Getting Started OTA
Step One: Read this Thread: http://canadahifi.com/forum/showthre...V-Introduction
HOW TO GET STARTED OTA
Are you now interested enough to try OTA but don't want to invest a ton of money in case you change your mind? If this is you, then here is what I think is the best "compromise" strategy that will yield you good enough results that you will either fall in love with OTA or decide it is not for you without having spent regrettable sums of money.
For most locations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), you will do very well with a $40+tax Channel Master 4221hd antenna. This is probably one of the cheapest good-quality brand-name over-the-air TV antennas on the market today. Given Toronto's near-ideal location for OTA TV, this antenna should work just fine. Be aware that there are other brands of antennas that look like the Channel Master 4221hd and they sell for about $25. Trust me, it is worth the extra $15 to get the real antenna. If your store is selling the Channel Master 4221hd for more than $40, you could ask for a price match and say that they're selling everywhere for $40. They'll probably match it for you. Or just pay the extra -- the MSRP is $49.
You'll also need about 50 to 100 feet of RGG coax cable ($10 to $20).
The goal is to get the antenna at roof height and pointed straight toward Buffalo NY. In Toronto, the local signals are so strong that you don't have to point toward the CN Tower. Concentrate on the distant signals. Hopefully you have an unobstructed view toward Buffalo.
Test your results by running the cable through an open door in your house to your TV. Perform a channel scan on your modern TV.
Make sure you are not scanning in "cable" mode. You want to be scanning in "off-air" or "over-the-air" or "antenna" mode. Make sure your HDTV has an ATSC (digital over-the-air) tuner. You can google your TV's model number in case you've lost your manual or you're unsure. 90% of LCDs and plasmas, etc have the correct tuner.
Okay, now you've invested about $50-$100 and tested out your results. Now you decide if you're going to cut your losses, or proceed to install properly. This will require more time and money - but not much. Your results are only going to get better if you proceed.
You can mount the antenna to your roof peak directly by mounting a satellite mount ($10) and then attaching the 4221 to your mount. If necessary, you can go to Home Depot and get a short $7 galvanized fence post (for chain linked fence) to stick in your antenna mount hole to get a bit more height. Make sure to use roofing tar around the base of your satellite mount to make sure you don't get any leaks. Don't worry, it won't be visible from ground level.
If you don't want to make holes in your roof, then you can buy chimney straps to attach the pole to your chimney.
If you're going to keep your install, then you'll need a hammer drill with a 7/16" bit to make a hole in your exterior wall to pass the cable through to the location in your basement where all of your in-wall coax cables meet in your basement. In my house, the hole was made through the mortar between bricks. Once the cable is inside, you seal the hole with some gunk (silcone, etc. - ask home depot). Once the coax cable is inside your house, you put on the cable connector and connect it to your splitter that runs to all of TVs in your house.
To start out, you can use those screw-on cable connectors. But be aware that those connectors are not good. You will be losing signal. It is best to use quality components at every stage: antenna, coax cable, and coax connectors, and splitters. Quality connectors need to be crimped closed - requiring a crimping tool ($14-$20) unless you can borrow one. If you invest in a quality crimping tool and purchase a bag of coax connectors, you can go around your house and use your left-over coax to custom-cut new short coax cables for your VCR, converter boxes, etc. It's a worth-while expense.
To do it correctly you'll want to make sure your antenna is properly grounded.
Here is a list of where do-it-yourself-ers often makes mistakes:
1 Buying sub-standard quality RG6 coax cable from big-box stores or your local shack store.
2 Buying low-quality coax cable ends that leak signal.
3 Buying good quality coax cable ends but then don't put them on properly because it is tricky to do it right.
4 Buying a lousy quality pre-amplifier or signal booster from a big-box store or local shack store that may amplify your signal, but also introduces too much noise to the cable - nullifying the benefit of the amplification.
5 Buying a cheap clone antenna.
If the do-it-yourself-er makes all of the above mistakes...
1 He will probably spend more on the lousy coax than what quality coax costs if purchased from the right place.
2 He will probably spend the same or more than what quality ends cost of purchased from the right place.
3 If you screw up only one end, you can lose several channels and you'll never know that it wasn't your location's fault. Your antenna could be getting every station and you'd never know. So, cut yourself a three-foot length of cable, sit down at a table, and spend some time learning how to cut and strip your RG6. Do it over and over until you're getting it right every time. You might have to sacrifice a handful of coax ends to help you learn. That's the cost of learning.
4 Buy a brand-name pre-amplifier or amplifier. Channel Master, Kitztech, Antenna Direct, Winegard. If you stray from this list, you might regret it. You might have to travel farther to get one, order online, and/or pay a little more. But if you cheap-out or don't do your research, you will lose channels and never know why.
5 Huge mistake. All you'll save is $20-$50 from the cost of an equivalent brand-name. Antenna enthusiasts test these quality antennas and report on the gain delivered by the real antennas. By buying a clone, you're buying a black box. You have no way of knowing if what you have just bought will give you the exact same results as a bent coat-hanger (virtually zero gain).
So even if you cheaped-out in every possible way, you might only save max $100. Probably less since in the case of RG6 cable, splitters, and ends, it costs less to get the good stuff than the substandard stuff that is for sale around the corner from you.
If you do it right the first time, the cost difference will insignificant and your results will be optimum for your location. If you want to keep it simple, then an installer can do all of this for you for the equivalent cost of of a few months of cable. And it's a one-off expense.
Think of it this way, if a routine professional installation of a rooftop, outdoor quality antenna ranges between $400 and $700 depending on the amount of equipment needed, it is the equivalent of how many months of cable/satellite for you? If you cancelled your cable/satellite for only six or so months, you might have your money back for the install. And you'd have free HDTV for life at that house.
You can see here that perhaps paying an installer a few hundred bucks ($270 + cost of antenna, splitter, and pre-amp) to do all this makes sense after making the decision to procede with a full install. When I do installations, I supply the RG6 coax cable, top-quality connectors (and install them correctly), the grounding equipment and wire, and the satellite mount. It's better for the installer to supply those things because they can easiliy get top-quality items for better prices than a regular person has to pay for sub-standard items. A professional installer wants the job done right the first time. If quality equipment is used at every point in the entire set-up, then trouble-shooting is easy.
If you do-it-yourself-ers are not getting the results you had hoped, don't give up. You can troubleshoot. Double-check that you haven't cheaped-out on a lousy antenna, bad or old coax, cheap splitters, screw on cable connectors, etc. Next, you can add a quality low-noise pre-amp to your system to amplify the signal your antenna is picking up. You can also check your antenna's height or location.
If you don't want to install outside, you can try in your attic. Be aware that you may be losing about half the signal strength as they pass through your shingles and roof. That being said, it costs nothing to just try it out.
By the way, if you're lucky enough to be in a south facing apartment tower, up several floors, with an unobstructed view south, just get a piece of coax cable. Attach one end to your TV. Run the wire to your window. Cut off the other end. Shave off the insulation and expose the bare copper. About 10 to 12 inches of exposed copper is fine. Perform a channel scan on your TV. You may receive every available channel with no cost and very little effort.
A note about why the off-brands or clone antennas are not worth it. Let's say the clone or off-brand antenna is $25 and the real one is $40 to $50. You buy the clone. You don't get the reception results you were expecting. Is it that the signals are not strong enough at your house? You'll never know because in the back of your head, you know you're using an antenna whose specs are either not known or are unreliable. Troubleshooting is MUCH easier when you eliminate lousy equipment as a variable. Some antennas look exactly the same but the brand-name one will work well for the entire UHF range. The cloned or cheap-o may only have decent gain on channels 22 and up, for example. Next point: Let's say you bought the $40 to $50 antenna and you decided ultimately that you're not going to go OTA. You can sell an near-new Channel Master 4221hd on Craigslist for $30 or more without a problem. No one who knows anything about OTA is going to take your clone off your hands. So by buying the real antenna you won't really be out anything significant if you decide not to go OTA. You can even sell your left-over RG6 coax cable if you bought decent stuff.
Last edited by HWP; 11-01-2010 at 02:41 PM.
Over-the-Air TV Enthusiast
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