transmitter, use this mast-mounted amplifier to make up for the signal lost in the line going to your TV set:
     


     This antenna amplifier has separate UHF and VHF antenna inputs for separate antennas.  It then combines and amplifies the signals, and sends them down a single cable to your TV.

    --- OR ---
     

    http://www.solidsignal.com/pview.asp?p=MXU59&d=Antennacraft-MXU59-Extreme-Deep-Fringe-UHF-TV-Antenna-(MXU59)&sku=716079001014  This antenna provides high UHF gain, moderate bandwidth, and very good directivity.  When mounted at a height of 30 feet or more above ground, and with no obstructions between your antenna and the TV station, you should be able to receive full-power stations up to 50 or more miles away.  If you are 20 miles or more from the nearest UHF TV, paging, or 2-way radio transmitter, use this mast-mounted amplifier to make up for signal losses in the line going to your TV set:
     

    This antenna amplifier has separate UHF and VHF antenna inputs for separate antennas.  It then combines and amplifies the signals, and sends them down a single cable to your TV.

     
    --- PLUS ---
     
    Use a high directivity antennas for digital channels 7 to 13, AND YOU DO NOT NEED TO RECEIVE CHANNELS 2 TO 6:

     
     
    This VHF High Band Yagi antenna provides high gain, moderate bandwidth, and good directivity for receiving channels 7 through 13.  The mast-mounted preamplifier listed above has a separate input for this VHF antenna.  Their is no need to buy two separate mast-mounted amplifiers.  Use with one of the UHF antennas above for TV coverage.
     
    --- OR ---
     
    Use a high directivity antenna that covers ALL VHF channels (2 through 13), plus FM, for VHF TV stations more than 40 miles away:

     

    MODEL
    VIP-307SR
    This monster from JERROLD provides maximum long-distance reception for TV channels 2 through 13 ONLY, plus the FM Band.  This antenna is not recommended for stations less than 25 miles away.  When stations are more than 50 miles away, the antennas should be mounted on a tower at least 40 feet or more above average terrain. Towers or push-up poles that go all the way to the ground prevent roof damage from lightning strikes. Use with this VHF monster with one of the UHF antennas for full TV coverage.
     
    --- OR ---
     
    Use a high directivity antennas that covers ALL VHF channels (2 through 13), plus FM for VHF TV stations that are 20 to 40 miles away:
     


    This antenna from ANTENNACRAFT provides good long-distance reception for channels 2 through 13 ONLY, plus the FM Band.  This antenna is recommended for stations from 20 to 40 miles away.  When stations are more than 40 miles away, the antennas should be mounted on a tower at least 50 feet above average terrain.  Use with one of the UHF antennas above for full TV coverage.
     

    Section 2: How to Receive Suburban and Urban HDTV Channels

     

    20 to 45 miles
     
    Use a combination UHF/VHF antenna


    http://www.warrenelectronics.com/antennas/3671.htm   This Channel Master Model 3671 has many elements for each band.  These elements not only contribute to good gain, but more importantly provide a flatter frequency response for both digital and analog TV signals, resulting in cleaner analog pictures, and little or no break-up of HDTV transmissions.  The higher gain and sharper directivity also help reject "flutter" and multipath caused by weather fronts, atmospheric "skip" conditions, and signal reflections from aircraft.  The extra gain also helps overcome coaxial antenna line losses.

    15 to 35 miles
     
    Use a combination UHF/VHF antenna
     

    http://www.warrenelectronics.com/antennas/3679.htm  This Channel Master Model 3679 has many elements for each band.  These elements not only contribute to good gain, but more importantly provide a flatter frequency response for both digital and analog TV signals, resulting in cleaner analog pictures, and little or no break-up of HDTV transmissions.  The higher gain and sharper directivity also help reject "flutter" and multipath caused by weather fronts, atmospheric "skip" conditions, and signal reflections from aircraft.  The extra gain also helps overcome coaxial antenna line losses.

     

    Up to 25 miles away


    http://www.solidsignal.com/pview.asp?p=CM-5646&d=Channel-Master-CM5646-UHF%2FVHF%2FFM-Special-Market-TV-Antenna-(CM-5646-CM3016) For MEDIUM to STRONG SIGNAL reception up to about 25 miles.  AN ATTENUATOR MAY BE NEEDED IF THE TRANSMITTER IS VERY CLOSE.


     

  • When using separate antennas, DON'T MOUNT VHF ANTENNAS (channels 2-6) ON THE SAME MAST, unless they have a 10 foot or more vertical separation, and 6 foot or more vertical separation for channels 7-13).   UHF yagi-style antennas can usually be mounted with about a 4 foot vertical separation.  If you are going to combine signals from antennas pointed within 90 degrees of each other, use a channel filter for each antenna on the same band, so as not to pick up out-of phase signals or multipath through the other antenna.  Then and only then you may combine the signals through a combiner (a kind of "splitter" in reverse).

  • IF YOU LIVE CLOSE TO AN HDTV STATION, you may have to install an ATTENUATOR to REDUCE the strength of the signal to a level that is useable by your HDTV receiving equipment. This is the equivalent of wearing sunglasses in bright sunlight.

  • Do NOT use a 300 ohm antenna system without replacing the old 300 ohm twin lead.  Twist the wire 2 to 3 turns per foot.  This prevents the wire from picking up signals directly, which causes multipath and analog ghosting.  A highly directional antenna, designed for a fully shielded coaxial cable, is preferred in today's houses, which have electrical devices that radiate interference.

  • If you insist on using a 300 ohm antenna, use a high quality "BALUN" to convert the 300 ohm impedance of the antenna to 72 ohms to match the impedance of the coaxial cable going to your TV set.  Then use low-loss 72 ohm, 100% shielded coaxial line to the TV or PC Card. 

  • If you MUST use 300 ohm line, TWIST it 2-3 turns per foot
    to prevent it from picking up signals directly from the 300 ohm antenna wire (multipath). 


  • AVOID USING AN ANTENNA WITH A BUILT-IN
    PREAMP, unless you are far away from any transmitter,
    including FM, 2-way radio, and especially cell towers.

  • YOU MUST TERMINATE ALL UNUSED RF AND VIDEO
    coax lines from splitters and distribution amplifiers.  
    If you don't have a TV connected to a TV outlet jack in another room,  install an RF Termination.
    Failure to do so could cause the reflected signal to corrupt
    the digital data stream, and may cause your signal to  "freeze" 
    for no apparent reason, or with the slightest bit of 
    additional multipath or interference.  Analog signals may have "ghosts" or a smear to the right side of the picture.

  • If you install a system near a Radio, FM, HAM, Cell Phone, or other tower, or other source of radiation, INCLUDING SOME MICROWAVE OVENS, use a TV-Bandpass Filter between your TV antenna and your TV receiver.

  • There are many potential causes of emissions (unwanted RF or interference) that might prevent you from receiving HDTV, or cause your HDTV picture to "FREEZE."  Most can be detected by a portable AM RADIO, that is NOT tuned to any station, just static.   Listen for an INCREASE IN STATIC or  "CLICKING" Noise as you go from room to room, or towards a suspected source.  This is how I found RF interference coming from my SONY Weather Radio.  Every time the green fluorescent light on the front panel flashed, a burst of RF (Radio Frequency(s)) was emitted.  Other sources of Digital Television Interference include, but are not limited to:
  1. Power distribution grids that emit  "static," especially poles with  lightning arrestor banks.
  2. Power distribution grids that emit  "static" caused by bad grounds.
  3. Ignition "noise" from parked or passing cars, motorcycles, lawnmowers, et.
  4. Portable home telephones, Cell Phones, and (digital) 2-way radio equipment
  5. Starting circuits on motors, pumps, and air conditioners.
  6. RF emissions from fax machines, computers, "screw-in" type florescent lamps with electronic ballasts, and even some battery charges for laptops, camcorders, et.
  7. Home and industrial lighting dimmers
  8. Appliances, including other TV's
  9. Battery operated Tools (drills especially) and Toys
  10. Common tube-type florescent lamps, especially towards the end of their life when they "flicker"  
  11. Christmas lights that blink

Recap of thing to consider:

  • An HDTV antenna should be thought of as a spotlight in reverse; it should pick up a signal from only ONE direction, and reject all other incoming angles of the same signal (reflections) bouncing off of  buildings, towers, et.  This bouncing is known in RF terms as multipath, and shows up as as a "ghost" or "smear" to the right of the image. 

     
  • Don't try to "split the difference" when pointing your antenna between two digital stations coming from different directions.  If they're more than 30 degrees apart, use a rotor, or separate  antennas.
     
     
  • When using separate antennas, DON'T MOUNT VHF ANTENNAS (channels 2-6) ON THE SAME MAST, unless they have a 10 foot or more vertical separation, and 6 foot or more vertical separation for channels 7-13).   UHF yagi-style antennas can usually be mounted with about a 4 foot vertical separation.  If you are going to combine signals so that you have only one lead going into your house, use a channel filter for each antenna, so as not to pick up out-of phase signals or multipath through the other antenna.  Then and only then you may combine the signals through a combiner (a kind of "splitter" in reverse).

     
  • IF YOU LIVE CLOSE TO AN HDTV STATION, you may have to install an ATTENUATOR to REDUCE the strength of the signal to a level that is useable by your HDTV receiving equipment. This is the equivalent of wearing sunglasses in bright sunlight.

     
  • Do NOT use a 300 ohm antenna system.  Replace it with a 
    Highly Directional Antenna System, designed for a fully 
    shielded, Coaxial Cable antenna lead to your receiver.

     
  • If you insist on using a 300 ohm antenna, use a "BALUN" to convert the 300 ohm impedance of the antenna to 72 ohms to match the impedance of the coaxial cable going to your TV set.  Then use 72 ohm, 100% shielded coaxial line to the TV or PC Card. 

     
  • If you MUST use 300 ohm line, TWIST it 2-3 turns per foot
    to prevent it from picking up signals directly from the wire (multipath). 


     
  • AVOID USING AN ANTENNA WITH A BUILT-IN
    PREAMP, unless you are far away from any transmitter,
    including FM, 2-way radio, and especially cell towers.

     
  • YOU MUST TERMINATE ALL UNUSED RF AND VIDEO
    coax lines from splitters and distribution amplifiers.  
    If you don't have a TV connected to a TV outlet jack in another room,  install an RF Termination.
    Failure to do so could cause the reflected signal to corrupt
    the data stream, and may cause your signal to  "freeze" 
    for no apparent reason, or with the  slightest bit of 
    additional multipath or interference.

     
  • If you install a system near a Radio, FM, HAM, Cell Phone, or other tower, or other source of radiation, INCLUDING SOME MICROWAVE OVENS, use a TV-Bandpass Filter between your TV antenna and your TV receiver.

     
  • There are many potential causes of emissions (unwanted RF or interference) that might prevent you from receiving HDTV, or cause your HDTV picture to "FREEZE."  Most can be detected by a portable AM RADIO, that is NOT tuned to any station, just static.   Listen for an INCREASE IN STATIC or  "CLICKING" Noise as you go from room to room, or towards a suspected source.  This is how I found RF interference coming from my SONY Weather Radio.  Every time the green fluorescent light on the front panel flashed, a burst of RF (Radio Frequency(s)) was emitted.  Other sources of Digital Television Interference  include, but are not limited to:
  1. Power distribution grids that emit  "static," especially poles with  lightning arrestor banks.
  2. Power distribution grids that emit  "static" caused by  bad grounds.
  3. Ignition "noise" from parked or passing cars, motorcycles, lawnmowers, et.
  4. Portable home telephones, Cell Phones, and (digital) 2-way radio equipment
  5. Starting circuits on motors, pumps, and air conditioners.
  6. RF emissions from fax machines, computers, "screw-in" type florescent lamps with electronic ballasts, and even some battery charges for laptops, camcorders, et.
  7. Home and industrial lighting dimmers
  8. Appliances, including other TV's
  9. Battery operated Tools (drills especially) and Toys
  10. Common tube-type florescent lamps, especially towards the end of their life when they "flicker"  

 

 Before you let a service company come out to your house:

  1. ASK and make sure in advance that ANY TECHNICIAN COMING TO YOUR HOME HAS A METER TO MEASURE SIGNAL STRENGTH and SIGNAL QUALITY.  DON'T LET YOURSELF BE CHARGED A SERVICE CALL FOR SOMEONE WHO IS JUST "GUESSING."
  2. See rule #1

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