What is OTA you say???
Well, OTA stands for Over The Air… which is basically antenna technology for your television… yup… OTA is just another acronym for TV bunny ears… as well as roof top antennas…
Now I know most of you have been seeing “the digital transition” commercials on TV…
What is the digital transition you say?
Well, the digital transition is basically the United States government requiring all televisions channels to change their BROADCAST TV signal they send to your TV antenna from analogue to digital. By broadcast I mean signals sent… wait for it… OTA. What this means if you pay for cable with a company like Comcast, COX, or Timewarner is nothing…. that’s right… nothing. The new digital transition law is for broadcast TV only, and the cable companies will still continue to provide you with an analogue signal… giving you with the same service you had before the new law.
What does the digital transition do?
The digital transition will have many benefits for people wanting to use OTA technology (aka antenna’s). The major benefits in my mind is that with a digital signal you will be able to recieve HDTV over the air without paying a cable company for it. (Edit: this does not mean that all digital antenna signals are HD, but have the capability to do so… In the Boston area most of them are broadcasting in HD, but I am not sure about other areas) Digital signals also take up less “bandwith”… meaning more information in less room… this allows some cool things, such as guide data (similar to that you see on a comcast set top box) only thru your antenna. With a digital signal most channels carry sub-channels as well as the main channel. For example channel 7 will still carry their syndicate network such as NBC or ABC, but they might also have a 7.2 channel… that would show various movies 24/7 or channel 7.3 that might constantly loop the latest channel 7 news or weather… my point is there are many benefits for going digital… these are just some of the possibilities.
So whats all this hype with DTV converter boxes?
Easy…. in order for you TV to receive a digital signal it needs to have a digital tuner…. most TV’s built after 2006 have both an anolouge and digital tuner… if your TV is older than 2006 (even if its an HDTV) you might not have a digital tuner… so you need to get a digital converter box to receive the new digital signal… easy as that…. Converter boxes are pretty cheap and painless… you just buy one… plug in the cable from your antenna… plug another cable into it from your TV… and then you will have the benifiets of a digital OTA signal.
have you seen digital OTA?
Digital OTA is not the same as the analogue OTA your grandparents in the sticks used to get with their antenna… Remember the snow you used to get with the old analogue antenna signals… digital does not have that…. you either get a crystal clear high quality picture… or it is all black… no in between. You can actually see all the stations you currently have in your range and their quality by going to this page here and entering your zip code…. www.antennaweb.org
So how do I get OTA?
In fact… if your thinking on trying out OTA and getting an antenna… go to that site above, antennaweb.org . Its a great place to start…. There are a few components you have to understand with an OTA setup… but knowing what channels you are going to get is the first step, and antennaweb.org will tell you. When you go to the site enter you address and zip code and select if you live in a multi-story building or single (this is important because the higher your antenna is, the more channels you will receive with it.) Verify your location on the map and you will be brought to a page that shows a bunch of channels hopefully in your area. The channels are color coded to match the different types of antenna out there (when you shop around for an antenna the color codes will actually be printed on the side of the box.) Here is a graphic showing the color codes of the various antenna’s out on the market.
As you can see above… there are actually only two main categories of residential antenna… Directional and Multi-Directional. Multi-directional antennas (Cyan, Green, and Yellow) are usually smaller in size and can sit on top of your TV usually. Multi-Directional will pick up more channels in multiple direction, but will not pick up channels that might be farther away… Directional antennas (Red, Blue, and Purple) won’t pick up quite a range of channels when they are fixed, but can pick up channels further out.
You can then increase the range of each of these categories further by installing a pre-amp on the antenna. Pre-amps are basically a 2 boxes. One you hang on the pole of your antenna… you plug the cable from the antenna into box1, and then run another cable from box1 to the inside of your house where you have box2 near your TV. Box2 plugs into your TV, and also into the electrical outlet… this is how the pre-amp works… it sends an electrical signal to your antenna to amplify what it can read over the air… getting more stronger channels.
Distribution amps are different from pre-amps… they really have nothing to do with the antenna as much as with your TV. I added to this page because some people might be confused when they are shopping for an amp. Distribution amps are used when you have multiple TV’s in your house. Every time you split a cable line it degrades the signal. Distribution amps boost that signal… you plug the line from the antenna into it, and it will boost that line into 4,6, or 8 ways… better than a double splitter multiple times throughout your house. Chances are though that if you have multiple TV’s now with cable, you already have a distribution amp somewhere, or you cable would not come in that great.
Mentioned above directional antenna’s can receive channels further out than multi-directional, but does not have as wide of a range. Well rotors fix that…. they actually rotate your directional antenna in the direction of the channel you want to see… this is OK if you don’t have any DVR setup… For example… if you want to watch channel 56 that is the NW direction you rotate the antenna that way… then you want to watch something on channel 7 in the South, you rotate the antenna there. The reason this does not work well with a DVR setup is if you are away and want to record channel 7… if the antenna is not in that direction you will record nothing… there are software solution that will allow DVR setups to talk to the rotor, but this gets a little complicated for someone just starting in the OTA world.
All in all it may sound confusing, but its really not, and the best part is its not that expensive to start out either.
The main thing is the Antenna, a pole to mount it on, and cable to run to your TV.
If you checked out antennaweb.org Solidsignal.com and warrenselectronics.com, both of which are reputable sites and are usually the cheaper ones on the internet. Other stuff I get from eBay, such as cables and crimps for making your own cables cheap.
My current basic OTA setup consists of the following.
Channel master Antenna 4228HD
Channel Master Pre-amp 7777
and of course the cable… or coaxial cable… more pref ably do some eBay searches for RG6… that is what coaxial is called. I recommend quad-shield RG6, it is a little more expensive, but it will resist electrical interference better when running around your house’s power cables. Also with the cables you will need the end connectors… also called F-connectors, and a pair of compression crimpers to put them on the end of the cables. I picked up a box of 100 f-conectors and the crimpers on eBay for $15.00
That’s my basic setup… I don’t have a rotor because I have DVR setup with my windows media center. The antenna I have is a directional… it is not best directional in terms of distance, but it is one of the best for the wider “directional cone” it throws when compared to some other longer ranged directional antennas. It works great for my setup. I could go on and on but that is my basic setup… I plan to go into further detail on my media center setup that this antenna is connected too soon.
Feel free to ask any questions on the comments of this page.
I edited the above page to make something less confusing… I mention digital antennas will allow you to receive HDTV over the air… however just because a station is broadcasting in digital does not mean that the content is always going to be in HD… I only meant it has the capability to be in HD.. It basically depends on how the content was filmed (obviously) and then processed… for instant or a station might have the content of heroes from the NBC headquarters in 1080p, but their equipment pushes the content through their broadcast antenna at a lower resolution for various
excuses… err… reasons…
Enter your zip code in this page from HDHomerun’s site, and it will tell you what resolution OTA channels are “throwing out” in your area… the light green channels are digital channels in your geographic area you get through a digital antenna, and the blue/greyish channels are the ones you can get through a QAM tuner.