Get free HDTV the old school way with this indoor antenna

Originally published at:

Signals from major broadcast networks are still gratis for anyone who can pick them up with an antenna

…and worth every penny.


Do these actually work well for people? I picked up an (indoor, since I’m in an apartment) antenna and I get like 5 channels, 3 of which are PBS.It’s not even like I live in the middle of nowhere either: I’m about a mile as the crow flies from the downtown of my state’s 2nd biggest city.

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I live about 20 miles from downtown Charlotte, NC and I use one (that reportedly has a range of 50 miles) and I get about 35 channels. About 25 of these are watchable for more than half an hour. I get all the major networks, plus some Charlotte channels that show old shows from the 50s - 90s, as well as half a dozen PBS channels and a couple of religious broadcast stations that I deleted from my lineup.

Mine works quite well, particularly on nice days. When the weather is bad, the watchable list drops to about half a dozen, but I also subscribe to a streaming network. I probably switch about 50/50 between streaming and OAB, depending on my mood, though I rarely watch more than 60 - 90 minutes or so a day.

After your comment I gave it another shot. I’ve moved out of the 1st floor apartment was in before and I suddenly get 30 channels now. I guess that Raleigh doesn’t hate OTA TV after all :smiley: Course it’s pretty choppy because of today’s thunderstormocalypse, but still.

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People who tried this even a few years ago should try again. I got one some years back and went back to cable, but kept testing it - and the reception got remarkably better about 2 years ago. Some of the stations converted slowly and partially to HD, it was only a year or so ago that all the audio was digital. (I could tell because nothing went out on the TV pass-through to my audio receiver via fibre; I had to turn up the TV speakers. Ugh.)

Also, it was just as HD came in that HDCP meant you couldn’t have an HD DVR; the cable companies locked up that market, you had to buy from your cableco.

But I’ve just found that TiVO survived and made HD DVRs, and both they, and a no-subscription competitor called Tablo are available in Canada (which has this situation even more locked-up than the USA). I’m planning a cord-cut very soon.

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No. Lol.

Indoor, you would be better off with a directional Terk antenna with amp.

But the single biggest thing you can do is add height to the antenna. Or at least put it closer to a window. Remove line of sight obstructions is the gist of it.

I started out with one of these at 35 miles from downtown chicago, on the 3rd story of a condo building. I got maybe 8 channels. Directional Terk antenna got maybe 4 or 5 more

I bought a slightly nicer outdoor omni antenna without much change. I put that antenna on my roof (basically 5th story) and managed almost 60 channels.

I like the digital antennas, but the ones that go on a wall can’t be turned. I use a free standing unit, and I get better reception for half the channels one way, then better reception for the other half when rotated 90 degrees.
I’m also in a middle floor apartment by a river, so your mileage may vary (a lot).

The strange thing is that (if you can actually get decent reception) you’ll get much higher image quality than cable.

Turns out pushing hundreds of channels through a single coax cable requires compressing each individual channel to a really low bitrate… and it doesn’t help that they’re using '90s-vintage codecs. IIRC they can dynamically allocate more bandwidth to certain channels at certain times, though, so the Super Bowl is one of the only times you’ll actually see the full quality potential of HD broadcasting over cable.

I get a better image quality with DirecTV than I did with cable, but streaming is even better, TBH.

Can these things be run into an integrated amp? I have everything set up that way.
AppleTV, DVR and BR player all run into my amp, then one HDMI out to the TV.

Usually the setup if you have a separate A/V receiver is that you connect the antenna to the TV, and then have either S/PDIF (usually over a Toslink optical cable) from the TV to the receiver, or else use HDMI-ARC (which lets the TV send audio over the HDMI cable to the receiver - basically “backwards”, over the cable usually used for the receiver sending video to the TV). Getting it set up correctly is a bit finicky and you need to switch inputs from the receiver to the tuner on the TV (rather than switching inputs on the receiver as you otherwise would).

Streaming can look better than cable, even with much lower bandwidth usage, because it can use modern codecs like HEVC. Video codecs have improved massively in the last couple of decades, but they generally work pretty poorly if done in software, so you need new chips to do the decoding. cable is stuck with a huge install base of ancient set top boxes and can’t use newer codecs until every box is replaced.

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Having no luck with rabbit ears, I tried a similar product and mounted it in various locations around the house, including the attic, but it turned out that my foil-backed energy efficient new roof was very effective at reducing signal strength for any indoor antenna. (It’s like our house is wearing a big tinfoil hat!). So eventually I went and bought an old-school rooftop antenna and now get about 80 or so channels, crystal clear. Not that I actually watch much TV, but we wanted to be all set for the next Olympic Games.

My house has ethernet and coax in each room.

I have cable TV with one box in my living room; also a cable-card equipped capture box which works with a MythTV system.

But I have a dining room TV and one in the spare room and I really don’t want to pay for cable boxes, so:

I put a flat panel antenna in my bedroom, upstairs, facing Portland’s west hills, where the TV broadcast antennas live.

It’s connected to the coax wall connector, which goes to a closet off of the garage. A splitter there goes to two coax leads which go to the guest bedroom and the dining room TV. (Which I’m watching now!)

Last I did a scan, there were maybe 38 channels. (Including one VHS analog repeater signal!) Many of these are duplicates, e.g. the ION transport, which has a half a dozen channels, from Salem. Another transport has a at least four channels full of religious programming. Lots and lots of nostalgia channels. A few specialty channels, like COMET TV, which has old sci-fi shows and bad movies.

It is worthwhile to do regular scans. I noticed that the main-network’s local franchisees (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) have been adding SD side-channels. So, Channel 2 (ABC) now has 2_1 (HD ABC programming) plus 2_2 (nostalgia), 2_3 (Comet), and 2_4 (sports).

As others have mentioned, broadcast HD signals can be really great quality. I worked in the cable technology industry; broadcast has a bandwidth of 19.6 mbps, cable HD maybe 15 mbps when they used mpeg2.

Someday I’d like to set up a spare computer with a tuner card to capture broadcast signals. An over-the-air DVR setup.

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