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Help me improve OTA reception on old TV

Last response: in Home Theatre
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May 4, 2011 1:29:56 AM

Can you help me improve the reception of OTA channels? I have an old TV set, which is currently plugged directly into a cable line. I am using a splitter for this, as my service is for internet access, not TV programming. I get all of the channels I used to, but the reception on most is poor.

I just bought a converter box and antenna, but these made the problem worse, so I disconnected them.

I am a non-techie, so please explain in layperson's terms.

More about : improve ota reception

May 4, 2011 10:30:15 AM

over the air channels are dependant on three things:
1. the signal strength in your area
2. the sensitivity of the antenna
3. the sensitivity of the hardware the antenna plugs into (usually called a tv tuner)

you can buy amplified antennas
or
you can get an antenna and buy an amplifier for it

i have learned using an over the air tuner with high sensitivity is a remarkable improvement.
once i tried a usb tv tuner with an amplified antenna (didnt work much at all)
then i tried a tv tuner from hauppage that had lots of reviews talking about how sensitive it was (how good it was at picking up stations)
using the same antenna, the higher sensitivity improved the reception.

you dont have to have a highly sensitive tv tuner.. you can amplify the antenna and feed the stubborn tv tuner a stronger signal.
of course, its always the better option to have each piece of hardware in the chain of connections be of the high class category to receive the higher class results.


i was getting good reception at night with the antenna inside the house, but during the day the reception was almost non existant.
i moved the antenna outside and i could get reception during the day again.

over the air television is not usually something you can simply purchase without doing any research or looking through specifications.
some antennas are designed for UHF only .. some antennas are designed for VHF only.
despite what the antenna is designed for, the physical design of the antenna can also play an important role of the final result.

you might get your antenna shape perfect, but if the metal isn't sensitive.. you will need an amplifier (or a new antenna with better metal).

the easiest way to do it is probably getting some fiberglass pole pieces and glueing them together with some JB weld and sticking the pole in the ground.. then run a cable to inside the house.
if you have the leisure, you could attach the antenna up on the roof with a screw on mast (or take a chance with wrapping a mast around the chimney)
some people have had decent results with the antenna in the attic.

if you are far away from the signal.. purchasing things from places like walmart or kmart or any other name brand store, they usually have inferior products that are better suited for people within the city the broadcast is aired from.
from 50 miles away, its like trying to color in a coloring book with a rock.

one of the nice things about the fiberglass antenna is, you can start low and see what kind of reception you get.. then add another piece of pole to raise the antenna to see if the reception gets any stronger.
then glue it all together when you are satisfied with the reception strength.

you might get by without needing to pour concrete into the ground, but the pole has to be deep (like 4ft deep or more)
and if the pole needs to be really long, its probably easier to install an antenna tower than it is to install a pole with cables anchored from the pole to into the ground.
it can work (and might be cheaper) but the cables take up valuable space sometimes.

my biggest complaint would be putting another hole in the house.
i want a house that doesnt have obnoxious holes or wires everywhere.
and that means one hole for electricity and another hole for cable and/or telephone.. then run the wires through the attic or basement (or crawlspace).

i'm in an apartment building and i cant attach anything to the house.. but they said i could install a pole into the ground if i wanted to.
but even then, the anxiety of having to run a cable into the building was really an expense i couldnt afford (couldnt afford the cable or the antenna or the pole..!!)


anyways.. the add-on amplifier for the antenna works the same way an amplifier works with car subwoofers.
the power isnt enough and needs a boost.

if you havent already done this.. you need to find one of them websites that graphs your location to the location of the signal.
it can help you determine how many miles away you are, and that will help you determine what antenna you need.
the entire process was color-coded one time i did it.
each broadcast station had a color representing the distance, and then there was antennas that fit into a specific color category.


this website can tell you how far away you are, and what degree you need to point the antenna:
http://www.hdtvantennalabs.com/location/

this website uses the color-coded options to help you select which antenna to buy:
www.antennaweb.org

when you are searching for an antenna.. they will usually tell you what the range of the antenna is.
it could be miles or it could be color-coded.
they will also tell you if it needs to be mounted way up in the sky above the roof and/or if some type of amplifier is needed.
May 31, 2011 2:04:34 AM

I probably should have mentioned that I live in a building where I cannot install an outdoor antenna. Are there any simple plug-in indoor options? I did use rabbit ears with the converter box, but that was noteffective. I visited the websites you suggested, but the recommendation was for an outdoor antenna. I appreciate your expertise. I'm looking for a simple solution :) 
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June 1, 2011 4:38:16 AM

hmm..

indoor antennas are usually junk quality.
you would have a fight looking for an indoor antenna because there are a lot of indoor antennas that are simply not sensitive enough.
you would end up paying a whole lot more for an indoor antenna that actually works.
so maybe the first thing you should do is have a browse amongst all of the junk indoor antennas and expect to pay more.

sometimes you can mount one of those outdoor antennas in the attic and get decent results.
quite a few people mount them in the attic simply because it is high up in the air.
maybe the nails help draw in the signal.. or maybe it is the lack of walls and insulation.
i'm not an expert on antennas.. i simply know the fact of shape and sensitivity of the antenna material are extremely important (direction comes 2nd).

i think indoor antennas are sometimes the right shape.. as most uhf signals can be had with a simple metal ring.
but the sensitivity of the metal is usually junk.

i dont know where to tell you to go.
everybody says get an outdoor antenna because it is cheaper than buying some metal from NASA.
and maybe they dont want that exotic metal easily available, because people might use the metal for some secret electronics project.

sometimes the antenna isnt the problem.. it is the lack of sensitivity in the convertor box.
you have to have high quality at each step.
the antenna has to be good.
the cord going from the antenna to the convertor box has to be premium
the convertor box usually cant be some random product you throw in the shopping cart because you thought the outside of the box was cute (or because the price was right)
you really gotta KNOW what you are buying.
to know, usually means the specifications of the sensitivity - unless you are lucky enough to hear about a product from word of mouth.

how far away are you from the signal?
because i am quite confused about how you got a signal from the cable coming into the house/apartment.
seems like you must be quite close to get anything at all with such a connection.
i had one of the best tv tuners for sensitivity.. but it was for the computer.
the antenna was amplified and the combination struggled to give me reception until i put the antenna outside in a window sill.
i might have been able to simply put the antenna in a window from the inside, but my apartment isnt on that floor - and it isnt on that side of the building.
maybe the cable is junk and was working like an antenna when it wasnt supposed to?
maybe some of the cable is junk and comcast replaced what it needed to for your modem signals?
i would check your modem signals and make sure they arent close to their peak values.
if you rent the modem, fine, leave it.
but even then, if you are getting a lost internet connection.. it is probably because the coax cable needs to be replaced due to age/quality.

anyways.. if you live far enough away, you need an amplified antenna to help.
dont expect your convertor box to be sensitive enough to work without one.
picking up a signal with an antenna is entirely built upon team work.
and that team work is between you and the broadcasting studio, as well as the pieces of hardware used in combination with eachother.
asking one piece of hardware to do all of the work is asking for trouble.

and the premium coax is really helpful.
unlike radios that could use extra cords.. using two cords with an antenna is the opposite thing to do.
see, radios transfer lots of large amounts of energy.. and they benefit from extra cables to transfer those large chunks of electricity.
an antenna, on the other hand, deals with very small amounts of electricity.. if you use more than one cable, you will make those small amounts of electricity more dim.
that is why a premium cable is important.. because the cheap ones will make the weak electricity fade away more.
June 1, 2011 1:56:10 PM

jodieanalog said:
I probably should have mentioned that I live in a building where I cannot install an outdoor antenna. Are there any simple plug-in indoor options?

You cannot even ask for a solution if you do not first define what you have. For example, enter your location in http://transition.fcc.gov/mb/engineering/maps/
You must know the direction of each station. Its frequency (UHF, Hi-VHF, or Low-VHF). Chart will even provide expected signal strength.

Different antennas are required for each frequency band. Purchased antennas often contain three antennas in one package.
!