How to Aim an Outdoor Antenna

By David Lipscomb

Proper antenna alignment results in quality HDTV reception.
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High definition digital television content is readily available for free, directly over the airwaves.To pull in these high-quality signals, a rooftop or indoor antenna is required. However, you can't just slap an antenna anywhere and expect results -- careful aiming is often required. Resources like Antennaweb and TV Fool can point you in the right direction for antenna selection and aiming.

First Things First

If you live a few miles away from a cluster of centrally located broadcast towers, you can install a unidirectional antenna and point it in their direction. This arrangement is ideal, because these antennas are more powerful and resistant to multipath -- a condition that bounces signals off of trees and buildings -- reducing signal strength. In many cases, you'll have a few towers to the east of you, one to the north and so on. Omnidirectional antennas are your best bet here, and while less powerful they help you to potentially get every channel in your area. Entering your address and antenna mounting height into Antennaweb or TV Fool will reveal a few options for choosing your antenna, based on physical location and signal strength in your area. These results will be color-coded, which you match to an indicator on the antenna's packaging at retail.

Aim to Please

The next step after you mount the rooftop antenna is to actually point it in the right direction. Resources like help you in finding exactly where your local transmitters are located. Use a compass to aim the antenna in the direction indicated by your online antenna resources. Run a channel scan on your television -- located in your set's setup menu -- and check out which channels you get. Any adjustments should be made in small, five-degree increments, with a channel scan performed each time thereafter. You may also opt to use a rotor, with a small adjustment dial or pad allowing you to make small changes to your antenna's orientation without having to continually climb onto the roof. This strategy is also useful for when perfect alignment for one channel has a detrimental effect on another.

What If I Don't Have a Roof?

Apartment dwellers and those under more restrictive homeowner covenants may find themselves in need of a small antenna mounted to a deck or placed in a concrete-filled bucket. Several approaches serve roofless TV watchers well, and most of these solutions are less than 1 square foot in size and come in a variety of colors. Some resemble smaller versions of rooftop antennas, while other square-shaped models mount to a satellite dish bracket or pole. Your ability to aim these antennas is often minimal, so if one option doesn't work you might have to move to a different indoor antenna entirely. Some offer powered options, used to maximize reception through use of a small signal booster. This feature is significant, as placement will largely be dependent on proximity to an AC outlet.

Addressing Multiple Televisions

It's simple enough to run an RG-6 coaxial cable from one antenna to a single television, but if you have several sets -- and potentially longer cable runs -- you need to adjust for the cable length. Long runs reduce signal strength, making you think you have an adjustment problem when the issue probably lies with diminished signal due to improper splitting and cable resistance.

Antenna preamplifiers give a small boost to the signal as it leaves the antenna, helping push the signal along the wire until it reaches an amplifier, located in a basement or attic space. These devices are normally used in situations where an individual coaxial feed exceeds 200 feet. If that feed must serve several sets, amplified splitters maintain signal strength, ensuring that each set receives the right amount of signal. Some are adjustable, so if one or more televisions are unusually close or far away from the splitter, you can dial in the amount of boost required to get the signal there -- or reduce it to prevent signal overload. If you have two or three sets that are relatively close together -- such as a living room, bedroom and adjoining den -- a basic, high-quality unamplified splitter is usually acceptable.