As of June, 2009, the FCC mandates that all television stations must broadcast only in digital. You probably know that you can use a digital converter in order to be able to watch digital TV on an analog set. But you might need to do more than hook up a converter for good reception.
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Why Is My Reception Bad?
When you purchased your digital converter box, perhaps you excitedly thought that now you would start getting more television channels in crystal clear quality. However, when you connected the box to your TV, you might have found that you did not gain many (if any) television stations. In fact, you may have even lost some of the fuzzier channels that you were able to watch on your analog TV alone. What's the deal?
This is because of the difference in the way analog and digital TV broadcasts are transmitted. External factors, such as a dense wooded area outside your home, tall buildings nearby, or even the materials used in your home's structure and roof can impair television reception. Analog TV is broadcast much like radio stations are. If reception is poor, you will get a lot of static or snow. Digital TV is sent out much like computer data, and you will have either terrific reception or none whatsoever.
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Can I Improve My Digital TV Reception?
There are several steps you can take to help improve your digital TV reception. If you have not yet set up your digital TV converter, consider foregoing the automatic channel scan that most converters feature. While this might help you find channels you did not even know about if you have good reception, with poorer reception the process might scan too quickly to pick up every channel. Instead, follow the digital TV converter's instructions for manually entering television stations. For a comprehensive listing of local channels by state, check out Newslink.com. Photo Credit: sxc.hu/tlloyd
Another tip to try is to exchange the coaxial cables used to connect the digital converter. If you are using a very long cord, you may lose signal strength. As mentioned previously, with digital TV the reception is all or nothing. Shop around for a shorter coax cable. Here is another little tip: for a really short cord (meaning better signal strength and improved reception) visit your friendly neighborhood hardware folks. Many hardware and electrical supply stores cell coaxial cable by the foot, and most will even install the connectors onto the ends for you.
One resource from which you can benefit is the FCC's DTV Reception Maps site. Enter your address or zip code to find out which stations you should be able to receive. You can even drag the red map point to get directly over your house or outdoor antenna, which will be far more precise than a zip code.
The results will list the signal strength for each digital television station in your area as well as the channel for that station. By clicking on the station's call sign, you can find out more information, such as whether their will be a change in reception of that station following the switch to digital, as well as the compass direction from your home to the station's tower. This knowledge can help you adjust your antenna properly, if you are using one.
Many digital television converter boxes have a built-in signal strength meter, which you can use as you are adjusting your antenna to know at a glance what angles improve reception. Adjust the antenna's position or direction, then give the signal strength indicator a few seconds measure the signal at that position.
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Can I Use an Antenna for Better Reception?
An antenna can greatly improve the reception of your digital TV or analog TV with a digital converter, as well. There are many types of antennas from which to choose. Before spending extra cash on a more expensive model, though, try adjusting the antenna you already have. AntennaWeb.org, a website sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Association of Broadcasters, can help you adjust your antenna to get better digital television reception.
Simply visit the site, enter your address and answer a few other questions such as how many stories tall your home is and whether there are tall trees or structures nearby. Not only will the results tell you which way your antenna should point in order to get the best reception for most digital television stations, it can also help you determine whether you would best benefit from a UHF or VHF antenna or a combination of the two. The color-coding will help you learn about the signal strength and best type of antennas for your area. Click the Antenna Info link near the top of the AntennaWeb page to find out more.
If you are using an indoor antenna and want to improve your digital television reception, some other tips to try inclulde elevating it, as well as placing it in a location closer to an exterior wall of your home.
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Choosing an Antenna
If your digital TV reception seems to be strong but perhaps you want to see if you can improve it a bit, you can probably get away with a simple VHF, UHF or combo indoor antenna. A VHF antenna is the old "rabbit ears" type of set-top antennas. A UHF antenna looks quite similar to a VHF antenna, except the antenna is circular rather than the two long telescoping arms a VHF antenna boasts. A combo indoor antenna is simply both a VHF and UHF antenna combined. Most digital broadcasts are on UHF channels. However, certain stations will move their broadcasts back to VHF channels in the future. Opting for a combination of both may be your safest bet. There are many VHF/UHF set top antennas on the market.
If you have only fair reception and often experience station outages, you may need a stronger antenna. A higher quality or amplified indoor TV antenna may work, but you might want to invest in a simple outdoor antenna. If you have trouble getting any reception on your digital TV, a good outdoor antenna may be the only answer (aside from from paying for cable or satellite). The installation and choice of an outdoor antenna usually requires input from a contractor or installer, but you can get some ideas about your options from the antennaweb link above.
Generally, if you are inside a town or city, where broadcast towers are closer, but could be in several directions, a multi directional antenna is best. If you are in a more spread out area, and most of the towers are in the general direction of the nearest town, but further away, you probably want to go with a directional antenna.
Any time you install or adjust an antenna, perform a channel scan with your digital converter to see if you have improved reception and perhaps more channels available to you. It's also a good idea to scan periodically, as new digital television stations will crop up from time to time.