Monday, October 8, 2012

Free TV service (choosing the right HDTV antenna)

I'm still trying to play catch up here with blog posts. This update (if you want to call it that) started over a month ago. J and I were on our way up to our parents' houses over Labor Day weekend and started discussing some of the services we pay for on a monthly basis. I know what you are thinking -- this is a super exciting married people discussion. Well, that's true. Anyway, we decided that we were sick and tired of Fios. We transfered our service last year when we moved from our apartment to the house. And that was a struggle in and of itself. They somehow screwed that up so that we were paying 2 bills at once for a while. I finally sorted that out, and we got a pretty low rate for the first year we were in the house. Well, as soon as that ended, the prices started climbing. And here's the thing. We were getting their triple play (internet, phone and TV), and we were taking advantage of one of them - internet. We watched TV, but 90% of the time (excluding the Olympics), we were watching re-runs of older shows (Friends, Seinfeld, etc). Plus, I didn't really grow up with much TV. We had an analog antenna feed for our TV and it picked up ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and a very fuzzy FOX. I mostly did other things with my time.

However, I will say that there is a good reason for having TV sometimes. And it mostly revolves around big events - Olympics, Superbowl, election results, big news stories, bad weather, etc. But all of those things are broadcast on over-the-air stations.

So, I installed an antenna. And we canceled Fios and went with someone cheaper for internet.

Now, there were a couple of options we had:
1. DIY an HDTV antenna, like some of these links:
     DIY HDTV Antenna 1
     DIY HDTV Antenna 2
     DIY HDTV Antenna 3
     DIY HDTV Antenna 4
2. Buy an HDTV antenna
3. Try to use the very old folded dipole in the attic that we inherited

First things first, I needed to see what kind of antenna I would need (aka - how far away the stations are from us). This website: is a great resource for this. Our TV was also HDTV ready, so we were good to go there. I discovered that I could get away with an omni-directional antenna from the aforementioned website. Now, I was very tempted to go with option 1 (DIY antenna), but I had a few key reservations. The first was running cables. In fact, if I could easily run cables to the attic, I would have done the first option in a heartbeat. But, living in a townhouse means running those wires is a royal pain. So, if I wasn't going to run cables, that meant that the antenna would likely be visible, which led to my next concern, aesthetics. I just couldn't get myself to make something that would be a big eyesore sitting in the living room. Especially after doing so much to try and make the living room look nice. To summarize, I had 2 options when it came to where the antenna would be mounted. One was the attic (and running wires to the living room). The second was somewhere in the living room. I guess the third would be outside, but we have pretty limited options there (especially with an HOA, which would be less than amused if the antenna were at all visible).

I started off by searching Amazon. There were a few choices that I deemed acceptable for the living room.
Option 1
Option 2
Option 3

We started off with Option 1. It did okay. Signal strength was pretty low and lots of dropouts. Options 2 and 3 have pre-amplifiers based on the Option 1 experiment. Option 2 did not do very well. And it was rather large and hard to position. It got sent back. Option 3 seemed to do the trick. The amplified version of Option 1 was successful.

I first had it here.

But ended up playing around with signal strength until I mounted it here. Much less conspicuous now. We now get all the major channels, and it doesn't look too ugly.

Of course, if we ever run into any dropout issues (it performed well when I was testing it), I will probably try to come up with an attic solution. But we have what we need for now. Success!

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