Getting rid of your cable TV service

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INTRODUCTION

‘Cutting the cord’ has become more popular in recent years. Being subjected to rate increases from cable service providers with no end in sight can make the consumer feel rather powerless as to his or her options. More and more, people have taken the step to gain more control over their financial outlay when it comes to television.

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Of course there IS the trade off: Yes, you may miss a sporting event you might like to see, but it will be an opportunity to visit your local bar and rub elbows with your neighbors, or miss your favorite TV series on cable- but then as long as you have decent internet you might well be able to see them on websites like Hulu.com (subscription required) or other sites (like Youtube or a network website). BUT will you ever channel surf 100+ channels, and feel like a chump because there’s still nothing on you want to watch? No. Here are some basic things to consider when you do decide to cut the cord, or even if you are still on the fence about it. While the financial investment in setting up broadcast TV reception is something, it is finite- and won’t go up in price. After reading this article you will at least have an idea of what you are getting yourself into, and what the potential payoff is.

DETERMINING WHAT YOU NEED

How far are you?

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First it is important to determine how far away you are located from your areas’ broadcast stations. One site that I have found useful is this from the Federal Communications Commission:
https://www.fcc.gov/media/engineering/dtvmaps
Simply enter your ZIP code, and you’re off! Note the cautions on the site for optimal reception – “Signal strength calculations are based on the traditional TV reception model assuming an outdoor antenna 30 feet above ground level. Indoor reception may vary significantly” as it states.

What type of antenna do you need?

Although I first learned about antenna transmission and reception in the 1970’s, the laws of physics that govern signals will not change. AM, FM, UHF, VHF, analog, digital- all behave in wave form and are subject to being influenced by different things such as line-of-sight, weather, obstructions such as buildings or trees. Outdoor TV antennas have historically been directional and need to be pointed correctly in order to get the best reception.

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For this discussion, we will look at directional antennas. They are available from many vendors, such as Amazon.com, Radioshack, and Walmart. A few considerations to be aware of are:

  • Indoor or outdoor
  • Rated effective reception range In selecting an antenna, consider that the effective range will always be including optimal installation (decent height,) and will not include any obstacles in its rating like buildings, trees, or atmospheric conditions  (clouds, fog, rain/snow, etc.). Go overkill on what you think you need to eliminate any potential or unforeseen issues.
  • Ease of assembly and installation
  • Reviews – READ these. I have found them very helpful. Read all of them if you can, as you might find someone who’s had a similar situation (and how their solution was effective, or not). Doing so for all your equipment needs may save you headaches later.

For some of you reading this article, you might be far removed from a metropolitan area to where an outdoor antenna may be the best option, even if you mount it in your attic. If you are in or near a metropolitan area, you may be able to get away with an indoor antenna- buy a cheap model and see if you can work with that before getting more elaborate.

What direction do you point this thing in?

Locating the direction of broadcast media to determine which direction to point your antenna is important. For most, these are located in a single direction. To determine what direction your nearest  stations are, check out this page– just plug in your ZIP code like before- it will give you available channels and a compass heading, and if you scroll down further in the results, directional map: http://www.rabbitears.info/search.php  

You may be in the middle of a number of stations’ broadcast areas in different directions, making the use of your TV antenna a bit more complicated. The solution for that is an antenna rotor which will change the direction of your antenna remotely from your couch or easy chair. This device mounts on your antenna mast just underneath the antenna. Here are some samples of that technology, which is pretty accessible even to the layperson: At Walmart.com and Amazon.com Also there is this page which might help with installation: Denny’s Antenna Service  While a rotor may be needed in some installations, I’d only use them as a last resort. Also, here’s a video someone put together demonstrating the steps involved in such an installation. My previous experience installing a rotor was with a PDL-II CB radio beam antenna, and weigh about 14 pounds– TV antennas are typically much lighter than that (thankfully!)

A little extra help may be a good choice
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Wingard LNA-200 Boost
Photo – T. Gorman

One of the last considerations in choosing an antenna is making sure that once you have it all set up and ready to go, that you don’t have to rework anything so you can just sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor- might you need a signal booster? Signal boosters, or antenna amplifiers go in-line on your antenna cable that increase weak or partially obstructed signals. Sure, you can get all your favorite channels on a nice clear day, but what if you can’t when the weather is foul? Especially if you are on the edge of a station’s broadcast area, I think it is better to go overkill so you don’t need to perform more work to get it done right.

There are signal boosters available for either indoor or outdoor antennas, so be sure to select one that will work for your installation. They vary greatly in price, but remember that just because it is cheap may not always mean it is a good deal. Here I relied on product reviews heavily, as the selection is pretty wide spread as to what they can do for you.

BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER

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Coaxial Cable
Photo – T. Gorman

Now that you have your antenna selected, method of installation, etc., you can string it all together and start enjoying your over-the-air broadcast television. Depending on how far away from your TV the antenna is, it might be a good idea to include a signal booster as mentioned above- signal degradation over the course of 100 feet of cable may be enough to weaken signals to the point of rendering some channels unwatchable. For my installation, I selected two 50 foot pieces of 75 ohm RG6 coaxial cable with F-type connectors, and a coupler to make one long length. These will connect easily to both your antenna and your TV. The cable itself is similar to the type of cable that cable TV services use; it is protected by an outer shield, which encases a braided copper wire underneath, along with some plastic insulating material, and a single copper wire in the middle. Exercise caution to not accidentally bend this middle wire, or it will cause you headaches straightening it enough to work.

In addition to the two 50 foot pieces of cable, I also bought some 3 foot patch cables to go from the antenna to the signal booster, then on the other end from the in-line power supply for the booster to the TV inside the house.

Once this is all put together, have a friend by your antenna, and you by the TV. Initially point the antenna in the direction that your broadcasters are. Then turn on your TV, go to Menu, and start the channel scan (this was performed on a digital flat panel TV; I doubt that an old TV would work unless you have a converter box for DTV).

If you are happy with the results, tell your friend to come down and have a beer with you to watch what channels you have- otherwise, yell up at him or her to nudge the antenna one way or another until you get the best results.

Using your DTV as a monitor and online home theater
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Figure 1

As an added bonus, most all digital TVs today have extra ports on them so you can plug in your desktop computer or laptop into them. Then you can get the full benefit of watching big screen video from your computer, and take advantage of sites like Hulu, Youtube, Netflix, etc. Turn around your DTV and look for a port like this shown in Figure 1.

The type of cable from your desktop or laptop computer is pretty standard, and looks like this as in figure 2 shown here (with protective caps on the connectors).

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Figure 2

To enable viewing your computer on a digital TV, select the type of input from its menu- it may say “Computer,” “VGA,” or “RGB,” this varies by manufacturer.

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Figure 3

Typically next to this receptacle, there is a micro stereo phono jack receptacle that would receive audio from your computer. A micro stereo phono cable (like Figure 3,) can be purchased from major retailers to run from your computer to the back of your TV. Or you can be like me, and have your computer sound plugged into a high end speaker system with subwoofer- makes loads of difference!

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Figure 4

To keep you happy while you cruise the internet, it’s highly advisable to get a device that lets you control your computer from a comfortable position. For this I recommend a small (but not tiny,) wireless keyboard that includes a small touch pad like on a laptop, or rollerball incorporated into the unit. I was using a model from iOGear and was 2/3rds the size of a regular keyboard similar to Figure 4. Those are nice, and you can do most all your regular tasks on it.

FINAL NOTES

There are other resources out there for those looking to ‘cut their cable’ (see bottom of page for more links), but if you follow the basic information I am providing here in this article, you will certainly have a great start in getting your over the air broadcast reception set up.

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Finished installation
Photo – T.Gorman

My current location is about 50 miles from the nearest media market, and I have a building partially obstructing my line of sight toward broadcast antennas, as well as a line of trees which may add some interference when they are full in warmer months. The antenna is about 28 feet above ground level in a 3rd floor attic. The installation is situated next to a west facing window. It’s as good as it can be without putting the antenna on the roof, which would not gain much height advantage with that anyway.

My project supply list included the following:

  • Mediasonic Homeworx HDTV Outdoor Antenna (HW-27UV)
    (Rated at 80 mile effectiveness)
  • Coaxial Cable (2×50 Foot lengths) with F-type Connectors
  • Coaxial extension adapter
  • 3-pack of RG6 3 foot long patch cords with F-type connectors
  • Winegard LNA-200 Boost XT Digital HDTV Antenna Booster
    Plus shipping, tax and handling


    Total:      $152.87

Ancillary supplies  (on hand, or adapted material)

  • Tripod Antenna Mount ( Re-purposed a camera tripod)
  • Antenna mast (Substituted a paint roller tube and used this on the top of tripod, along with an old sock wrapped in the inside to be sure the tube would not crush from the antenna mount)
  • Power drill with 1/2 inch bit as needed (Always exercise caution and use a detector to make sure you don’t drill through utility cables in walls)
  • Pliers, or adjustable crescent wrench
  • Compass
  • Tube of latex caulk for sealing around holes drilled in walls
  • Roll of vinyl electrical tape to cover outside connectors, and protect them from corrosion. Invaluable, if you ever have to work with them again.
Number of digital TV channels found from different configurations comparison
Location of antenna Booster? No. of ch. rcvd.
Type of channels
1st floor dining room window, 330 compass heading, 10 degree elevation, 50 ft. cable No 14 Major networks (but no CBS), some local, MeTV and THiS. No PBS stations
1st floor dining room window, 330 compass heading, 10 degree elevation, 50 ft. cable Yes  18 Major networks (but still no CBS), some local, COZI, MeTV and THiS. Some PBS stations with weak signal
3rd floor attic window, 330 compass heading, 5 degree elevation, 100 ft. cable No  5 ABC and sub channels, a couple of local stations
3rd floor attic window,
330 compass heading, 5 degree elevation, 100 ft. cable
Yes 27 Major networks (still no CBS), more local, MeTV, BOUNCE, Laff, COZI, and THiS. 5 PBS stations with good signal
This table demonstrates the usefulness of my experience from adding height to benefit reception, also that long lengths of cable can necessitate the need for a signal booster

I hope you have found this article useful and I’ve saved you some time and a headache or two. Good luck, and thanks for reading. — T. Gorman

Note: images used in this article not otherwise credited are
courtesy pixabay.com and are royalty free

Additional resources and links: