I want my free TV
April 1, 2015 4:03 PM   Subscribe

How to Choose the Best Over-the-Air Antenna for free HDTV. A comprehensive article telling you how to find the broadcasting footprint of stations in your area, how that affects the type of antenna you need, how to build a good antenna using just cardboard & aluminum foil or alternatively, a list of recommended antennas to buy.

Excerpt: "Once you know what's available, it's time to choose an antenna. You have two big decisions to make. First, you have to decide which type of antenna you need. Take a look at the geographic plot that TV Fool (or AntennaWeb) provided for you. The map is situated with "up" as true north. The lines closing in on your location show you which direction each network broadcasts from.

You'll want an omnidirectional antenna if you have a lot of different networks coming in from all sides. This option means you'll get the most channels from every direction, but you may sacrifice signal quality. Omnidirectional antennae are easier to place, and you don't need to worry about beamwidth, or adjusting it every time you change the channel....If all of the channels available to you (or at least the ones you want to see) all come from one direction—like the nearest major city—then a directional antenna could be the way to go. One bonus of directional antennae: they’re stronger and can reach farther, so channels you get will come in more clearly than with an omnidirectional antenna. "
posted by storybored (71 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
 
We're in the process of cable cutting right now, and although we don't watch much on the over-the-air channels, PBS is worth the price of an antenna. What I didn't realize (or didn't remember form the last time I tried it) is that all the channels have sort of sub-channels, and you can see some really cool old tv and movies there. The first time I turned it on I flipped to a show with a guy in a gorilla suit chasing a bunch of bikers through a haunted castle, and there was a ghost in a green-screened out bikini, and I watched tv for 30 minutes or so.

I went with the Leaf amplified model which was on sale for like $40 the other week, and it picks up everything. Highly recommended.
posted by Huck500 at 4:14 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Huck500, that would be "The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini", and my wife and I ended up watching it last week after going exploring in the "weird OTA channels".
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 4:18 PM on April 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


If you are using a regular TV tuner instead of a DTV converter you may need an amplifier. All the experts will warn that an amp usually doesn't help if your signal is marginal, but when I traded out my DTV converter for a flatscreen with its own tuner I lost half my stations. TV's are not as carefully designed nowadays for a low noise floor because they assume you'll probably have a nice strong cable signal.

My antenna is one that one of my neighbors threw out in the mid 1990's when they got cable. I fetched it from the curb and hung it in the attic pointed roughly toward the regional antenna farm about 60 miles away. Used it with decent results for analog. I was a bit worried that I'd be on the wrong end of the "no functionality instead of snow" barrier, but converter and amplifier give me razor sharp images.
posted by localroger at 4:20 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Huh, that confirms that we are nowhere near any useful signals. If we ever stop being able to steal a cable login to stream broadcast TV, looks like we'll have to put on a roof-mounted antenna.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:23 PM on April 1, 2015


There's kind of a renaissance in OTA channels these days with a handful of stations being just kind of a syndication repertory kind of model. I think MeTV is the one that plays all the AIP exploitation stuff, which I think is great.
posted by rhizome at 4:26 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have to say, I got pretty excited about all this stuff a few years ago and set it up. And it worked great! And then I realized that I don't even want network television for free. Oh well.
posted by selfnoise at 4:29 PM on April 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


I've had a TON of antennas and hands down the one I tell everybody to buy is the Amazon Basics 35-mile antenna.

It's functionally identical to the Mohu at half the cost. You can get the 50-mile with power adapter if you're in a rural area.

All the other crazy-ass ideas are usually not worth the effort.
posted by lattiboy at 4:35 PM on April 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


For some reason, I suddenly have Weird Al's "UHF" running through my head...
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:38 PM on April 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Confirms what I already knew: I am in a dead zone. I would need a tall antenna mast to pick up anything.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:42 PM on April 1, 2015


I've had a TON of antennas and hands down the one I tell everybody to buy is the Amazon Basics 35-mile antenna.

If you don't want to wait on shipping, K-Mart has the same antenna on sale for the same price, albeit under a different generic name, and also a USB-powered HDTV antenna amplifier for 10 bucks.

They also have Koss Porta-Pro headphones for $15. These are usually $50, have a lifetime warranty, and sound better than anything you're likely to stick on your ears at any price point without obsessively combing through audiophile forums. I bought two. No wonder K-Mart's going out of business.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:49 PM on April 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


charlie don't surf: "Confirms what I already knew: I am in a dead zone. I would need a tall antenna mast to pick up anything."

But, OTOH, you can see the future by touching people. So there's that.
posted by Splunge at 5:15 PM on April 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


I have a Winegard (the Mohu/AmazonBasics flatcat style antenna) taped to the wall and it's pretty decent. I'm in a bit of a valley, so I get American channels only once in a cold, blue moon. But it does a great job of bringing in Toronto stations, as good a job as the unwieldy outdoor antenna I was using for a couple of years.
posted by maudlin at 5:22 PM on April 1, 2015


Our house has an old ungrounded outdoor TV antenna with the tines falling off attached to a mast that's about ready to fall off the house any day now. Needless to say, I can get a whole one channel with that thing. I was able to get a decent set of channels with an antenna stuck out the window, so last summer I decided to put one in the attic. I thought about making a fancy DIY one from plans I found on the Internet, but I ended up buying this guy with a bunch of gift cards I had (it was cheaper at the time). I put that in the attic, added an amplifier, and now I get something like 27 channels, including subchannels, in my rural area.

Lots of these subchannels aren't on DirecTV, including my favorite, Retro TV, which shows MST3K every Saturday and Sunday, classic Doctor Who every weeknight at 8, and a show out of Buffalo called Offbeat Cinema, in which the hosts are Beatniks for some reason and which includes local Buffalo commercials. I've also seen the aforementioned invisible bikini movie, and reruns of Miami Vice (which holds up surprisingly well).

Unfortunately, a lot of TV stations (including our Retro TV affiliate) have been bought up by speculators with the intent of selling them in a spectrum auction next year, at which point they would be shut down to free up space for wifi.
posted by dirigibleman at 5:38 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I got an antenna for Christmas, but even better I got an HDHomerun. That distributes my antenna channels all over my house via UPnP. I even have it running through my Kodi (formerly XBMC) setup and it's pretty great.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:52 PM on April 1, 2015


I stripped the last foot or so off an old co-ax cable and plugged the other end to the tv. Works great, cost me nothing since it was just laying around anyway. Worth a try before you spend any money on the fancy stuff.
posted by rzrc at 6:08 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


So if I'm reading this right, Toronto isn't looking so good?
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:13 PM on April 1, 2015


Depends on where you are in Toronto. My worst reception matches my results from TV Fool, and I've done better in the winter, even in this little valley. Canadian channels are a slam-dunk for anyone, really, and I think people in apartment buildings stand a good chance of getting Buffalo channels if they face south.

If you read the reviews of various antennas on amazon.ca, for example, you'll see Toronto people getting lots of channels.
posted by maudlin at 6:21 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Bought the one Costco had for around $30, hangs on the wall with command adhesive, works great. I had an older generation version before that was thicker and needed a nail to hang and had a power booster thingie. It was okay and mostly worked if the weather was right, and we got 5 out of 6 stations most days, but the newer ones are a LOT better. We get all 6 stations AntennaWeb thinks we should get, and I just hung it "on the wall behind the TV," which is on the first floor, sorta in the center of the house, not aiming at anything in particular. If we went to the trouble of aiming it or mounting it upstairs or got an exterior antenna, I bet we could get TV from the next metro area over.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:24 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


In a 10th floor north-facing apartment in midtown Toronto, I can get 30+ channels, including all of the Buffalo stations. Couldn't get CTV2 last time I tried, even with a VHF rabbit ears. I have a "coathanger DIY" and I usually have it outside on a balcony (but I can still get many things inside).
posted by pjenks at 6:32 PM on April 1, 2015


I stripped the last foot or so off an old co-ax cable and plugged the other end to the tv.

If one were to do this, would it increase reception to have the stripped end up in the attic? Would exposing more of the cable increase reception? And if attic placement was optimal, would it make sense/be safe to hang or mount the stripped end on a collar tie?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:52 PM on April 1, 2015


Is there an easy and cheap(ish) way to get modern DVR capabilities (search, series recording, intelligent conflict handling, etc) with OTA broadcasts?
posted by Rock Steady at 6:53 PM on April 1, 2015


We just recently did this; we have line-of-sight to two large antenna sites, and I decided that to test the OTA thing with $6 rabbit ears....and it works. We haven't worked out a DVR solution, but may not bother.
posted by rtha at 7:19 PM on April 1, 2015


I'm constantly making terrible antennas to hook up to a shortwave radio.

Building them is half the fun
posted by Ferreous at 7:20 PM on April 1, 2015


Is there an easy and cheap(ish) way to get modern DVR capabilities (search, series recording, intelligent conflict handling, etc) with OTA broadcasts?

Mmm. Pi.

posted by Slap*Happy at 7:22 PM on April 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


If you get an HDHomerun like DirtyOldTown you can use just about any DVR software on any os. I myself use mythtv on a dedicated linux box because it gives me the most flexibility to do things like setup complex recording rules, re-encode videos, strip commercials, etc.
posted by Poldo at 7:26 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Neat! I just followed some of the advice at the link (particularly moving the antenna away from my wi-fi router) and managed to squeeze a few more channels out of it. I get to watch my Fox and CW shows live again!
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:34 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Torontonians should all get antennas. I've got a 2 bay Channel Master on the top of my 2 storey mid-town house and I get 30 channels. GetTV can be iffy in some atmospheric conditions but everything else looks excellent. Even if you get it for nature docs on public TV, the OTA image is much crisper than cable or Bell Fibe.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:46 PM on April 1, 2015


In my case it is just which one gets the best reception in a particular room. It is by trial and error. The 7.00 Home worx antenna gets the best reception in the kitchen and the 30.00 flat with the booster gets the best reception in the living room.
posted by robbyrobs at 7:53 PM on April 1, 2015


Oh, this is very useful. We're contemplating finally cutting the cord, and getting OTA plus Sling tv so that my husband still has access to sports. We're paying way too much each month. It'll be an adjustment - I love my DVR - but it's too much money.
posted by PussKillian at 7:59 PM on April 1, 2015


I always get jealous of folks that get 30 channels OTA.
I live in a perfect place for reception - Broad valley floor, line-of-sight to the antenna farm 1000ft above me, no trees or obstructions.

I get ... 5 channels?
The 4 networks, plus PBS and couple of lame sub-channels.
My market just isn't big enough to make all the weird and wacky stuff viable, I suppose.

I will say, if you are into live sports, OTA is the way to go, the picture is so much better than the compressed to hell cable version, it'd almost be worth putting up an antenna just for that.
posted by madajb at 8:26 PM on April 1, 2015


The dual tuner version of the TiVo Premiere box and the old Series 3 both work with an antenna. No need to give up the DVR just because you drop cable. Unfortunately there is a monthly fee involved, but it's a pittance compared to a cable subscription.

I've used various DVR softwares with my HDHomeRun and HDHR Prime, and sadly they are all annoying and fiddly to get running. Or in Windows Media Center's case, fiddly and annoying to keep running. If you can deal with that sort of hassle, you can't beat the price. Especially using a XBMC/Kodi frontend...
posted by wierdo at 9:38 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I lucked out and the best position in my house for an antenna has near line of sight to the major seattle towers. I went for overkill and mounted a ClearStream 2-V outside, drilled a hole through my house and with unboosted splitters I get every channel at 100% with > 50' of cable runs.

Now CenturyLink just needs to run fiber internet down my street...
posted by temancl at 10:42 PM on April 1, 2015


Wait, so HD Homerun will function like a DVR with no monthly fee?
posted by persona au gratin at 1:27 AM on April 2, 2015


Alvy Ampersand: If one were to do this, would it increase reception to have the stripped end up in the attic? Would exposing more of the cable increase reception? And if attic placement was optimal, would it make sense/be safe to hang or mount the stripped end on a collar tie?

Antenna performance is sometimes a black art, but in general yes getting it up into an attic would improve reception. And it's not like it's carrying current so hanging it from any part of the rafters—as long as its not grounded to anything—would be fine. Hanging the wire vertically is probably not the best orientation, horizontal would be better, but experimenting is best for something like that.

As for exposing more of it, yes, more metal means more reception. But! only if the tuning is correct. The length of the conductor(s) in an antenna need to be tuned to resonate at the proper frequency for the radio band they're used on. The electronics in your tuner can compensate, in fact they have to because each channel has a different frequency so no antenna can be perfect. But if the length is wrong it'll be beyond your tuner to fix and the reception will be horrible.

With some really rough math I think the best lengths for VHF reception would be in the neighborhood of 46 cm or odd multiples thereof. Start by making it a little long so you have the option of trimming for improvement. And if you feel like getting fancy you can go further.
posted by traveler_ at 1:58 AM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I had some other brand of the identical antenna to that amazon basics 35 mile one(the winegard? I'm not sure) but... the CATV jack fell off of my nearly top of the line super futuristic no-bezel samsung TV basically the first time i tried to use it.

I called them, and they were pretty laid back and lackadaisical but acted like they would fix it no problem(hmm, i wonder if it's a common issue?). Until they found out i didn't have the receipt... even though i still have the box, and everything else, and registered it.

So i'm 100% streaming only now.

For what it's worth, this TV also has a bent frame from sitting on my cushy couch for a couple minutes while i set up the stand and base. All the metal on it is barely thicker than a premade pie crust tin. The actual plate it attached too was like the foldy tabs on a manilla envelope. Cheapasses.

It sucks too, because i pick up an awesome number of channels here. I gave the antenna to my dad, who lives a few blocks from me, and he basically gets every channel that's available in the greater area with full signal. RetroTV is indeed awesome, and i wish i could get it here just as background noise sometimes.
posted by emptythought at 3:50 AM on April 2, 2015


The kids and I made one of the diy antennas a couples years back and it picks up over 40 channels.

It was a fun project, and it worked!
posted by bricksNmortar at 4:16 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


We tried doing this, using an antenna and a TiVo to replace cable. Didn't work. Reception was touchy, and our various stations are located in different cities in different compass directions, which is the worst case for an antenna. And a DVR just means you don't have a chance to fiddle with the antenna, your recording is just bad if the signal was glitchy.
posted by smackfu at 4:19 AM on April 2, 2015


I enjoy watching sportsing with the antenna because other means all seem to lag by about 5 seconds so I feel psychic when I can predict when my neighbours will shout or the sports bar next door will erupt.
posted by srboisvert at 4:29 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I canceled cable probably about 15 years ago and never looked back. I couldn't wait for the switch to HD broadcast and got really frustrated when they pushed the deadline back. A few days after the switch, I turned on NBC Nightly News and could see a piece of lint on Brian Williams' lapel and got stupid excited about that.

Right after the switch, I built one of these antennas and put it up in my attic, ran the coax down the wall, and never looked back. Mine's different in that the wires are made out of old leftover copper wire and I made one big reflector instead of two separate ones (don't know if that matters, as it works great). It looks hillbilly as hell, but it worked well enough to pick up the three local HD PBS stations, which I couldn't get at all before. With that and a couple of streaming services and an AppleTV, we've had more than we need.

Periodically we wind up housesitting or at a hotel, and I turn on the cable and it starts screaming at me and people are haggling over vintage lunchboxes and there are maybe two decent shows on at any given time and I think, Jesus, how did I ever willingly pay for such an unbearably shitty, user-hostile product.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:33 AM on April 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


I have one of those flat bat wing looking ones I bought at Walmart cheap and a cheap amp. I am 70 miles from the nearest signal. I have 11 very clear channels. Enough for me.
posted by bjgeiger at 5:56 AM on April 2, 2015


Wait, so HD Homerun will function like a DVR with no monthly fee?

Not exactly. An HDHomerun will turn your antenna signal into data that your HTPC can handle. This can then be processed through free (but takes some work to get going) DVR software like MythTV or NextPVR. Run that as part of Kodi/XBMC and it's pretty sweet.

So it's not so much...
... HDHomerun = DVR for antenna
as it is:
...HDHomerun + setting up mildly hassle-y software turns your HTPC into a DVR for antenna.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:56 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is there an easy and cheap(ish) way to get modern DVR capabilities (search, series recording, intelligent conflict handling, etc) with OTA broadcasts?

We got a Magnavox MDR515 and think it's the greatest thing ever. There are other similar models MDR 513, MDR537, MDR557, etc on Amazon.com--slightly different capabilities & prices. Walmart has carried the MDR line consistently & now seems to have the MDR557. MDRs can be a bit hard to find; you have to be a bit persistent in re-checking retailers.

It doesn't have search/series recording etc. but honestly you just use an online TV guide to search and then set your DVR to recording 9:30-10:00 each weekday night or whatever. It's not a big deal. Right now we have more shows recorder on our MDR515 than I could possibly watch in a year.

This thread seems to be a good sum-up of the OTA DVR choices.

This thread has all the info you could ever possibly want to know on the MDR line.
posted by flug at 6:40 AM on April 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


One of the cool things about over the air HDTV is the quality - superior to cable. I hooked up an antenna during the week long cable outage after Hurricane Sandy and was surprised at how many stations we received and how stunning the picture is compared to Comcast HD. Comcast must really compress their signal.
posted by caddis at 6:41 AM on April 2, 2015


One of the cool things about over the air HDTV is the quality - superior to cable.

This, forever. Cable companies smash tons of channels into limited bandwidth by heavily compressing and transcoding the signals. They do this intentionally and then continue to brand all their shit as HD, when you can get a perfect signal over-the-air.

User-hostile product is absolutely the best term.
posted by odinsdream at 6:57 AM on April 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


I am a smug asshole during sporting events that are on broadcast TV. "All you cable TV idiots are experiencing SO MUCH artifacting right now. Not me, though. Not. Me."
posted by NoMich at 7:02 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


FWIW I just counted and we get 23 channels free over the air.

Like others upthread, when at a hotel etc I usually spend some time flipping through the cable channels and am always pretty astonished at the complete horror-show that cable-tv represents.

It's sort of like 23 x 0 = 0, 100 X 0 is still zero, 500 X 0 is still zero, 1000 X 0 is still zero, and so on.

I guess that shows I'm not much of a TV fan. But realistically, with 23 channels I can usually find a couple of shows that are OK to watch (especially over the course of, say, an entire week via DVR recording), same as if I had 100 or 500 or 100 or 10,000 channels. It soon becomes something of a search problem--how much time do you really want to invest checking out new/different channels & shows to find something something only marginally better than what you're already watching. If you're not careful you can spend far more time searching than watching.

If there is something very specific I want to watch we rent or buy the DVD.

It's a bit like the Secretary Problem, where after a while interviewing more and more candidates doesn't lead to a better selection. For me, 23 channels already gives me more choices than I practically want to deal with. YMMV.
posted by flug at 7:04 AM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


OTOH, if I could get some of my cable channels OTA, I would be happier. Not all of them, but some.
posted by smackfu at 7:30 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


It just blows my mind that some places have 10, 20, 30+(!!!) OTA channels. Growing up in the boonies, we got 4 channels (French CBC, CBC, CTV, CKX). Now living in Manitoba's major metropolis, we get 3 channels* (French CBC, CBC, Global) due to CTV & CityTV's poor placement of transmitters following the analog to digital switch. Obviously, population is a huuuge factor, but 30! 30 channels! Gobsmacked.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:36 AM on April 2, 2015


Do people really get that many distinct channels? Even with a perfect antenna, I think we would get 10.

* Major broadcast networks: FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC.
* Lower tier networks: CW, ION, MyTV.
* PBS.
* Spanish channels: Univision and Telemundo.
posted by smackfu at 8:09 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wait, so HD Homerun will function like a DVR with no monthly fee?

HDHomerun + setting up mildly hassle-y software turns your HTPC into a DVR for antenna.


My experience with several different combinations (using an older internal PCI tuner card) is that Windows Media Center has been the least hassle to use. Guide data being rolled into it makes it easy to "plug and play", series recordings work fine, etc.

Connect your computer to your TV and use a Flirc to control your it with your favorite remote, and you are all set.

For anything I want to keep long term, MCEBuddy takes care of removing commercials and transcoding to MP4, and Avidemux for any manual cleanup, and then it goes into Plex to be enjoyed essentially anywhere and everywhere.

Definitely a bit of hassle to get it up and running, especially if you want a full blown HTPC setup (XBMC/Kodi/Plex/etc.), but once you have it working, there are no ongoing costs other than electricity. :)

It just blows my mind that some places have 10, 20, 30+(!!!) OTA channels.

I'm about 35 miles from Chicago and last time I scanned for channels, I had something like 70+. TitanTV will show you everything available, but YMMV based on your location and setup.

Of course, I only really pay attention to 15 or so, but there's plenty of options (especially if you love PBS, syndicated shows, and older movies). Live sports are generally harder to find, but I've found that Spanish channels carry a lot of soccer and even Formula 1, which is a huge plus for me. One "work-around" that has worked great for me is using AdFreeTime to trick the NHL into letting me give them money for Game Center Live since most hockey games are on cable.

Between all of that and Netflix/Amazon Prime, we haven't missed cable all that much. :)
posted by hankscorpio83 at 8:13 AM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Do people really get that many distinct channels? Even with a perfect antenna, I think we would get 10.

* Major broadcast networks: FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC.
* Lower tier networks: CW, ION, MyTV.
* PBS.
* Spanish channels: Univision and Telemundo.


That's what I get* in the Raleigh-Durham media market, but each of those networks has one or two extra channels in their bandwidth. For example, my local PBS station (WUNC) has the regular PBS station, PBS Kids, and UNC EX.


* - if the conditions are right, I get CBS and Fox from the Greensboro-Winston Salem media market as well. Actually, I get their CBS station on most every day, but the conditions have to be absolutely perfect for the Fox station to come in. This is really great when the Carolina Panthers are in their bye week, because the different CBS and Fox stations all could be showing different games. I've had four different games going on at the same time on my TV in that scenario. Also, the other CBS station has WeatherNation in their bandwidth, which is like the Weather Channel from 25 years ago.
posted by NoMich at 8:25 AM on April 2, 2015


I used an antenna for a couple of years, but recently had to go back to paying Comcast for cable because all of their broadband packages with >3Mb/s download speeds weren't available without bundling. I guess I won't be able to cut the cord for good once Google Fiber comes along (their HQ is only 20 miles away, but yet I can't get it here) or we finally start to treat broadband internet as a utility.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 10:11 AM on April 2, 2015


Do people really get that many distinct channels? Even with a perfect antenna, I think we would get 10.

I get:
CBS (2 subchannels)
ABC (2 subchannels)
NBC (2 subchannels)
PBS (4 subchannels)
FOX (3 subchannels)
ION (5 subchannels? I deleted the shopping channels from my TV so I'm not sure)
My Pittsburgh TV (single channel)
CW (single channel)
Some religious network (last I check 4 subchannels)
An independent station (3 subchannels)

Interestingly, they keep adding subchannels. The CBS affiliate's extra subchannel is only about a week old and Fox's 3rd subchannel was added late last year.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:29 AM on April 2, 2015


Those of you who trust too much in the "what channels would I receive" maps should know that, in my experience, they are conservative. I get way, way more channels than either one of them suggests I would. Up to 45 when weather is good, and about 35 when weather is normal.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:44 AM on April 2, 2015


I get

ABC (CW subchannel)
NBC (weather subchannel)
CBS ("Bounce" subchannel, "the nation's first-ever over-the-air broadcast television network designed for African-American audiences," its overnight movie selections are AWESOME and remind me of being a sick little kid when we had to watch whatever old black and white movie happened to be on the two overnight broadcast stations if we were up sick)
FOX (music video subchannel, which is kind-of like 80s MTV with actual videos)
PBS (2 subchannels, "World" and "Create")
MyTV (with a MyTV subchannel) - this is basically syndicated sitcoms from the 80s and earlier

So, 6 stations with 13 channels + subchannels.

I would like to have a Univision or Telemundo affiliate; I also think someone should air the statehouse feed on a subchannel (C-SPAN style) with an advertising crawl at the bottom, I would watch that. I think the PBS subchannels are really mediocre (I'd love to have a 24-hour "kids" subchannel) but the main channel is great. WGN on a subchannel would be nice but not necessary; a second movie subchannel showing old movies would be pretty cool, just in case I'm "meh" about the movie on Bounce. It's a pretty good variety.

Actually I would watch the SHIT out of a subchannel that spent a month airing a random local channel from somewhere else in the US, with their morning shows and evening news and high school sports, with low production values and local anchors who don't want to be awake at that hour. It'd be like telenovelas where you dig into the action for a month and then they're over and move on to the next rando city.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:56 AM on April 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


We need a subchannel with underwear dancing guy (NSFW-ish).
posted by dirigibleman at 11:02 AM on April 2, 2015


We manage to get the local channels in HD with the a little square powered antenna beside the TV, but now you've got me thinking about about running a cable up to the top floor. We're on a hill and with any luck I'll soon be watching TV from Buffalo!
posted by thecjm at 11:10 AM on April 2, 2015


I stripped the last foot or so off an old co-ax cable and plugged the other end to the tv.

If one were to do this, would it increase reception to have the stripped end up in the attic? Would exposing more of the cable increase reception? And if attic placement was optimal, would it make sense/be safe to hang or mount the stripped end on a collar tie?


Probably, although I stuff mine behind the electronics cabinet. I may be missing out on some of the tougher to reach signals, but I get what I need for very little cost or effort. I guess that makes me lazy :-)
posted by rzrc at 11:19 AM on April 2, 2015


Actually I would watch the SHIT out of a subchannel that spent a month airing a random local channel from somewhere else in the US, with their morning shows and evening news and high school sports, with low production values and local anchors who don't want to be awake at that hour. It'd be like telenovelas where you dig into the action for a month and then they're over and move on to the next rando city.

I'd be down with a fully-scripted channel done in this style, sort of a month-long ARG where you see the local hosts doing their normal shows, but with slowly accumulating hints that something is going horribly wrong behind the scenes, and the longer you watch the weirder it all gets, kind of like a longform Too Many Cooks or Sleep No More or This Is My Milwaukee. Like maybe the goofy sports guy is planning to blow up the studio at the end of the month, or the chirpy morning show host is secretly running a dogfighting ring in her basement, or the kiddie-show clown is mysteriously sucking the life force from the children in the peanut gallery. Of course, it would be impossible to watch every moment of it (challenge accepted?) but it would be an amazing experiment.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:21 AM on April 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


+1 on the improved HD picture OTA compared to the compression-artifact-riddled cable broadcasts. Does anyone know the bandwith of an OTA TV channel? I've had a surprisingly tough time finding the answer to that online.

Our rooftop antenna pulls in three PBS stations which is pretty awesome (two in DC and one in Baltimore), and a total of at least two dozen stations. We use a TiVo because I'm lazy, but I like the idea of a HTPC DVR and cutting the subscription cost.
posted by exogenous at 11:49 AM on April 2, 2015


An OTA broadcast can have 19.4Mbps (less subchannels).

Wikipedia has a lot of info on ATSC.
posted by Monochrome at 11:58 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thoughtcrime: ...recently had to go back to paying Comcast for cable...

Actually did the same, but never bothered hooking up the cable. Not always listed on their website, but call and see if you can get the "Internet Plus" package. ~$75/mo (~$40 for the first year) for 25 Mbps down and a local tv and HBO (and therefore HBO Go*), web-based on-demand, and Streampix. [For comparison, "Performance" internet only (25 down) is $3 less a month with no introductory rate.] For an extra $10/mo, you can bump up to 50 Mbps down if you need it. They give you a cable box, but since it isn't HD or a DVR, there's no monthly charge for it. Buy your own modem and you save $8 or whatever it is now a month.

*One caveat is that they don't allow HBO Go on all devices, because... greed? I have it working on Samsung SmartTVs, Roku, Xbox 360, iOS/Chromecast, but it doesn't work on FireTV. My understanding is that they are extorting money out of each device maker to allow it.
posted by hankscorpio83 at 12:05 PM on April 2, 2015


P.s. To put that in perspective, a 19.4 Mbps MPEG2 broadcast has twice as many bits to throw at the picture as a DVD, but a DVD is only 480 lines and not 1080. A Blu-Ray Disc can allocate 48 Mbps to video and it can take advantage of more advanced codecs.
posted by Monochrome at 12:06 PM on April 2, 2015


Los Angeles is insane with OTA TV. I get 110 channels easy with the monoprice antenna and a cheap inline amp. I would get about 80 with a $11 RCA VHF/UHF I got at Kmart.

I might invest in a separate box/DVR because I have a cheap Insignia TV with an awful tuner. It ruins my fav channels every rescan and has no ability to "Add" so if I adjust for one distant channel I loose FOX-12. At night I can sometimes pickup San Bernardino's PBS at ~60 miles away.
posted by wcfields at 12:10 PM on April 2, 2015


It's really a shame that we ended up with an HDTV system that relies on MPEG2, which wastes a ton of bandwidth compared to more modern video encoders.
posted by smackfu at 12:16 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


In Philadelphia, I get close to 50 channels (I think it was 47 last time I checked), with a Leaf on the 2nd floor in a hilly neighborhood.
A lot of the channels are religious-home-shopping-infomercial garbage, but there are a lot that aren't. And on Saturday, LUCHA LIBRE!
VIVA OTA.
posted by SPUTNIK at 12:34 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's really a shame that we ended up with an HDTV system that relies on MPEG2

Sounds like a Sony.
posted by rhizome at 12:45 PM on April 2, 2015


I used this to find my channels. I think it's more useful - you can click on the call sign and see exactly where each signal is coming from.

I have an big older exterior analog/digital antenna (from a former boyfriend who upgraded), mounted on the gable end of my house on the opposite side from the source of most of my available signals (signals come from Lookout Mountain to the west, and the antenna faces east). I still get 43 channels (ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, PBS(2), Telemundo, Univision, Telefutura, MYTV, IND, ION and Unknown(2), plus subchannels). Prior to the digital transition, I was getting maybe five to 10? I don't remember. OTA DTV has been so much better than cable or satellite.

By contrast, I got basic Comcast for my mom's apartment, since apparently it's hard to get OTA in her building, and she gets way less than that, the content is poor and the picture is pathetic.
posted by caryatid at 1:44 PM on April 2, 2015


Unless there is a lot of stuff you watch it is a lot cheaper to go back to OTA. If you can.

I ditched UVerse TV and added the The ClearStream C2, an HD Homerun (the OTA version) and a Windows Media Center install on an Intel NUC box (tiny).

The quality is surprisingly good for HDTV this way. really good.

No more costs per month and most of the stuff we used to watch anyway. The few things I can't get I can watch online or download...
posted by twidget at 6:35 PM on April 2, 2015


When considering the bandwidth and picture quality of OTA vs cable one should keep a couple of things in mind. First, the ATSC transport stream is 19.2Mbps. That transport stream contains at least one program stream (which itself consists of video, audio, and text streams), guide data, and sometimes other sorts of data. If the station in question only has the main HD channel and one low bitrate SD subchannel, quality is usually quite good, as minimal rate shaping is required to shave down the main channel to accommodate the subchannels. Typically the main stream is somewhere between 12 and 16 Mbps as delivered by the network. Some networks broadcast in 720p at 60fps, while others do 1080i at 60 fields, which requires more bandwidth. An SD subchannel usually ends up taking about 3Mbps.

In the olden days, my local PBS affiliate would run 6 SD channels most of the time, but during prime time, they shut down the subchannels and switched the main PBS feed to 1080i.

In the US and Canada, a cable channel multiplex typically runs at 38Mbps. Cox, at least, typically puts 2 or 3 OTA HD or 12-14 SD stations on each channel. About a year ago, they added a couple of low bitrate SD channels to the ones that were only carrying 2 HD streams. Quality was less than perfect on the multiplexes with 3 HD stations on Saturday afternoon when they were all carrying sports.

Happily, in neither case are the allocations fixed. If only one of the video streams is motion heavy, there's usually plenty of bandwidth to go around. If not, well, you get pixelization. Happily, the weather feed is usually sent with a low frame rate which helps keep the necessary bitrate low. And shopping channels can generally be crammed into 1Mbps or less, so it's generally just the ones that have MeTV, Retro, a CW affiliate, news, weather, and shopping on subchannels, plus sports at 1080i that turn into unwatchable crap.

The point of this ramble is to say that you can't really make a blanket statement that OTA is always better than cable in terms of sufficient bitrate. Ironically, I have seen cases where the cable feed was actually superior to the OTA feed. This is possible because some stations feed the cable company via fiber, sending each subchannel at full rate, rather than sending the cable company the stream that is going in the multiplex that is actually being broadcast, after it gets cut down to fit everything into the ATSC stream.
posted by wierdo at 9:51 PM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]




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