Updated: November 9, 2013

Digital TV Antenna Guide

Digital TV Reception (2)


Your Digital TV antenna plays a critical role in the reception of Digital TV programming, yet few are ready to invest the necessary effort to install a proper TV antenna for over-the-air digital TV reception. And those who do often get confused with the variety of antenna solutions available on the market.

Discover all you need to know about TV antennas—from indoor and outdoor TV antennas to grouped, wideband and even Smart TV antennas, in this DTV reception guide.

In the process, we also discuss the use of masthead amplification and distribution amplifiers to improve DTV reception, and TV antenna certification.


Terk HDTVa Indoor Amplified TV Antenna

Terk HDTVa Indoor Amplified Digital TV Antenna for Off-Air HDTV Reception

A high performance TV antenna optimized to receive DTV stations; includes a built-in amplifier with 12dB gain to boost weak TV signals.

Digital TV Reception: A few important facts

It is an unfortunate fact that the TV antenna and its downlead are often taken for granted by almost everyone; few realize the importance of a good TV antenna installation.

The irony is that while those in the market for an HDTV are ready to spend even thousands of dollars on a big screen TV, many are unwilling to spend more than the bare minimum on their digital TV antenna installation. Yet, the extra cost involved to set up a good TV antenna using a full size multi-element outdoor system is nothing compared to the cost of the average TV.

This is even more so when it comes to digital TV reception. A good digital TV antenna can literally make or break the picture since it can give you that little extra decoding margin to remain above the so called digital cliff referred to in our introductory article to digital TV.

The above may be better understood when realizing that a good portion of U.S. households that receive over-the-air TV programs reside in what are refer to as 'challenging areas'. This means that these households would receive only four or fewer broadcast TV stations if they use an indoor digital TV antenna or a small to medium omnidirectional rooftop antenna. In other words, if you want to receive all available DTV programming within your area, most probably you will have to upgrade your TV antenna.

You see, DTV does provide a clearer picture and sound than its analog TV equivalent but... this holds true as long as you can receive it.

Specifically, you will receive digital television as long as you have enough decoding margin for your set-top box to reconstruct the image. This level of signal corresponds to the 'digital cliff'.

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A Point of Clarification: Following the DTV transition in 2009, many started using the term 'digital TV antenna' when searching for information on TV antennas; we will therefore continue to refer to TV antennas as Digital TV antennas for the scope of this article.

Yet it is important to realize that there is no such TV antenna that is specifically designed for digital TV reception only.  As explained further on in this DTV guide, Digital TV use the same type of television antenna as analog television, or in that case as any other radio broadcast; the only requirement is that the antenna is designed to receive the respective DTV broadcast channels.

Digital TV Antenna Basics

The subject of digital TV antennas and DTV reception is complex and would necessitate a whole discussion on its own. As such, in this short guide to DTV reception, we would limit ourselves to a few TV reception basics but that can still make a whole difference when it comes to receiving weak DTV signals.

Digital terrestrial television operates within the same VHF/UHF bands assigned to analog TV. This means that the same television antennas apply. Yet in view of the broadcast channel re-allocations we referred to in our introductory article on digital television, you may need to use a different antenna for the reception of DTV.

Digital TV antennas may be divided into outdoor and indoor. Furthermore, outdoor TV antennas may be further sub-divided into grouped antennas and wideband.

Grouped antennas—like Yagi antennas (consisting of a main boom with a number of arms running perpendicular to it)—are tuned to cover only a portion of the respective VHF or UHF band. This means that when it comes to grouped antennas, you may need more than one antenna to cover the full range of TV broadcast channels covering your area. On the other hand, grouped antennas provide a far greater forward gain than wideband multi-directional antennas such as bowtie type antennas, and therefore are more suitable for long-range reception.

Outdoor and Indoor Antennas

As long as you live in a primary DTV reception area, a good inexpensive indoor digital TV antenna such as the Terk HDTVa featured at top of this page, should help you receive most of the available DTV channels in your area.

TV antennas such as the Terk are 'directional' type. This means that for best DTV reception, you will have to direct your indoor DTV antenna with its long boom pointing in the same direction as the transmitting TV station.

Directional type antennas provide a much higher gain in the forward direction; the Terk provides a 12dB gain thanks to its built-in antenna amplifier. A directional antenna helps minimize DTV interference from other broadcast stations (as long as these do not fall within the same line-of-sight) due to its narrow acceptance angle. This higher gain along the forward path also helps make up for the significantly higher signal loss associated with the indoor reception of digital TV RF signals.

However...

To make the most out of your digital TV reception, you have to go outside! VHF and UHF signals travel in straight lines and therefore can be obstructed by hills and tall buildings.

Ideally, you should place your antenna outside, positioned as high as possible and pointing towards the transmitting station covering your area. However, keep in mind that outdoor antennas do suffer from deterioration due to their exposure to the elements; they should therefore be checked periodically.

Mounting your digital TV antenna inside the attic, while providing total protection from the elements, can lead to weak reception as roof tiles, insulation, water tanks, etc., can screen the antenna from the incoming signal.

In general, depending on building construction, you can expect to lose anything from 30% to 70% of the signal when mounting your digital TV antenna inside. The signal loss can even reach 100% in houses with metal (aluminum) siding.

Channel Master 4228 UHF antenna

The Channel Master 4228 UHF antenna is a wide-band (Channels 14-69), long-range 8-way bowtie dipole design directional antenna with a maximum gain of 15.8dB and a beam width of 15 degrees.

Designed for use outdoors, though it can also be used indoors (e.g. in the attic), it provides exceptional performance especially in fringe DTV reception areas up to 60 miles away from TV transmitters.

Antenna size: 39.5"W x 5.3"D x 36.4"H

This means that the use of indoor digital TV antennas—whether in the form of a full size antenna mounted in the attic, or a specifically designed indoor DTV antenna—is recommended only in good reception areas. An outdoor installation would always yield better reception results.

Masthead Amplification and Distribution Amplifiers

Channel Master 7777 High-gain mast-mount UHF/VHF TV antenna preamplifierIf you live in an area where the signals are weak, or need a very long downlead to feed your TV, you may require amplification either through the addition of a separate masthead amplifier such as the Channel Master 7777 High Gain Masthead Amplifier featured here, or through the use of an active digital TV antenna. The latter is a TV antenna with a built-in amplifier situated within the antenna junction box itself.

Masthead amplifiers should be mounted close to the antenna to avoid amplification of noise and other interference picked up via the downlead. Furthermore, both masthead amplifiers and active DTV antennas require a power feed that is provided via the antenna downlead itself.

While in general, it is best to avoid masthead amplifiers and amplified TV antennas when it comes to digital TV reception, if used properly masthead amplification can be beneficial. Their use is mainly recommended only if the signal level received when using a passive digital TV antenna is too low to achieve the necessary decoding margin for your DTV converter box or digital TV tuner to constitute the image.

However...

If you are already experiencing interference, or ghosting (multiple images of the same picture superimposed on each other as a result of signal reflections from tall structures, trees, etc.), the use of amplification will further aggravate these problems since interference signals will be amplified as well.

In addition, if a masthead amplifier is used to boost signals from a distant station in the presence of strong local signals, the local signal may eventually overload your system. In this case, the masthead amplifier will need to incorporate specially designed notch filters to block or attenuate the local signals. In other words, while masthead amplification can make up for weak signals, it cannot correct poor signal quality resulting from multiple image reflections and interference.

What about Distribution Amplifiers?

Electroline 8-port RF distribution amplifierIn general, it is possible to run up to two TV receivers off the same digital TV antenna by using a simple passive signal splitter which as its name implies, divides the RF signal between the two receivers. This means that each TV will get half the original signal received via the antenna.

If the signal is not strong enough to support passive splitting, or if you wish to run more than two receivers and long feeding leads, then you will need a distribution amplifier. TV antenna distribution amplifiers designed for domestic use normally serve anything from four to eight TV receivers

The Electroline EDA-FT08300 8-Port TV Signal Booster pictured here is an 8-port RF distribution amplifier with a forward gain of 3dB per port (i.e. a gain of 2); it also comes with active return path, meaning it is also suitable for interactive Cable TV services.

Like masthead amplifiers and active digital TV antennas, distribution amplifiers are mains powered, normally via one of the downleads and by the same power box used to drive the masthead amplifier; like masthead amplifiers, distribution amplifiers use minimal power and are designed for continuous running.

As with masthead amplification systems, the use of distribution amplifiers may lead to interference problems, mainly in the form of patterning interference. If this is the case, try to substitute the distribution amplifier with a lower gain one; alternatively, you may need to use specially designed filters. In either case, make sure you consult with the manufacturers' installation instruction to ensure you are using the right product for your needs.

DTV Reception Made easy - Smart Antennas

DTV reception is not as easy as analog TV reception and once the signal is lost, it is not always obvious how to get it back! To make DTV reception easier on the consumer, the Consumer Electronics Association had adopted a standard referred to as EIA/CEA-909A that allows the DTV tuner to control the position and gain of intelligent antennas. These TV antennas are often referred to as 'Smart Antennas'.

A DTV receiver or digital TV converter box with an EIA/CEA-909-based compliant interface can select any one of up to 16 antenna positions and up to four gain settings for an EIA/CEA-909 compliant smart antenna. Control is achieved either through a special Smart Antenna port on the DTV tuner box itself, or over the same RF antenna connection. Unfortunately, there is not much choice for Smart Antennas - possibly because these are considered as slow movers by retail outlets due to their relatively higher cost.

One such model we have come across is the DX Antenna DTA-5000 TV Smart Antenna, a compact VHF/UHF multi-directional antenna designed for outdoor use. It has a CEA - Green zone certification and a maximum gain of 25 dB over the full UHF band. The only problem is that it is not readily available.

RCA ANT2000 Indoor Smart DTV AntennaAn indoor Smart antenna alternative is the RCA ANT2000 pictured here. Its stylish white package makes it much easier to integrate with the rest of your room decor than most other indoor Digital TV antennas.

For an indoor TV antenna, the RCA ANT2000 can do a very good job when paired with an EIA/CEA-909 compliant DTV converter box.

Note: In your search for smart-type EIA/CEA-909 compliant digital TV antennas, you may come across the Channel Master SMARTenna 3000A. Despite the 'SMART' label, and despite that various online resources point to the Channel Master 3000A as a 'smart' digital TV antenna, yet this is not the case. The SMARTenna specifications clearly indicate that the 3000A does not come with a smart antenna interface. Instead, this is basically a small outdoor VHF/UHF multi-directional antenna (CEA - Yellow Zone rating) with a maximum gain of 20dB for use in areas of strong TV reception. In other words, the SMARTenna label is just a product name.

Being an omnidirectional antenna implies the 3000A represents a convenient solution in applications where off-air TV signals come from different compass directions, yet as with omnidirectional TV antennas, the 3000A is not suitable for use in areas with high multi-path (ghosting) problems.

DTV Converter Boxes with Smart Antenna Support

Unlike smart antennas which are somewhat more expensive than standard digital TV antennas, DTV set-top boxes with Smart Antenna support fall within the same price bracket as other DTV converter boxes. This means that opting for a DTV box with smart antenna support may be worth considering even if you do not have a smart antenna since it gives you the option of adding one later. But...

There is one problem; do not expect to find many DTV converter boxes with Smart TV antenna support; the only box presently available we are aware of is the RCA DTA-800B1. This is a rather unique DTV converter box in that apart from being Smart Antenna-ready, remote supplied with this converter box controls both the converter and the TV.

Antenna Box Labeling - CEA Certification

Not sure which digital TV antenna is right for you? No problem! The CEA had come up with a color coding certification system for outdoor antennas. All you have to do is to match the CEA-certified antenna color mark with the color of your station.

CEA TV antenna color code chartThis CEA-certified antenna mark for outdoor antennas is divided into six different zones, each corresponding to a different color - yellow, green, light green, red, blue, and violet.

These zones identify the different types of antennas that are required for a consumer to receive optimal reception.

FFor example, a large directional digital TV antenna such as the Channel Master 4228 featured above, can be used to cover blue and violet colors when used with amplification and roof mounted, and without amplification for yellow color codes.

Typically, the closer consumers live to the signal tower, the better reception they will receive. They may also be able to use an indoor antenna versus an outdoor. The farther away a consumer lives, the opposite is true./p>

To determine which color code corresponds to your station, visit the antennaweb.org website and enter your street address. For more information on the different meanings associated with the different antenna selection color codes, click here.

CEA Indoor aerial certificationThere is also a CEA-certified indoor antenna mark, which does not apply to this mapping system, but certifies that your indoor antenna will work in geographic areas that are appropriate for indoor antenna use.

Sewell Direct SW-29480 HDTV Antenna    Are you looking for Digital TV Antennas

Amazon offers a most complete range of TV antennas and related antenna accessories such as masthead amplifiers, TV aerial splitters, etc., often at reduced prices.


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 Article Content

Issues discussed in this TV Guide:

Blue bullet  Digital TV Reception: A few important facts...

Blue bullet  TV Antenna Basics: Grouped, wideband, indoor and outdoor TV antennas

Blue bullet   Amplification: Masthead and distribution amplifiers

Blue bullet  The Smart Antenna: DTV reception made easy

Blue bullet  Antenna Certification: Color coding makes TV antenna selection simple!

Digital Television Guides:

Index of additional articles appearing under this section

DTV Basics: What is Digital Television? DTV formats, channel allocation, and pros and cons of Digital Television

Reception of DTV - Part 1: Use of Converter Boxes to receive DTV services

DTV Troubleshooting Guide: Antenna repositioning, cables, connectors, and amplification issues

Understanding HDTV formats:  Discussing the different HDTV formats while explaining how these difference impact image quality

In-home 4K Resolution Explained: What is 4K, and what are its implications? Is this very expensive technology worth considering? And what about available content in 4K?

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