(Free after initial start-up costs, if you do not have an antenna already - generally, a complete setup can pay for itself in the cost of 2 months of cable or satellite)
First, I will dispell a few myths about digital TV, and then I will give you the basics on how to get things running.
First: I hear you need a whole new antenna set up to view digital tv.
Digital tv runs alongside analogue tv in the exact same spectrum. It uses the same channel frequencies, and the same antennas. (any antenna called HD antenna is marketing BS)
The only difference in broadcasting is the content of the signal and the decoding process.
Second: I need a whole new TV to view digital (and HD) tv.
Partially true, but not for every circumstance. You can use your same TV to view digital TV, but if it is an older TV is will not be capable of displaying the true quality of an HD signal, and it will require a converter box (roughly $50). This would be like a digital cable box, or a vcr that does the current analogue decoding for you.
If you own a new LCD/plasma TV, chances are it includes a digital tuner already (ATSC/DVB-t, depending on your location).
Check its specs before you go looking for a converter box.
(Note that some converter boxes are SD only, look for a converter box that outputs in HD if you have an HD ready tv)
Third: All DTV is HDTV.
These terms are commonly mixed up.
Digital TV is the same as the ordinary analogue broadcast television today, just in a different signal/processing format. (480i). Because of the superior nature of digital TV, you will get a perfect picture every time. (Or below a certain signal level, no picture at all. Much around the distance that analogue tv gets too fuzzy to watch)
HDtv is also purely digital (perfect picture every time), however it can go up to much higher resolutions, such as 1280x720 progressive (720p) or 1920x1080 interleaved (1080i).
1080i has roughly double the pixels of 720p, but half the framerate.
Also, just because a channel is broadcasting at an HD resolution, does not mean the picture is HD. For example, a show from the 90's cannot be broadcast in HD without remastering it, so it is probably standard definition (SD) stretched to fit the HD resolution. ("upconverted")
Fourth: Antenna TV? are you kidding me? Cable/satellite is far better! I haven't used an antenna for 20 years!
Cable and satellite used to be better than antenna simply because analogue broadcasts degraded quickly as distance increased from transmitters, and cable/sat companies could get optimum reception and send it to everyone.
With new digital broadcasting, you get perfect picture with as low as 20% signal (with a new tuner) - roughly about the same point when analogue broadcasts were too fuzzy to watch.
Cable and sat may have it beat in terms of offering quantity, but antenna tv now has them beat in quality. Generally the cable/sat companies will take the exact same broadcast stream and compress it to send over their network to you. The result? Decreased quality. With an antenna, you get the pure broadcast, exactly as it was intended to be viewed.
Fifth: My country is switching to dtv! Now I have to sign up for cable or satellite!
NO! This is exactly what the sable or satellite providers WANT you to think. You can continue to use your antenna (yes, even "rabbit ears") as long as you have the proper conversion box.
That's it for rumours/myths for now, on with how you can get your FREE tv (after initial set-up).
(If you have any more questions, ask them and I'll add to this.)
Step 1: Check Your Availability.
The first thing you need to do, is consider your location:
What TV stations are around you, and broadcasting.
If you're in a semi-urban area, you're probably in an excellent area.
If you have very little around you, unfortunately, this will not work for you.
If you're in an area like Toronto or Buffalo, you can access two market's worth of channels, giving you 25 or more channels.
So, to begin our first step:
Visit http://www.2150.com/broadcast/default.asp and put in your latitude and longitude to see what TV stations are around you, and their approximate distance away.
If you don't know your latitude and longitude, visit this site:
which will give the latitude and longitude of anywhere you click.
Just move around and zoom in to your location to get the most precise value.
Make a note of which stations are closest/you want to pick up, and what direction they are from your place. (Just general direction, for now.)
Step 2: Obtain an Antenna and Required Materials
The only antennas which will not do much good are VHF-only, if digital broadcasts are mostly in the UHF spectrum for your area (Channel number above 13 from the broadcast search in the previous step means it is in the UHF band).
Some popular (good reception) antennas are below:
The Channel Master 4221, Channel Master 4228, and an example of an antenna you may very well have already on your house and you never use.
To go with the antenna you will need coax cable to reach your tv, a grounding block, and depending on your area, an amplifier.
A key part of low cost investment is having an appropriate tuner.
Almost all HDTV's (LCD/plasma) ship with a built in digital tuner. (ATSC for North America and a select few countries, DVB-t for the majority of the rest of the world).
If you do not (i.e. you have an old CRT tv or a new tv, but it doesnt have ATSC/DVB-t), no problem: you can get converter boxes for about $50 for a CRT tube, or many dvd recorders/DVR's are including ATSC or DVB-t tuners if you wish to go that route.
Note that a converter box which does not have HDMI/component will most likelt not output in HD, but downconvert the picture.
Another option is a PC-tuner, which can be as low as $40 these days.
Alternatively, you can build your own antenna which performs just as good as the commercial ones, if not better!
Check out the Gray-Hoverman antenna:
It's designed to be free and "open-source" welcoming people to make their own tweaks and get the best antenna possible. You can find the official plans at the site above, or you can read the antenna development forums at Digital Home Canada to see what changes people have made and what's the best type for you to make.
Check out the Digital Home forum here: http://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=186
Step 3: Hook Everything Up.
I wont go into details for mounting antennas here, but there are three main methods:
Tower: freestanding tower holds up the antenna, sometimes attached to house for more stability.
Tripod - a tripod holds a mast, attached to the roof
Chimney - A mast is strapped to a (brick) chimney
There are also other ways you can mount an antenna, such as wall-mount (like I did, picture below).
Once the antenna is in place, you want to run your cable from the antenna to your TV, inserting a grounding block before it reaches the tv (to prevent problems from static electricity or lightning.
You will also want to ground the antenna/tower itself, according to local municipality standards to prevent damage to your home in the event of a lightning strike.
Step 4: Tweak Your Reception.
If you desire, or the layout of stations requires, you can include a rotor, which rotates the pole holding the antenna to pick up various stations.
You can do this systematically (aka move it a little bit and see what happens) or you can do it precisely, using online measurements and values and a compass.
I found it easier to just do trial and error until it was perfect.
(A compass to put you in the general direction wouldn't hurt, however.)
If you are in a low reception area (usually because of distance) an amplifier will help.
There are two types:
a pre-amplifier ("preamp") - this connects as close to the antenna as possible, providing amplification on the cleanest signal it can. This is generally the best option, but often quite expensive.
The other type is a distribution amp, commonly used for cable systems - you plug it in somewhere along the line and amplify before you split.
Splitting the signal is possible, but you will need a tuner at each end, and signal will be reduced to both.
It is best to get one line up and running and see how things go before splitting. You may need to amplify to get even one line running.
Step 5: Enjoy Your New Subscription Free TV!
It may only be a few channels for some people, but if you're in an area like me, you can enjoy 25+ channels, 20 of them in high definition.
The best part of it all? Once it's set up, there is NO monthly fee.
And hey, the superior picture doesn't hurt either.
Enjoy, and I'll be happy to answer any questions in the comments.