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Antenna Selection for Local Broadcast Reception

There are a few considerations to keep in mind in selecting an antenna to receive local HD programming from your local stations.  Here are a few for you consideration (not all inclusive):

First, find out if your stations are already broadcasting in HD mode. Here's a link to do the analysis.

Next, check with your homeowners association if it is permissible to erect an antenna on your roof or any location on your home exterior.   Installation of the antenna in the attic is acceptable but will reduce the effectiveness of antenna reception and consequently the signal strength and quality.   Try to put it on the roof as much as possible.  You may want to check out what FCC says about antenna installations.

Determine from the link above whether your local channels are VHF, UHF, or both.  This will determine the type of antenna you get.

Determine whether you have clear line of sight to the station antenna.  If the station antenna locations are separated by a great enough distance, you may need a rotor to turn your antenna to capture and optimize your signal reception.

Once you've done your research, the fun begins.  =)

Factors that Determine Signal Reception:

  • Height of TV Station Transmitting Tower
  • Transmitter Power
  • Transmitter frequency (TV channel)
  • Height of Receiving Antenna
  • Terrain Between the Transmitter and receiving antenna
  • Obstacles between the transmitter and receiving antenna (tall buildings, water tower, etc.) An attic installation is obstructed.

Distance from the transmitters - the closer you are to the transmitters, the stronger the signals will be so a small antenna may be all that's needed.  The farther away you are, the weaker the signals will be so a bigger antenna may be more appropriate.

Topography - if there are obstructions such as building, hills, and trees between your location and the transmitters, then expect the signals to be blocked or reflected and impact the signal that reaches your antenna.  If the blockage is significant, you may not even get any signal at all.  For multipath plagued locations, directional antennas are best.

Every installation is Unique!

Note that above are not hard and fast rules.  Every installation is unique, so what works in one installation may not work in another.   What works for your neighbor may not work for you.  It's a trial and error type exercise for the most part. 

  • If you'd like, try a small set top antenna first and see if you can pick up any signals from your home theater.  If you can pickup a decent signal,
  • Then progressively move up to the bigger antennas at various locations in and out of the house until you get a respectable signal.

Again, what works for one might not work in your situation.   So, be open minded and be flexible.  Didn't I say this is the fun part?  =)

Antenna Recommendations

Note:  Prices listed below are from Yr 2000.  Prices might have changed since then.  Please check the sources for more updated pricing.

Here's a quick run down of recommended OTA antennas:

  • Outdoor/attic - Channel Master 4248 ($45) or Winegard 9095 ($65); both are UHF only yagi antennas; ideal for fringe installations
  • Smaller outdoor/attic/indoor - Channel Master 3021 ($25); UHF only; good for applications near or not too distant from the station transmitters
  • Indoor - Antiference Silver Sensor (about $35) or the Radio Shack UHF double bow-tie ($17); good for applications near or not too distant the station transmitters; Antiference is effective in combatting multipath

Don't bother with the Terk models. They are more hype than performance.

Rule of thumb for antenna: The larger the antenna the more elements. The more elements the more gain. The more gain the better the reception.    This is especially true for fringe installations:   the bigger the better, the higher (i.e, rooftop install) the better.

Sources for the Antenna

  • Antennas Direct - focused on providing a a variety of products that deliver performance, reliability, and value to the HDTV consumer.   Not only do they offer high quality antennas, they back up all standard antennas with a 90-day money-back guarantee.  If, for any reason, you are not totally satisfied with your antenna, you can simply return your antenna within 90 days from the purchase date for a full refund!
  • Stark Electronic - only consistent supplier of antenna supplies; be aware that they do not accept returns on big antennas so always ask for their return policy
  • Radio Shack - comparable units but the beauty is that they are local.  You can get the equipment, test it out, and if doesn't work, you can always return them hassle free.

Outdoor Installations and HOA Restrictions

Unless one of the conditions apply, you should be able to install your antenna outdoors

  • Your property is maintained by the community/HOA
  • Your antenna is too close to power lines or will jeopardize the safety of persons or property
  • Your property is within a community that is considered historic,  e.g. registered in the National Historical Register

But to be sensitive to your neighbors and the community, you should at least install the antenna in the least conspicuous location without degrading your signal reception.

To learn more about FCC's ruling on outdoor antennas, read these

Other Antenna Needs

You may need a rotor if you are near other large metro broadcast centers. The Channel Master CM 9521 rotator with remote control is very good.

If the signal is weak at the output end of the antenna, you may need a preamp. The Channel master 7775, 7777 are good. Winegard AP-4700 (16db) is good and so is the higher gain AP-4800.

Always always always have a rooftop antenna grounded. The mast should be grounded (#8 or #10 gauge wire) to a ground rod vs. water pipe. Coax line from the antenna should also have a discharge block/lightning arrestor and tied to the ground rod.

Aside from being the law, properly grounding the antenna is needed to reduce the risk of damage to persons and property by channeling the bulk of the lightning energy to ground; reduce the risk of fire; meet NEC requirements and local antenna install regulations; and eliminate the possibility of insurance companies denying a claim due to improper grounding or lack thereof.

Professional Installation

Fairfax AntennaIf you live in the Washington DC metro area, I highly recommend Fairfax Antenna for professional installation and service.  They installed my CM 4248, Winegard AP-4800, and CM 9521 rotor with remote.  My experience with them have always been positive.   Courteous and responsive.

If you have any questions about antenna selection and installations, please visit their website or you can call them at 703.550.8500.