Cutting the Cord – Part 2 – The Antenna

I talked a bit last time about the things to consider when buying an antenna.  While the technical details of how to choose an antenna are many, there were only few that ended up playing a role in my decision, repeating them from my last post, they are:

  • Distance to the towers – how big of an antenna do you need?
  • Direction of the towers – Do you get directional, omni directional or multiple antennas?
  • The type of signal (VHF (low band or high band) or UHF)

I’m pretty fortunate that the towers broadcasting the channels I’m interested in are clustered in one spot about 30 miles away, on top of Lookout Mountain, which is mostly south.  In my case I need both high band VHF and UHF.  I purchased the RCA ANT751 for $45 at Amazon.com.  It receives both bands and has a claimed range of 40 miles.  I’d say based on my experience that range is pretty accurate.

My next decision was where to locate the antenna.  Based on the report from TV Fool, I knew I had to point the antenna south.  Other considerations I used to make my decision included:

  • Easy access for me – I didn’t want to climb on my roof to install nor adjust
  • Easy access to my home network – I mentioned last time I was going to connect my antenna to my home network.
  • Keep coax run short – Doing this helps preserve the signal strength
  • How does it look?

You can see from the picture to the right where I decided to install the antenna.  That location satisfies the first three criteria.  The fourth has mixed results.  At this point you can see the antenna from the family room through the windows directly below the antenna.  You can also see it from the street behind our house, although it’s view is blocked until you get directly behind the house.

There was a consideration I didn’t think about before choosing and installing the antenna, namely, grounding it.  Quoting from the HDTV Primer site:

For TVs, the main benefit of grounding is lightning protection. Lightning is a powerful radio wave generator and any elevated wire is an antenna for it. A lightning strike in your neighborhood can generate hundreds of volts, even thousands, on the coaxial line. These voltages can damage your equipment.

I won’t go into how I completed this important step because I haven’t completed it yet.  I’m still researching, trying to figure out how to ground the antenna both effectively and without a cable mucking up the side of the house.  If you check out the diagram on the link you see how simple it looks when the antenna is directly above where the coax enters the house and where the grounding rod is set in the ground.  Not so simple when the coax enters the house 10′ sideways and there is concrete under both the antenna and where the coax enters the house.  Hence my dilemma.

Since the RCA ANT751 is a directional antenna, placement of the antenna is key.  Before permanently mounting the antenna, I attached it to a 1″x4″x7′ board and gently nailed it in place.  The antenna can swivel so I just went flat against the siding.  Not obvious from the picture is the antenna is pointing directly through a dense silver maple tree.  I was a bit concerned.  I connected the coax, ran it through the window you see in the picture and attached it to my TV.  I had to “splice” 3 runs of coax together with connectors, not conducive to maintaining a TV signal.

Assuming your TV has a tuner built in, it should have the ability to scan for channels.  I scanned and found all the channels I expected (based on the TV Fool report).  Not only that, but despite the tree, the lengthy and spliced cable, all but a few came in at 100% signal strength.  The ones that didn’t were still over 90%.  From what I’ve read, you need at least 70% to avoid drop outs.   Since you can’t get much better than that I attached the antenna to the the eave of the roof and I was good to go.

But wait, I like technology and have a Droid so I decided to download a free compass app and check the direction of the antenna versus the direction suggested by TV Fool.  After downloading, calibrating the compass and delicately moving it side to side, I decided it was perfect just the way it was.  And by perfect I mean good enough :)

Here are the channels I can get “over the air”:

  • CW
  • CBS
  • PBS  with 2 sub channels
  • ABC with 1 sub channel
  • NBC with 2 sub channels
  • PBS (a different one) with 2 sub channels
  • Telemundo
  • KDVN – Local Denver channel
  • Home Shopping channel
  • MTV3
  • A Weather channel
  • FOX
  • Univision
  • A couple more Spanish channels and a couple of religion channels

I receive many of those in HD.  All in all, Not bad :)

This was the first and the most important step in my journey.  I proved we can get many of the channels we watch on a regular basis for a minimum one time charge.  We’ve got a long way to go, however.  Now I’m trying to decide my next step.  I know, or at least think I know, what hardware and software  I will use to watch TV.  At this point I’m leaning towards a box called the HD Homerun from Silicon Dust.   It will provide dual tuners so I can record and watch shows at the same time.  It connects to my home network so I can access from anywhere in my house, providing lots of flexibility.   The software I’m considering,  which the manages the output from HD Homerun and provides the  interface for TV viewing as well as listening to my music, viewing my pictures and watching home moves is SageTV.  Another piece of hardware is the HD300 box from SageTV (I’ll talk more about that in a later post).

While that’s the direction I’m leaning, i’m not 100% committed, but close.  I already have a license for the SageTV software although I will need to pay a $39.99 upgrade fee.  The two pieces of hardware will cost me about $300.    Or put another way, those three items together, along with the antenna,  are just a bit over then months worth of Directv but will provide a couple of years (or more) worth of value.

I expect to publish the next post in this series in early October at which point I may have purchased some or all of the above.

There is a wild card that I will be watching closely, namely Google TV. The promise is huge and, on the surface, is exactly what I’m looking for.  The last thing I want to do is invest $300 only to find out that it’s, for my use, obsolete, 60 days later.

Stay tuned.

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