So I was tired of paying for cable. Having a DVR from Comcast was great. Until it started missing the shows that I wanted to watch, not following the schedule of the few shows that I actually want to watch. Plus cable TV is expensive. I get my Cable TV and Internet from Comcast at about $140/month. Internet only is about $60/month, so I decided to cut cable TV from my monthly expense. I have a Netflix subscription (I have a Wii, Xbox, and Apple TV capable of streaming Netflix) for $8/month to stream all the movies and TV Shows I want. Still, I wanted to get SOME TV, so I started to look at antennas to get my Over The Air (OTA) broadcasted channels.
A Bit About Comcast (New Hampshire)
So Comcast has 458 stations available for viewing. Sounds great. Until you break it down as follows:
- 120 are duplicate stations (Standard Definition and High Definition of the same programming)
- 77 Premium Channels (HBO, Starz, Showtime, etc)
- 45 Radio Stations
- 65 Foreign Language Stations
- 149 Stations that require MORE than a basic cable subscription.
That leaves 22 stations on basic cable (I checked this by connecting the cable to my TV directly, and not using the cable box they provided me). Now, the package I had listed about 220 stations available, but taking out the junk that I don’t want, such as QVC, duplicate stations, foreign language stations and whatnot, I ended up with 65 stations that I might actually watch. Even then I only really put on 4 or 5 stations consistently. There is my rationale for dumping Cable TV.
Learn About Digital TV Antennas & Broadcast TV
So one of the first things I learned is that an antenna is an antenna. Old analog antennas that might still be on your roof from the 1960’s will still work, though some of the newer antennas may keep distortion (or signal noise) down. So if you have an existing antenna still up on the roof, try that out before buying a new antenna. You may be surprised by the result (so I have read). I did not have an antenna on my house, so I had to learn about and buy an antenna.
What Stations In My Area Broadcast Television?
There are a few places to go to get information about what television is broadcasted over the air in your area. They all work in the same manner, but have different outputs. I liked the output from AntennaWeb.org, but let me list the others that I have used too, but first, let me show you the relevant output that I got which I found useful. Some sites will include some of this information, other will include this and more, but this is what I found useful.
- Sign – The station letters
e.g. – WFXT is Boston, MA FOX affiliate
- Virtual Channel – The Digital TV Station Channel
Channels in Digital TV are in the form of #-# This means Fox would be 25-1 in the Boston, MA area. Some channels may have many substations (the -1 in the previous example). Boston has WGBH 44 (PBS) has 5 stations for Over The Air broadcast, listed as 44-1, 44-2, 44-3, 44-4, each with different programming available.
- Band – UHF or VHF signal Broadcast
We will get into this more under antenna selection, but there are essentially 2 bands of reception. Just remember for later, I bought a UHF antenna, and receive VHF stations as well as the UHF stations.
- Power – How strong the broadcast signal is from the station
e.g. 5kW or 1,000 KW. This will vary for all stations and areas. The thing to remember here is that a station that broadcasts at 500 kW that is 10 miles away, may provide you with the same reception as one that broadcasts at 1,000 KW that is 20 miles away. This doesn’t scale linearly exactly, but the example is pretty solid.
- City – Where the Broadcast tower is located
e.g. Boston, MA
- Distance – How far away the broadcast tower is from your hom
e.g. 12.3 miles
- Heading – Which direction is the tower, so I can point the antenna in the right direction
e.g. 90.8º (which is just about due East) or 181.9º (which is just about due South)
How to find this information about your home? Hit some of these sites, and get some information. One thing to note about the output here, is that you may not get a full listing of stations in your area unless you lie to the website, and say the antenna is 30 feet above structures. When I lied to the site, I got a list that is more representative of what I actually receive for stations over the air.
I am in zip code 03079, so you can use this to compare what my results are to what you are seeing at your zip code and antenna selection.
Where I got my information (listed above). Had to lie to this site and say my antenna was 30 feet above structure. Start by clicking Choose An Antenna
Another site to do the same thing. Provides all the information listed above, with only your zip code. A Better Bet.
A site that will list stations that are broadcast in your area. Pretty inclusive for research, so you can find which stations exist in your area, not necessarily what you will receive like the prior two sites linked just above.
What Antennas Type Should I Buy?
AntennasDirect have quite a few good links about station listings, intro to Over The Air Broadcasts, and Intro to Antennas. I found that these are pretty good reading, as they are validated by may of the searches I have done to find this information out myself. Look up the Learning Center from their Home Page.
So in my instance, most of my stations are either directly south, or directly north. That makes my decision to buy an antenna pretty simple. Still, I did not want to put up an antenna that I would ever need to rotate to receive a signal. I wanted to put up an antenna and leave it alone once it was up. So let’s go through the major things to decide when selecting an antenna.
- UHF vs VHF
- Directional vs. Multi-Directional
- Short vs. Medium vs Long Range
- Indoor vs. Attic vs. Roof Mount
UHF vs VHF
So if most of you stations come in UHF, you would want a UHF antenna. Most of mine are UHF, so I choose UHF. I have 2 stations that matter that are broadcast in VHF, and they are receive in my antenna. Cool.
Not all people will have that result, so there are solutions that stack a UHF on top of a VHF antenna, and combine the cabling so only a single RG6 cable is run to the TV.
Assume you will only need 1 antenna type, and accept the fact that you MIGHT need to buy the other type of antenna, stack them, and combine the signal if you have no reception.
Directional vs. Multi-Directional
Depending where you live, depends on where the stations are broadcast from (Heading). If all stations are in 1 direction, a directional antenna may work best. My stations are either north or south from me (11 south, 4 north). I still bought a Multi-Directional antenna, and ended up getting enough stations to make me happy. Your needs and functionality may vary, but lean towards Multi, based on my experience.
Multi-Directional does not mean universal reception, just a broader range than Directional. I don’t see a reason to buy directional unless you live in Montana with stations 100 miles away. Then again, you may disagree and want Directional if that 1 station you want just doesn’t come in.
Short vs. Medium vs. Long Rang Antenna & Indoor vs. Attic vs. Roof Mounted Antenna
So here are some basics as far as distance is concerned:
- Indoor: 0-15 miles
- Short: 0-25 miles
- Medium: 10-55 miles
- Long: 50 – 75+ miles
The further indoors you are, the more interference you will have.
You will get great reception if it is on the roof, and mounted 30 feet in the air. Now you have to get it wired correctly (have an electrician ground the new antenna, as it IS a lightning rod), and now weather (high winds, falling trees, etc) can hurt the antenna.
I put mine in my attic, and am very happy with the reception. I have asphalt shingles on my roof. So I figured I would buy a long range antenna, put it in the attic, and live with the lost reception in the attic, but haven’t really had any negative thoughts on that yet.
I figure that a long range antenna in the attic is equivalent to a medium range antenna on the roof.
What Equipment Did I Get?
I ended up with the ClearStream4 Antenna, with an Attic Mount. No pre-amplifier, no splitters. The wire goes from the antenna directly to the TV.
The Front of the Antenna is pointed south.
I used RG6 cable to get the signal to the TV. ( no splitters just yet…that’ll be this winter)
What Stations Do I Get?
Use AntennaPoint to enter 03079 (my zip code). I receive all the stations listed EXCEPT:
But I also get a few more stations not listed. I ended up with 21 broadcast stations.
Is it worth the $120 to get the antenna & mounting mast? For me, yes. If you can’t live without cable channels, and refuse to wait till those shows on Premium Channels or cable only channels (I miss It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia) then this is not for you. I can wait till those shows come on Netflix.