How do I Choose an Off-air TV Antenna to Receive the Off-air Local Channels?

Free High Definition Television Reception

About 80 percent of the country’s television viewers pay for satellite or cable service to get HDTV reception, and most of those people are unaware that they can get free, off-air TV by connecting external antennas to their television sets. The signals come by direct broadcasts over the air from local HDTV stations.

The old, analog TV signals required using many frequencies, but the new, digital system allows TV stations to broadcast in both standard, free DTV and free HDTV formats. Viewers must have HDTV sets along with strong signals in true high definition coming into their TVs in order to get the HDTV reception. Most stations now broadcast their television programs in true high definition, and the programming is free for those who know how to use off-the-air antennas to get the signals. Over-the-air signals come directly from the TV station transmitters instead of going through relay to satellites, compression, transmission back to cable companies and distribution to customers over cable lines. Because of the technology involved, many people believe that using external antennas to receive HDTV directly over the air provides them with pictures that are much clearer than those they can get from cable or satellite. However, without cable or satellite, viewers will usually get only major networks like ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, FOX and some local stations.


Choosing an Antenna

There are many variables to consider when determining which antenna is appropriate for a particular location. Viewers should know how far they are from a television-station transmitter and the direction of the transmitter. Other considerations include the height and power output of the transmitter as well as the presence of any obstacles between the transmitter and the viewers’ homes. A TV antenna’s design and height also play a role in making the right choice.

Depending on where consumers live in relation to their local HDTV transmitters, simple, built-in antennas may be all they need to receive the signals. Off-the-air HDTV signals typically do not reach as far as did the old analog signals, so viewers living a distance from transmitters will usually need external antennas. The old, analog TVs had snowy-looking pictures if their signals were weak, but if digital signals are not strong enough, the TV screens are blank or show only blocky pictures with colored squares. This usually indicates the need for external antennas designed to pick up good signals in the areas where the viewers live.

A good-quality antenna properly designed to receive the frequencies in a particular reception area should work even if its label does not indicate that it is for HDTV. However, some antennas will not pick up signals if the viewers live beyond the range of over-the-air broadcast towers or if a mountain range separates viewers from the towers. Large hills, large buildings, metal roofs and other objects may block signals as well.

To choose the right antennas, viewers must know whether the television stations in their areas broadcast on the UHF TV band, the VHF band or on both bands and purchase antennas suitable for the bands used in the areas.


Short Range

Short-range antennas may work for people who live near television transmitters. The antennas, often called rabbit ears, normally sit on or near the TVs and receive signals from local stations. Many of the set-top antennas can receive signals from all directions if viewers turn the antennas in the right way to pick up the best reception for each station when watching different channels. Placing the antennas near windows that face the transmitters may help improve reception as well.

Medium Range

Medium-range, outdoor antennas mount on rooftops, on tall poles outside homes or if necessary, in attics. The antennas’ designs allow them to receive signals from one direction or from all directions (omni-directional). Their moderate expense and modest size make them the most common rooftop antennas in the country. Many medium-range antennas have internal amplifiers, which strengthen the TV signals.

Long Range

Long-range, directional antennas, also known as fringe or deep-fringe antennas, may be necessary when TV signals are weak. Viewers can aim the antennas at their local transmitters or use mechanical rotors to turn the antennas in the proper directions to receive the best signals. The long-range antennas are normally large and only used when smaller, less expensive antennas do not pick up signals in certain areas.

For those whose situations allow them, the outside antennas that are larger and higher normally provide the best HDTV or DTV reception.

Even though customers pay for and expect excellent reception at all times, bad weather sometimes interrupts satellite service, and cable companies occasionally encounter problems with their services as well. Some viewers with cable or satellite TV use antennas as backups when their other services go down.