How To Select an Antenna for the Best DTV Reception

by David Lipscomb

Although receiving over-the-air high definition is the least-expensive method of receiving crystal-clear television, it also requires a little more work on your part. In contrast to simply having the cable or satellite guy come over and install the dish and cables, you have to evaluate your surroundings and find the right antenna. Once it's in place, you can enjoy the highest-quality version of HDTV broadcasting while avoiding monthly revolving charges of premium services.

Know Your Place

You need to determine where your home is relative to local broadcast towers. To find out, navigate to the consumer-information site AntennaWeb and enter your street address and the height at which you plan to install the antenna. AntennaWeb provides you with a simple color coding key used to match the site's recommendations with antennas at the store. Although the site can't put up and point the device for you, much of the time otherwise spent on research is saved by using this resource. Higher is better, so for best results, plan to install the unit in the attic or atop the roof. The FCC ruled in 1996 that homeowner's associations cannot restrict house and condominium dwellers from installing antennas on exclusive-use areas, so you may put the antenna where it works best.

Directional versus Omnidirectional

Directional antennas must point at the broadcast towers for best performance and maximum signal strength. This powerful type of antenna is sometimes called "unidirectional," because the array can only pick up signals it's aiming directly toward. These work well in most cases, as broadcast towers tend to be clustered within a 20 degree radius. Omnidirectional antennas pick up signals in a 360-degree radius, and are ideal for when you have multiple broadcast towers all around you.

Giving a Boost

If you're 50 miles or more from broadcast towers, you're considered to be in fringe territory. For the best and most reliable reception results, use a preamplifier and amplifier. Preamps mount on the mast of the antenna close to the array and prior to additional signal loss incurred from the coaxial cable connecting the array to your TV's tuner. After this boosted signal traverses the cable, it is amplified inside the structure. Installations featuring multiple splits to more than five or six televisions benefit from using a distribution amplifier, dividing the signal without further loss.

Various Options

Depending on your location, you might have considerably flexibility in which DTV antenna you select. Although most installations are well-served by a conventional "roof rake" antenna, your aesthetic sense or reception requirements might not necessitate that. Smaller square or disc-shaped antennas mount on a bracket, maintaining a low profile and are in most cases paintable. These are usually amplified and quite effective, coming in directional and omnidirectional versions. Other options include small indoor antennas mounted on a wall or on top of your TV, but these suffer from interference from brick, stucco and other structural materials like support beams. Should you live in an apartment, this might be your only option unless you have a balcony facing the broadcast towers. In this case, mounting a compact antenna in a decorative planter filled with concrete is another way to get terrestrial digital TV without bolting anything to the building.

About the Author

David Lipscomb is a professional writer and public relations practitioner. Lipscomb brings more than a decade of experience in the consumer electronics and advertising industries. Lipscomb holds a degree in public relations from Webster University.

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