Moving TV to “free”-dom.

Posted: January 26, 2014 in Life!, Technology
Tags: , , , , ,

Cable and Satellite TV gives the general public everything they need, when you don’t really know what you need.  And then, they give you more.  More channels are available than you can dream of.  No one (at least no one I know) watches them all.  But, the broadcasting companies know this.  So, they package channels that they know you want, with channels that you probably won’t use, JUST so that you can upgrade your package to another level.

TVThere is an explosion of options for television shows and movies.  Streaming media boxes like AppleTV, Roku, and Chromecast and streaming apps like iTunes, Netflix, Amazon Instant and Vudu make it easy to access with high-speed internet.  Even the main broadcasting companies have mobile apps to stream their latest shows over the internet, like ABC and Fox (among others).  TV programming has become far more accessible than just via Cable or Satellite TV companies.  So, why are the broadcasting companies still in business?

Well, first off, it’s convenience.  It’s cumbersome to locate a way to find the show you want to see and when.  For example, you want to see Breaking Bad?  Was that on your iPad, or did you have to go to the website?  Maybe you can watch it over the air… but when was it going to be on again?  There isn’t a TV guide for that.

Secondly, it’s programming.  Since my move away from Cable/Satellite, I regret not having 2 channels: ESPN and Discovery.  You don’t have everything at your fingertips, and that handy TV guide listing is gone.  Here, I will show you how to get Over-the-air programming to all of your TV’s in your house.  Why do this, you ask?

There are a few reasons.  First is cost.  It’s free!  And the costs that you incur while buying the equipment you need, is usually made up for 1-2 months of your normal cable bills.  Second, it’s higher-quality.  Wait, how can that be?  Well, satellite and cable companies compress the video stream to make it more efficient to send to you.  That compression and de-compression loses some quality.  It may not be noticable, but it’s there.  Over-the-air video is uncompressed raw data.  You see what they see.

Antenna

DB4e

Antennas Direct DB4E

The first thing you need to do, is look at your antenna.  This is absolutely critical.  A bad antenna will give you bad reception.  Garbage in is garbage out, they say.  And this holds true to that statement.  If you have a poor antenna, there is no amount of amplifiers or attenuators that can help with that.  You can’t make something better after you get it.  You can only try to keep it as good as you get it.  How do you choose the right antenna?  Take a look at how far your broadcasting companies are.  The larger the antenna, the better/farther the signal you can receive.  I used antennaweb.org.  This told me where my closest transmitting stations are, and how far.

For me, I purchased the Antennas Direct DB4E.  This gave me a 65+ mile range.  Don’t rely on amplifiers for your range!  They don’t do a bit of good!  I’ll explain more about that later.  Again, your antenna is the major investment in this project.  Don’t sell yourself short.

You should install the antenna as high as you can.  Some people put it in their attic but I preferred to eliminate any possibilities of interference, so I installed it on my roof.  You can buy an antenna mount, but I just made one using a 2″ PVC pipe.  Once you have your antenna mounted, you can move on to the infrastructure.

Cabling and Equipment

Here is where it get’s interesting.  Just installing an antenna is not enough.  You need to deal with signal strength and degradation.  You see, once the signal is received, it has to be carried via coax to the rest of your house.  If you have alot of cable and splitters, this will degrade your signal to the point where it can’t be usable.  There are some things to alleviate that.

First, you have to get the antenna signal to your house.  If you have less than 100′ of cable, you should be OK.  I estimated my cable to be between 50′-75′.  From there, you can install a splitter.  However, keep in mind that you can lose signal strength on your splitters.  Every tap loses approx 5db of signal strength (I think).  It’s best to get a distribution amplifier.  This will boost or maintain your signal to each TV in your house.  I purchased the CM-3418 Channel Master distribution switch.

ChannelMaster-DistSwitch

Channel Master CM-3418 Distribution Switch

This allowed me to have the same signal strength to each of my TV’s.  You can try a normal splitter, but you will decrease your signal strength by at least 5db (if not more) per tap.

But, what if my cabling is more than 75′-100′ from my antenna?  I’m glad you asked.  This is where a pre-amp will help you.  A pre-amp is usually mounted right at the antenna, and will boost the signal through your cable until it gets to your distribution amplifier.  I chose the Channel Master CM-7777 to do this job (though I didn’t need it, as I found a better way to run my cable).

ChannelMaster-PreAmp

Channel Master CM-7777 Pre-Amplifier

The CM-7777 is a powerful pre-amp.  It’s possible that you could be “over-amplifying” the signal.  I recommend you also purchase an attenuator in line with this amp, such as the Antennas Direct 1296F Attenuator.  Using this, you can “tune down” your signal before it gets to your distribution splitter/amplifier.

Attenuator

Antennas Direct Variable Attenuator

Do not make the same mistake others do.  These pre-amplifiers does NOT boost the range of your antenna!  That’s why picking the right antenna is so important.  If you are too far from a station where your signal has noise, then all you are doing is amplifying the errors and noise.

Final Notes

Okay, so here are some final notes.  Ever since the FCC required all broadcasting stations to deliver their streams digitally, your old TV’s won’t accept it.  You will need to buy a converter box for each TV to convert the digital signal to analog.  But, all newer TV’s can receive digital.

I am VERY pleased with my results.  I can still watch my sports and news casts, while still getting the coolest shows out there.  I do miss ESPN and Discovery, but I’m not totally in the dark with the internet and video streams there.  I hope you have as much success as I did.  Good Luck!

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Hank Yeomans says:

    Yup, especially Comcast from my viewpoint. I literally had to jump 2 pricing tiers to get to one, single sports channel (New England Sports Network) to be able to watch local, in market, NHL and MLB. I had enough, Id rather go pay to see some games. I cut the cord and I have been cable TV free for about a year. Broacast channels only. It’s been blessing in disguise really because I spend time doing other things instead of watching even more TV.

    On the broadcast channel front the signal, at least in my area of Cambridge, MA is so strong that a coax touching a license plate will produce clear, uninterrupted signal. Picking an antenna is easier here it seems.