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What is an HDTV Antenna?

Prior to 2009, televisions in the U.S. could receive analog TV signals, but now only digital signals are used and special adapters are needed for old-style televisions.
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  • Written By: Ron Marr
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2014
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By federal mandate, all television stations in the United States will begin broadcasting via a digital signal in June, 2009. Many stations have already made the transition to high definition television (HDTV), replacing the analog signals that had been utilized since television service was invented. Some viewers, primarily the minority who receive local television signals by an over-the-air antenna, will need to upgrade their equipment or they will not receive the transmissions.

Contrary to popular believe, however, these viewers do not need to purchase an HDTV antenna. Though advertising for a special HDTV antenna has filled both the print media and the internet, the truth of the matter is that an HDTV antenna is no different than any other antenna. Digital TV is broadcast primarily on ultra-high frequency bands (UHF) whereas analog signals were sent out on a very-high frequency (VHF) band. Virtually all existing antennas are designed to receive both UHF and VHF.

A person with an older model television might well have to integrate a digital converter box into their system. These boxes, which are readily available and come with a $40 US Dollar (USD) government rebate, convert the analog signal to digital format. The antenna that receives the signal should not need any modifications whatsoever.

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That said, there are quite a few differences between digital TV and analog TV. The most significant difference is in clarity, as HDTV picture quality is much sharper than the analog variety. The downside of HDTV, especially for those who live in fringe reception areas, is that the signal may disappear entirely in times of bad weather. With analog signals, reception was almost always available, even if it became snowy or fuzzy. With digital signals, there is either a very clear picture or nothing at all.

Since there really is no difference between a “new” HDTV antenna and any other antenna, the same tips apply to improve reception. An antenna placed outdoors will receive a fifty percent better signal than one placed in an attic. Also, the higher the antenna mast, the more consistent the reception. If the antenna is mounted on top of the house, it should stand at least four feet above the roof itself.

As a general rule in fringe reception areas, a larger antenna will result in better, more consistent reception than a small one. In areas that are particularly far away from a transmission tower, a special, directional antenna might be required. In more urban areas, an omni-directional antenna should work just fine.

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ElizaBennett
Post 2

@rugbygirl - Antennas for HDTV are pretty great; I do love the independence of not having to rely on anyone for your signal. (Isn't it crazy that we pay so much for cable, in particular, and still have to watch commercials?)

In my experience, though, a big challenge with having a large antenna is finding someone to install it and then to service it. There just aren't that many technicians specializing in it these days!

rugbygirl
Post 1

I *loved* having an outdoor HDTV antenna at our old house. We lived in a less densely populated area, so we had one with a Channelmaster that could point it toward particular stations.

For a while, we only had the antenna, and we didn't pay for anything. (Except that having the antenna installed cost like four hundred bucks!) Then we got satellite in addition. The antenna usually worked even if satellite went out because of a storm of something. The satellite service in that area did not have the local channels, so it worked out.

We were also able to connect the antenna to our satellite box's DVR! Then we could record over-the-air programs as well as satellite ones. I miss that arrangement - no cable company to deal with!

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