Tuesday, August 4, 2009

While High Definition Televisions are becoming increasingly affordable, duopolistic cable and satellite providers still want to charge customers extra for HD content... To make matters worse, these exorbitant monthly rates are often coupled with equipment rental charges…It all really starts to take the fun out of making this “jump” to High Definition… But what if you could get some HD channels without the monthly charge? I’ve had more than a few people ask me about OTA HD lately, and so I thought I’d make a small post about it for those of you who aren’t already aware… Perhaps in the very least this post could help prevent someone from investing in some costly (and unnecessary) hardware or services…

There can be some confusion over the kind of hardware needed to receive OTA HD signals, so I’ll do my best to sketch out the whole deal here (which should work for most North American digital broadcasts as far as I know…). Anyhow, since June 12th all OTA (Over the Air) Television transmission in the USA has gone digital… and a major component of this “transition” is that much of what’s now available over the air is available in HD. This goes for Canada as well, although the CRTC has imposed a transition date sometime in 2011 as far as I know… Consequently we still have a bunch of analogue signals floating around here, but the good news is that most of what’s being broadcast in Canada is also mostly in HD and (also) totally free of charge.

Required Parts:

An HDTV with a built in ATSC tuner, or with an external dtv receiver.

What to Look For:

While traditional Analogue OTA Television utilized both the UHF and VHF bands, from apparently most of what’s available today in the form of digital OTA is on the ubiquitous UHF band…and because these new digital signals are broadcast UHF, you can use a wide *ahem* array of antennae to receive OTA HD broadcasts… In fact, a good way to scope out the availability of local signals in your own sky, is with a traditional pair of rabbit ears…

(if you bought a TV a long time ago and still have the box somewhere, go check it! There was probably a pair included…). Even with this regular old analogue-era antenna, you should be able to pull in an HD channel or two … You’ll want to try the antenna in a few different places (higher, as a rule, is better)… Run a scan with your television and see what comes in… chances are if you get even one channel with rabbit ears, you’ll get a bunch with a proper OTA antenna… But where to get one? As a first resort, consider making your own!

I’ve found that some of the best OTA HD antennas are those based on the Gray-Hoverman design (an antenna that was originally used back in the 1950’s). Gray-Hoverman antennas are easily recognizable by their “bowtie” design, and provide some of the best reception of OTA HD signals… so much so, that they can even be put in the attic as opposed to mounting them on the roof, and they will often still pull in many channels. Pretty easy.

Putting it all together:

Ready to make your own? They have a great overview (and plans) for both single and double-bayed Gray-Hoverman antennas over at Digitalhome.ca.

For somewhat more accessible/less huge design, Youtube user Babblin5’s “Coat-Hanger” antenna is one of the best I’ve found on the net (It’s so good that it was later covered by Makezine). Check that video out here.



If… you really don’t feel like making your own, fear not… You can purchase really decent models for around 40 bucks like this one… Don’t be fooled by those who claim that more is needed… I have something that resembles the infamous coat hanger antenna and I can (apparently) view all of what’s available in my area (15 English HD channels and an HD French channel! Huzzah!). Having never paid for HD Television, this is quite an improvement! I found I got the best result by installing the antenna on the roof, though the difference between this placement and when it was inside the house was only a matter of a few channels. I suspect the difference between an attic and roof would be about the same.

So there you have it. There’s no reason to pay monthly HD content or equipment fees to your cable or satellite provider if all you want is a few local channels in HD… Enjoy your (close to) free OTA HD!


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posted by Marcus at 2:20 PM |



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