I’m not sure what’s happening here. Maybe some of my readers blew all their money on an high-definition television (HDTV). For whatever reason, a number are writing to ask about using an antenna with their new HDTVs.
These readers don’t plan to get cable or use satellite. They are taking their HDTV and heading back to the “Leave It to Beaver” days of using an antenna.
They came to the right place. I’ve built enough antennas for my ham radio hobby to get truckload rates on aluminium tubing.
They may even be on to something. HDTV picture quality with an antenna is better than cable or satellite. Why? Over-the-air signals get much less compression than when delivered via cable or satellite.
If you’re interested in trying antenna reception, the place to start is ‘www.antennaweb.org/aw/welcome.aspx’. It’s a terrific site that will use your address to tell you how far away you are from transmitting towers, along with the compass direction to those towers. It also will tell you the type of antenna you need.
Some readers test the waters using rabbit ears. Depending on how close you are to the transmission sites, you may be able to get away with that. I can get a few stations from my in-town Atlanta location that way.
But if the antenna was my only source of HDTV, I’d want to do better. Let’s start with the Golden Rule of antennas: They should be as high as possible and as big as your spouse will allow. For most locations, it’s also good to have a rotor that can turn the antenna towards transmission sites.
Of course, some folks would rather not have an antenna poking above the roofline. There’s still an option that’s a big step up from rabbit ears: an attic antenna. You can Google and find plenty. This site tells you how to install one: ‘www.terrestrial-digital.com/attic_installation.html’
No special antenna is necessary, as long as it fits. You can usually find some labelled “indoor or outdoor antenna”.
If you don’t have an attic but don’t want a tall antenna, these indoor/outdoor models are designed to be unobtrusive. Radio Shack offers some, and you’ll find plenty of others using Google.
For those who plan to use a regular outdoor antenna, there’s no substitute for one called a yagi. If you’re old enough to remember the conventional antennas that once dotted every rooftop, you’ve seen them.
You may be able to mount it on a simple mast strapped to your chimney or a ground-mounted mast attached to the side of your house. If you plan to install the mast yourself, get advice at the bottom of this page: ‘tvantenna.soccerr.net/howto.htm’
A small warning: If you do a sub-standard job, the whole thing can come tumbling down.
If you have any doubt, ask for installer recommendations when you buy the antenna.
A big warning: If a mast touches an electrical wire while you’re holding it, you are dead. If it falls on a wire later, it can start a fire. Here’s my safety rule: If the mast is 30ft high, do not get it within 60ft of an electrical wire at any time. If it’s 20ft high, keep it at least 40ft away.
You’ll probably need a rotor to turn your antenna. Spend a little extra and buy a rotor that contains a brake—it works like the brakes on your car. Otherwise the wind can push your antenna around and break the gears. You have to take the whole antenna system down to replace a rotor, so it’s money well spent.
Here are some more antenna and mast recommendations from a broadcast engineer. As you’d expect, they are right on the money: ‘tinyurl.com/5vgjve’
OK, now I need to spend some quality time with one of my five ham antennas.
I have a very understanding wife.
©2008/ The New York Times