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Digital broadcast air television – No longer just your grandmothers preferred choice

Old TV with antennaA while back I wrote an article on how to negotiate a lower rate with Time Warner cable. For years I was paying the introductory rate of $90 per month for cable, high speed internet and unlimited phone service. After reviewing my options, I decided to take it one step further and eliminate my cable bill all together by switching to free streaming video. As for phone service, I discovered Ooma Telo which deserves an entire review of its own at a later time.

So I am down to a 15 mbps internet connection for $35 per month in addition to $4 per month for my Ooma phone service. The new change cut my already low bill down to just under $40 per month, an annual savings of $600 per year in addition to the $840 I was already saving by negotiating a deal with the cable company each year.

How is life without cable television? Since I rarely watch TV the transition was not bad at first. Fox news, local news, Discovery Channel, History Channel, and AMC (Breaking Bad) were officially off limits in a traditional sense. In order to keep my wife happy I connected my desktop computer to the big screen via HDMI and an adapter so that she could stream The Bachelor and we would stream bootlegged episodes of Breaking Bad. A few months went by and we both started to feel out of touch with the world mainly because our sole source of news came from an occasional internet visit to our favorite main stream media website.

While venturing around town last weekend we came across a gentleman at our local flea market who was selling his recreational vehicle. With ample time to spend we decided to hop in for a cheap thrill. While exploring his RV I noticed a small 21″ or so HDTV mounted at the front of the vehicle. It was turned on, broadcasting an amazing crystal clear football game in high definition. I had to ask “It must be a challenge to aim your satellite every time you move your RV?” I was absolutely astounded by his response: “Nope, just air TV”.

I returned home and immediately begun to search for all the information that I could find on broadcast television. Antenna WebTv Fool, and the FCC all proved to be resources with an abundance of information. What I found was that I could potentially receive 20 channels including ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CW, PBS, and 14 others with a simple indoor antenna! Granted, 2 of these channels were in Spanish and one was the Home Shopping Network. Nonetheless, 17 free solid channels sounded good to me.

The common misconception surrounding Air TV

bad reception tvI must admit, my perception of air television dates back to the mid to late 1980’s when at some point we somehow survived with rabbit ears featuring a set of antenna boosters (balled up aluminum foil placed on the tips of the antenna). Reception was hit or miss depending on many factors including the weather, the direction of the antenna and even how close you were sitting in comparison to the TV. On the average day we could pick up 2-3 clear channels at best and an additional 3-4 which were snowy and faded in and out. I can recall propping my toes up against the antenna in order to finish watching a slowly fading episode of Scooby-Doo as a child.

Up until a week ago this was how I viewed air television. After witnessing the pristine picture last week that broadcast television delivered I decided that it was time to give air TV a second chance.

Choosing the best “Hi-def” air TV antenna

I was determined to replicate the quality picture that I saw on that small TV last week so I set out on a journey to find the best “Hi-def” tv antenna that was available. It turns out that there is no such thing. Attaching the phrase “hi-def” to any antenna is merely a marketing gimmick. Your television delivers the high definition, not the antenna.

At this point I had to decide – Do I want an indoor, outdoor, or attic mounted antenna? The general consensus is that a high mounted outdoor antenna provides the most channels and best reception. I had little interest in fishing a wire through the wall, up through the roof and mounting an antenna. Not to mention, I would be the talk of the neighborhood and once the HOA Nazis caught wind of my radical actions they would soon surround my house, bearing pitchforks and torches.

$8 RCA antenna from Ebay

An attic mounted antenna was my next option. It was a higher up and discrete alternative to the roof mount. After looking into this, I discovered that an attic mounted unit could possibly draw in 2 additional channels – neither channel was of interest to me so I decided that it wasn’t worth the effort. The last choice was an indoor antenna which appeared to be the best fit for me.

Knowing this, I picked up an $8 RCA Indoor Passive Digital/Analog antenna on Ebay. You know the infamous 2 dipoles and round loop setup. The reviews on Amazon were okay so I figured that I had little to lose at this price. After making my big purchase I continued to read up on air television. Soon I begun to notice that several blogs and forums were referencing a homemade clothes hanger antenna. I mean, how effective can this really be?

The clothes hanger antenna
Clothes hanger antenna cost less than $5 to build

Clothes hanger antenna cost less than $5 to build

While awaiting the arrival of my cheap RCA antenna I decided to build one of these primitive makeshift antennas. The design was simple and required only a few basic tools and the following materials:

  • 2.5′ or so long board
  • 6 clothes hangers
  • 10 wood screws or drywall screws
  • 10 washers
  • 1 Uhf/Vhf transformer
  • 1 piece of cable wire used to connect antenna to your tv or digital converter box

I actually had all materials laying around the house with the exception of the Uhf/Vhf transformer. These can be purchased at Lowe’s or Radio Shack. As usual, “The Shack” was asking more than twice the average retail price so I picked one up at Lowe’s.

Using the video below, I created my own homemade clothes hanger antenna.

Putting my antenna to the test

The antenna was built and my hopes were high. I connected the antenna to my High Def Tv which came equipped with a digital tuner. With the antenna positioned upright on the floor next to the TV I allowed the auto channel finder an opportunity to work its magic.

A minute goes by. Two channels found, four, seven…. Another minute. Ten, fourteen, seventeen, twenty channels found. And now the moment of truth.

I start to flip through the channels and what did I find? All 20 are coming in crystal clear, most in HD! The picture quality is better than ever received from the cable company. Absolutely amazing to say the least. Here are a few photos of the picture that I saw. Unfortunately these pictures do not serve justice.

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