What are Digital TV Antennas? 8 Things to Know Before You Buy One

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Digital antennas are simply TV antennas that pull in digital channels. However, the term is a bit of a misnomer. All antennas (whether they claim to be digital or not) can receive digital channels. It is simply a matter of what is being broadcast near your location.

With that said, there are several things that you need to know about antennas before you buy one. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

1. Know the three main types of antennas

They include a VHF antenna that picks up channels 2-13, an UHF antenna that brings in channels 14-51, and a combination VHF/UHF that has channels 1-51. (www.fcc.gov)

2. Know your location and building structure for the best signal

Do you live in a house? In this case you can mount an outdoor unit. If you live in an apartment or condo, there may be restrictions and you will be required to use an indoor unit. Outdoor units will give you the best reception. You should also note any tall buildings or obstructions that can block the TV signal. The one drawback with TV signals is that they travel in straight lines. Any blockages will interfere with your reception.

3. Know which stations a particular type of antenna will bring in

Antenna Web Chart
Sample AntennaWeb.org Chart

Go to www.antennaweb.org. Here you will enter your zip code and street address. Hit the “submit” button and you will get a listing of channels in your area. These are color coded. Essentially, if you have a lot of one color (I have a lot of yellow for instance), then click on the color and it will tell you which antenna to buy for those stations. If you’re near a city, you’ll likely get a lot of yellow and you’ll only need a small, multi-directional antenna to get the most channels for your money. If you absolutely must have all of the channels listed, you’ll need to click on box for the channel that is furthest away from you.

4. Know the difference between “directional” and “multidirectional.”

A directional unit focuses reception in a small, contained area and will give you the best reception but it may be for a limited number of channels. A multidirectional antenna will cover a wider area but your reception may not be as good.

5. Know the difference between “amplified” and “non amplified.”

Still another factor is whether or not you are buying an “amplified or “non amplified” antenna. The amplified type plugs into the wall. The non amplified plugs into your TV with a coax cable. While the amplified type may sound better, you may have extra noise.

6. Know whether you need a converter box.

If you have an older TV, you may need a converter box that converts the digital signal from HD to analog so you can view your channels. If your TV doesn’t have a digital (ATSC) tuner, you’ll need a converter box. The digital tuner can be found in the menu options of your TV.

7. Know how to install your antenna

For indoor reception you may need to move your unit to various locations to find the best reception. Also, many of these units are very sensitive and making just a small adjustment in tuning can improve reception.

Outdoor mounting is more complex. First, there are several key factors to consider. Is there any kind of metal nearby such as a metal roof or aluminum siding? Avoid mounting near power lines. Do not mount above the roof and avoid chimney mounting. The smoke will interfere with reception. Use a compass for determining proper direction. Work with a partner who checks each channel picture.

For safety, your antenna must be grounded. You will need a grounding box where the antenna enters the building. Then you will run a wire from the box to your home’s ground rod. Use a 75 ohm coax cable and run it through the attic or basement, not through windows.

For attic mounting avoid all metal, including foil covering on the insulation. A single layer of rood shingles can reduce reception by 30% to 50%.

8. Know the top-rated antennas you can buy

Any time I buy a piece of electronic equipment, I go straight to Amazon, look up the category of device, sort by rating, and then buy the highest rated product that fits my needs. Forget the magazine reviews, forget the marketing hype. Amazon has by far the best rating system for almost any product. For all the antennas you can buy on Amazon sorted by rating, click the button below…

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4 Comments

  1. Frank says

    Paul, a question if you please….what is the best rate/deal for getting ESPN channel on my computer to then connect to my Samsung 60″ ?. I don’t have cable and I use a uhf/vhf amplified antenna for channels 1-50. Just thought you might know.
    Thanks,
    Frank in Denver

    1. Paul Cheney says

      Hey Frank,

      There’s really no good way yet without paying for a cable package. However, SlingTV is a new streaming service that is coming out soon that will probably let you do it for $20/month. You can read about it here.

      As far as connecting to your Samsung 60, the easiest way would be to see if there was a SlingTV app available for the TV coming out soon as well. Pending that, an HDMI cord would probably work with a little setup.

      Does that help?

      -Paul

  2. Liz says

    Paul , hello First you live in my favorite city in all of Fl.
    Now, I am sick and tired of Bright House. We want just basic tv , don’t care about HBO, etc, no sports channels ,want all the NETWORKs ABC, etc. I do want to keep my landline and my internet. Don’t want streaming or whatever you call it from computer to tv Would like to purchase an antenna.What do you suggest?

    1. Paul Cheney says

      Liz,

      First, it’s my favorite city too! Glad we both agree!
      Second, you should know that there’s not a lot of good options for customers like you. That’s why companies like Bright House, Comcast, etc. can get away with being so horrible to their customers and stay in business. If it were me, I would drop the landline, get internet by tethering to my smartphone plan, and buy a cheap antenna from either one of the options above or Wal mart or Target.

      If you absolutely must keep the landline, I would buy a mobile hotspot from T Mobile with a 3GB/month (or so) data plan and use that as your home internet. You’ll need to make sure T-Mobile has coverage for your house. Test it by inviting some one over who has T-Mobile and getting them to surf the web from their phone. If T Mobile doesn’t work, test Sprint. If Sprint doesn’t work, test AT&T or Verizon. One of them will probably work. But T-Mobile and Sprint are generally the cheapest. Once you’ve got your home internet through that hot-spot, you can set up a service like google voice. If you want to use your old landline phone, you’ll need an adapter like this one. After you’ve jumped through a few hoops, you should be able to port your old number over to a phone that actually hangs on the wall, but is powered by Google Voice. That should allow you to make free phone calls and only pay around $30-$40 for internet.

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