TechBite: Why I Said No to Free Off-The-Air Reception


By Steve Bass

The Miracle of High Definition TV
No doubt, watching a TV show or mobile in high definition is miraculous. The picture is sharper than sharp (so much so that like it or not, you can see the pores on an actor’s face).

I’m a DirecTV subscriber, but I’m too cheap to pay their extra fee for high definition service, so I decided to try an HDTV indoor antenna.

Off-The-Air Reception: Mind-blowing and Free

Terk sent me two antennas to try, both sleek looking jobbers. (Though if you’re a DIYer, you can build your own. And here are plans for a portable version.)

Portable high definition antenna

The indoor version (Terk FDTV2A Omni-Directional Amplified Flat Digital HDTV) is about the size of a small, thin notebook. It has 360 degree reception and comes with a bracket that lets you mount it a number of ways. I just placed it on a shelf near the TV.

Amazon sells the indoor antenna for about $45. There’s no skill needed to install the antenna. Plug it into the TV’s antenna input port and move the antenna around to find the reception sweet spot. You might have to experiment with the antenna’s powered amplifier to get the best signal. You can make your job easier by giving AntennaWeb your street address; the site will help you orient the antenna’s direction; they also provide a useful FAQ with insights about high definition antennas.

With the antenna plugged in, I whizzed through the TV’s setup to decide which stations were keepers. Except for ABC, I picked up all the major networks, plus each of the multicasting sub-channels, as well as local channels, such as the Spanish speaking stations, and a couple of Asian-language feeds. The FCC has a list of HiDef broadcasting stations and there’s valuable info about antennas and channels (hit the pause button to ignore the dated video pitch) from the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade association.

One problem I couldn’t solve: If I walked in front of the antenna, CBS would fade out until I sat back down.

Terk’s outdoor antenna (TERK FDTVO Omni Directional Amplified Flat Outdoor) takes more skill to install (well, duh…). I tried setting it in the attic as well as outdoors, on the roof. The signal was as good as the indoor antenna and I got all the same channels, including ABC, and had no issue with CBS fading.

HD Antenna? It Ain’t For Me

After a few months of free, off-the-air broadcasts, I’m dismayed to say that it isn’t worth the bother. That’s because it didn’t take long for me to sorely miss the key feature on the DirecTV receiver we use: Fast forwarding through the commercials of shows we’ve recorded. I also miss the quick rewind and the ease of recording shows.

One solution was to find a receiver for off-the-air broadcasts. That wasn’t easy.

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6 thoughts on “TechBite: Why I Said No to Free Off-The-Air Reception”

  1. We live 45 miles from the nearest on air station, so I hooked up five ampilfied indoor antennas in my attic, aligning them with the Terk website compass headings for each station. I purchased a Sony High definition tv recorder when they clearanced the line about four or five years ago, for $150, original retail over $1000,(no HDMI) so I record in High Def over the air. The reception is much better than Direct in HD, because the picture is full screen, which it is not when I use Direct TV, which I only use for HD for ESPN and certain other cable channels.

  2. I use a DVDR which allows you to record, playback, fastforward through commercials, etc. with off air programming. The HD programs are really 460P upconverted to 1080P when played back but not bad. Works great unless you need the extra 200 stations from a Pay-TV provider. I use an old attic antenna that’s 30 years old and it works fine.

  3. I am using the same antenna we used for analog, with no problems. There is occasional fading, especially irritating during Fox’s Saturday baseball game. Recording, we use a DVDR/VCR. Unfortunately the Panasonic doesn’t allow off air recording to tape like th eSony did. However the Sony had problems and they don’t make a similar machine anymore, not even a DVDR with a tuner. Keep bing tempted by a Pay-TV option for more baseball during the summer, but not yet. I do have a Media Center PC which I use to record some programs and convert to DVD for wathing on TV via DVD players.

  4. I get almost all the features of a TIVO by using Windows Media Center with my under the roof anttena. This lets me play back my recorded TV shows anywhere in the house on any of my networked PC (5). I do have Verizon FIOS to get the specialty stations but that has limited storage so I but everything that I can be record off the air on my PC’s 1.3 terrabyte Media Center Disk drive. It works great. I did like the attenna ideas. Sometimes the reception is a little jumppy with broken sound and this might improve that but I get distortions on my FIOS too. Dallas, TX

  5. Richard Campbell

    I read your article on off air HD tv. I too have Directv
    and now local channels are available by Directv. You can however use Directv off air reciever and connect your antenna to the reciever making it possible to record all youir aff air channels just as if they were recieved by your satellite reciever. The guide will also include all the info for programing just as if you were recieving the channels by satellite. The off air reciever is available from Directv for around 50 dollars.

  6. Claude McMahon

    Dear Mr. Bass

    I read your little article about free off the air TV broadcasts.

    I live up in cold country, about 50 miles west of Toronto, where right now it’s hotter than the hubs, 94 F in the shade at 5 p.m.

    I bought an older Channel Master 4242 UHF/VHF deep fringe TV antenna. After drilling out all the rivets and replacing them with cad plated bolts and lock nuts, and straightening out some bent elements. the meter showed 0.04 ohms across the antenna. The antenna then got mounted on a 40 foot tower, hooked into a Channel Master 7778 Titan 2 preamp, and RG-6 cable connected to my 42″ Sharp Aquos LCD TV. You don’t need a fancy dancy HD TV antenna to get an HD TV signal. We get 14 HD channels and about the same number analog channels. Great picture on both. Don’t forget, up here in Canada, we don’t go digital until 2011.

    Our choices were Ma Bell for satellite or Rogers cable, both costing close to $100 a month, with so many repeated channels showing the same thing, and we did have both, we opted for the good old fashioned TV antenna, and put the saved $1,200 a year into our pocket.

    No, we don’t get the specialty channels, and there are some channels we do miss, and we see all the regular TV shows, including the repeats, but we don’t pay through the nose to do it. We don’t record TV shows, because if we miss one, it’ll be a repeat soon enough.

    I guess my main point is, in the USA, and here in Canada, there really is an alternative to having to pay for TV, when cable and satellite providers are taking a FREE TV signal, and rebroadcast it, and then charge their customers for it, without recompense to the free to air TV signal provider.

    That is plain and simple piracy, no different than some one copying a movie disk and selling it. Not sure if that’s the case in the States with FTA TV signals, but that’s what’s happening in Canada.

    I’m also an amateur (ham) radio operator, and play with this kind of stuff all the time, just to see what can happen.

    Have a great day
    Claude McMahon
    Guelph, Ontario

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