How to Pick Up Digital TV Channels with an Antenna

Pick up digital TV (ATSC) channels by hooking up an antenna and tuning it into local broadcasters. Using an antenna to pick up digital TV channels works great if you live in a big city; it may take awhile if you live in a small town. The costs of putting in the new transmission and other broadcast station equipment to do ATSC are high, so small cities are having a hard time affording the job and also of finding the resources to do it.

Before you start investing in an antenna, check with your local broadcasters and see who has ATSC channels up and running. You can also look online at HDTV Pub. Just type in your zip code and find out who’s broadcasting in your area. The law requires these TV stations to broadcast in ATSC, not HDTV. HDTV is a subset of ATSC.

You can choose from both indoor and outdoor antennas. Indoor antennas work just fine if you are lucky enough to live in an area with great signals coming over the air, but most people get better results with outdoor antennas. Outdoor antennas are further categorized by three features:

  • Size: ATSC antennas fit into small, medium, and large groups.

  • Directionality: Some antennas (multidirectional) can pick up signals coming from any point of the compass, whereas others (directional) need to be aimed toward the incoming signal.

  • Amplification: Most antennas are unamplified (meaning they don’t have an electronic signal booster), but for weak signals, some antennas use a small preamplifier to boost the signals and help your TV tuner decode them.

Tuning in over-the-air HDTV can be tricky. The good news is that digital broadcasts are free of the snow, fade, and other things that made broadcast analog TV so frustrating. The bad news is that instead of these distortions, digital broadcasts are either on (working) or off (nothing, nada, zip). It’s not always a matter of being too far from the broadcast tower. Some homes may not receive signals because they are too close to the broadcast tower or they are located behind a hill.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has developed a great system to help you figure out which kind of antenna you need to get ATSC signals in your home. Go to AntennaWeb, type some basic address information, and its database spits out an antenna recommendation for you. The CEA even has a color-coding system that participating antenna manufacturers put on the outside of their boxes so you can choose the right one at the store.

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