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free-to-air TV project

Discussion in 'General Electronics Discussion' started by biggyfries, Apr 8, 2014.

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  1. biggyfries

    biggyfries

    9
    0
    Mar 21, 2014
    I am a noob with VERY little electronics knowlege but I came to this site to try to learn something. I have recently had a falling out with my cable TV service, I found I was only watching two or three channels but was paying well over $100 per month for service. I decided to drop the TV portion of my contract, and was able to still get about 30 channels, but most were of little interest--they were home-shopping, spanish programs, (I speak no spanish) religious channels, etc. But I did find local news, "classic" tv, and the network programs, and I was satisfied with this for a couple of years.
    Then my cable server went 100% digital and my TV went blank--no signal at all. I found they wanted me to pay 29.99 for 6 months of TV service, and then the price would go up from there. I declined.
    So I am looking for a way to get some kind of TV for no charge in my house. I don't want to 'steal' cable from anyone, but if there are signals out there I will be glad to receive them, whatever they may be.
    Yesterday I had no signal of any kind, either antenna or digital. I had a pair of rabbit ears from my junk drawer, I plugged it in to my TV and found there were four channels--three spanish programs, and one NBC signal, I'm not sure where it comes from. It fades in and out so much (gets pixillated) so I can't have much satisfaction from that one. But I am encouraged to try to get a better antenna to get a stronger signal.
    A friend says he will give me a used TV antenna with about sixty feet of coax cable attatched--he says If I can use it I can have it. I'll be picking it up later today. What else might I need to help my cause? A signal amplifier? Will an antenna be effective if installed in my attic? Must it be on a tall mast somewhere on my property? Sometimes putting up a tall mast is difficult/expensive. Suggestions?
     
  2. (*steve*)

    (*steve*) ¡sǝpodᴉʇuɐ ǝɥʇ ɹɐǝɥd Moderator

    25,412
    2,780
    Jan 21, 2010
    A lot depends on what the signal is like in your area.

    If rabbit ears get something, a real antenna placed in an elevated position will get more.

    Some caveats:

    1) the antenna will be directional and needs to be pointed in the right direction
    2) the cable may have losses or may be in poor condition (and have more losses)
    3) placing the antenna outside will generally be better than inside. However if your house construction is mostly non-metallic, inside may be OK. Be careful that wet shingles can shield your signal to a significant extent, and tiles can have a similar effect even when dry.

    The first thing is to simply try it. If you get no more than your rabbit ears, suspect the cable or one of it's terminations even if the antenna is not for the right frequency it's likely to work better than rabbit ears!

    If you need an amplifier, I would recommend a mast-head amplifier.

    If your local channels are digital, you may need a set-top box if you're using an older TV as it may not have a digital tuner.

    Digital TVs have an advantage that they normally can display the signal strength in such a way that you can determine reasonably well the correct way to point the antenna (best done with two or more people unless you really like climbing stairs and/or ladders).
     
  3. biggyfries

    biggyfries

    9
    0
    Mar 21, 2014
    Steve, your post is exactly what I'm needing! Here's what I did today: I got the antenna and coax and brought it in my living room and plugged it into my TV in a few minutes I had 12 digital channels and 2 analog channels. (my TV is a near new flat screen--seems pretty up-to date)--I looked at each one and the analog channels came in real fuzzy so I discarded them. The digital channels were mostly useless to me because many were duplicates, spanish, religious, etc. I wound up with the three major networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, and three other local chanels, one is local sports, one is "classic" TV, and one is other local programming--bottom line, six clear channels. I am happy! I used to pay $10 per month to the cable co. for the same stuff!
    The guy who gave me the antenna got it at a yard sale years ago for two bucks--he never used it. It seems near new, and the coax too.

    Here's what I will do next: I am going to try it in my attic--it is a wood-frame house, built in 1920 with a steep roofline, not friendly to mounting an antenna on top. If the picture stays as good with the ant. in the attic I will consider my 'project' a success.
    Some day I may get a deal on a large dish and explore satellite boxes or other antenna items, but for now I am satisfied.
    I'll follow up with the results of the attic install.
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2014
  4. (*steve*)

    (*steve*) ¡sǝpodᴉʇuɐ ǝɥʇ ɹɐǝɥd Moderator

    25,412
    2,780
    Jan 21, 2010
    Excellent! If you were using the full length of the coax while your new antenna was in your loungeroom then I predict that your signal should be significantly better with the antenna in the attic.
     
  5. biggyfries

    biggyfries

    9
    0
    Mar 21, 2014
    Here is some new input: I was happily watching TV last evening, the picture was generally good, but on most channels I would get a broken signal--(choppy audio, pixillated image) for a few minutes, then I would be good again for awhile--just enough flaws to be irritating--is this just a weak reception of signal?
    Do I understand that using lots of coax actually enhances reception? I understand the fewer joints in the coax the better, right?
    I saw some signal amplifiers cheap on ebay, but they all look the same to me. I imagine those with an AC plug would be superior to the ones with no power requirement?? I have no idea what might benefit me--suggestions? (the antenna is still in my living room today, soon to go in the attic)
     
  6. biggyfries

    biggyfries

    9
    0
    Mar 21, 2014
    A specific question: some signal boosters say 10 DB or 36 DB or even 100+ DB--this can't mean decibels. What would be a specification of benefit to me? Is the higher number of DB's a benefit like "more power is always more desireable than less"?
    I imagine the signal booster should be located inside the house, and the coax goes in one fitting an then out to the TV?
     
  7. kpatz

    kpatz

    311
    82
    Feb 24, 2014
    Most signal boosters go on the antenna end of the coax, and are usually powered through the coax through an adapter so you don't have to run a 2nd wire to the antenna. Putting the booster on the antenna side compensates for signal loss through the coax. Also, the shorter the coax the better, since some loss will always occur.

    As for the amount of boost, too much can be worse than not enough. When you amplify the signal, you're also going to amplify any noise, so if the signal-to-noise ratio is poor, a booster isn't going to help much if at all. The main purpose of boosting is to compensate for cable losses and also to enable using splitters to send the signal to more than one TV.

    If some channels are spotty, you may need to re-orient the antenna to get a better signal on those channels. The ideal setup is to roof mount the antenna with a rotor so you can aim the antenna toward the station you're trying to watch.
     
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