Instructables

Free Digital Broadcast Television Reception: A How-To Guide

Picture of Free Digital Broadcast Television Reception:  A How-To Guide
Digital Broadcast Television: It's free, it's clean and sharp -and the wave of the future!  Cut the pay-cable cord and save megabucks!

So far, I'm getting 104 channels of perfect digital reception, which is not uncommon for a major metropolitan area.

Those cable TV providers can hawk their bottled water all they want, I'm just not buying the idea.  I was actually able to take my family to Europe on the money I saved.  It's all in where your priorities are, I guess.   And I extend no sympathy to those who tried to pull in digital broadcast television on a cheap rabbit-ears antenna, gave up easy, and opted for pay TV.

But if you're the type of do-it-yourself person, who feels that quality television viewing should be free, do what I did 20 years ago, and go to any radio electronics store and they will help you select an appropriate roof-top UHF-VHF antenna, antenna rotator with wired-in remote, and coax cable.

You also might want to try out an inexpensive signal amplifier, but only after you have installed and used your rig for a while.  In spite of what many have posted on the internet, the traditional roof-top UHF-VHF antenna still reigns king, and is absolutely required. But the electronics store staff may also inform you that your area is too sparsely populated and has very few digital broadcast stations in your area.

I keep a running TV Channel listing on my laptop and update and print out a new one, every now and then, when a new TV station appears. And I glued a detailed paper compass dial around the knob of the indoor antenna rotator consol housing, 360 degrees, marked at every degree. But you'll have to do your homework: Over time, fine-tune and carefully note the exact antenna directions of your favorite stations, and revise them on the master list.

To remove all doubt, I would suggest that you simply knock on the door of some person in your community who has a rotating rooftop antenna, to get the lowdown on the true possibilities. Don't be bashful, as most of us love to talk nuts-and-bolts. But, unfortunately, we're far and few. In my sizable town, there are only only three of us, as far as I know.

So check out this easy step-by-step guide, to see if free digital broadcast TV is for suitable for you, in your area.

I predicted, a couple of years ago, that free digital broadcast TV would run pay cable TV out of business. So I am amazed that almost everyone I know simply glazes over and still pays out monthly for cable TV.
 
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onemoroni12 years ago
I put up a chain-link fence poll attached to and inside a roof plumbing vent for a mast. I'm guessing this grounds the mast. when I first did it I insulated the antenna from the mast, bad reception. Then I took the insulation off and voila, fairly decent reception. I don't have rotation because all our broadcasters are line of sight on one mountain peak (LA, Ca. mount Wilson). However, certain ones come and go depending on weather, time of day, or who knows what, but it is a big improvement over the bunny ears. Peace
Foxtrot702 years ago
Though true a GOOD antenna works best, you can also have a very good antenna and still get poor performance. This is two-way radio 101 which is location, location, location.. An antenna works like an open umbrella on a sunny day. When open the umbrella casts a shadow on the ground the closer to the ground the smaller the shadow and the area of coverage, The higher the elevation of the umbrella the larger the shadow and the area of coverage. The optimum is to position the antenna height for best reception. Best arrangement for setup is first point your antenna at the weakest station then raise the antenna to the best picture you can get without going over 20 feet above your house. All other stations will then be received better also. There are limitations to height as per FCC rules simplest one is your antenna can be no higher than 20 feet above the roof peak of your house. Free standing on a pole is 35 feet any more than that you need a building permit with a height variance from your local Building Planning & Zoning board. In both cases be sure to run a seperate earth ground to the mast of your antenna as this now will attract lightening thus a path of travel to ground must be provided. Hope this helps.
shastalore (author)  Foxtrot702 years ago
Good point.

Although our antenna is at an over-all height of about 20 feet above the ground, we still installed an in-line grounding block for the coax antenna cable, and ran a solid copper wire to a 4-foot copper ground rod.
Initially advertised as a lightening arrestor, the simple and inexpensive grounding block device is now marketed, simply, for preventing static electricity.

And it will be fun if some of our readers go hog-wild over the free digital broadcast television concept, posting info here about their extreme height aerial TV masts, pulling in free digital broadcasts to their remote, rural homes.

Go for it!
One word of caution you do need 2 earth grounds. The one will run from your coax ground block to the ground rod. The second ground must go directly from the antenna mast to the ground rod. In both cases no breaks in the ground wire. If only the ground block is used it may not be enough to protect your equipment inside. Also use a surge protector inside for ALL of your equipment going to a Grounded 3 wire outlet. In alot of the older homes they only have a 2 wire system with no seperate earth ground. Without the earth ground wire to provide a path to earth ground, the surge protector is useless, it won't work when needed. You may also, when we start to have summer drought when you water your trees, water the ground rod earth ground protection only works when the soil is moist. I always use an 8 foot rod and rarely need to worry about drought conditions.
shastalore (author)  Foxtrot702 years ago
The ground you mentioned, for the antenna mast, while mandatory, will not protect one's home from a direct lightening strike. A grounded antenna mast works in a similar manner to the coaxial cable ground block: To prevent static buildup, by bleeding off static that might accumulate and attract a lightening bolt.

Here's a link that details broadcast television antenna grounding:

http://www.keohi.com/keohihdtv/hdreception/antenna_grounding.html

My antenna/rotator is 20 years old, and is so reliable and trouble-free that I have long forgotten some of the crucial setup details, leaving them out of this Instructable. Thanks for bringing up the subject of grounding.
framistan2 years ago
I checked the zap2it.com website you suggested. It shows about 28 stations here in my area of St. Louis, Mo. I have a cheaper roof antenna just mounted in my attic. I pick up about half of those stations. However, you are probably right saying use a GOOD antenna and a GOOD rotor for best results. Very informative instructable, thanks.
rimar20002 years ago
This info is very useful, thanks for sharing.