Choosing and Installing and Over-the-Air (OTA) Antenna

As the buzz over digital (high definition) television spreads, we receive more and more inquiries about the best way to get HD, how to choose a TiVo if you want HD, DIRECTV and HD and on and on.

In an effort to help our phone guys (who are on the front lines when customers call), I thought I’d write a bit about one question that seems to crop up frequently—how to get “free” HD stations via an over-the-air antenna, the type of antenna to buy, how to get it installed, etc.

I’m not going to bore you with the law, but there have been all sorts of mandates on local TV broadcasters to start transmitting in high definition. If you are in an area in which stations are broadcasting in HD, then with the right TV, the right tuner and the right antenna on your roof, you can get these high-quality digital broadcasts for free.

If you want to integrate these free HD stations with TiVo, currently the only game in town is the HD TiVo for DIRECTV, which we’ve written about (in conjunction with MPEG4) here and here.

The HD TiVo is a wonderful box that integrates the free over-the-air (OTA) stations with satellite stations. If you have an OTA antenna installed, and the antenna is strong enough to get the local stations, then you will get some or all of your local stations in HD. Because HD stations are broadcast over VHF and UHF bands, the same ol’ antennas that you see on rooftops will receive HD…except in many cases signals far away can be pulled in using far smaller antennas.

A Winegard OTA Antenna

The wonderful thing about HD locals via an OTA antenna is that the quality is the best you’ll find. While DIRECTV sends HD signals via the satellite in highly compressed formats, the local broadcasters tend to compress the signal far less, leading to a superior picture quality. Admittedly, most people, most of the time, can’t tell the difference between local HD and DIRECTV HD stations, but in some cases, the differences are pretty stark. For a lot of information about OTA broadcasts, see our new OTA and TiVo page.

Assuming you have an HD TV (or EDTV—enhanced definition TV, which is basically a TV that doesn’t have the capability to view the highest-definition TV broadcasts), and assuming you have some way of tuning OTA broadcasts (the HD TiVo and H20 non-DVR DIRECTV receiver each can do it), then you might want to investigate whether to purchase an OTA antenna to get local broadcasts.

The first and best place to start is At this website, sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association, you will input your exact address and will be told exactly how far you are from the various broadcast towers. You will also be told what antenna you need to purchase to get various stations.

The CEA categorizes antenna types using a color scheme, which relates to the type of antenna that is recommended, and the distance your home is from the broadcast. See:

Based on discussions with a number of installers, various manufacturers and distributors, weaKnees has chosen a couple of antennas that we believe will suit the purposes of the vast majority of our customers. We now carry two medium directional antennas, one non-amplified (for ‘red’ signals and closer) and an amplified antenna (for ‘blue’ signals and closer). Red antennas are designed to pull in signals that are at the ‘red’ distance or closer (eg. yellow, green, light green and red). Blue antennas are designed to get these plus the further blue signals.

Keep in mind that just because you live within the range of a certain signal, using a specified antenna is certainly no guarantee that you will actually get a signal. If your line of sight is blocked by mountains or buildings, for example, the strongest antenna on the planet may not help.

Once you have purchased an antenna, a DIRECTV installer can install the antenna at the same time he/she installs your dish, you can install the antenna yourself, or you can hire a local installer to put it up for you. All DIRECTV installers are trained to install OTA antennas, and the installation cost is generally negotiated between the customer and the installer. You should talk to the installer in advance about these costs so that you are not caught off guard at the time of the install.

One reply on “Choosing and Installing and Over-the-Air (OTA) Antenna”

Please sell a Series 3 with at lest a Terabyte !!! I have a sries 2 now with 180 Gig. I plan on recording 100+ OtA programs as I do every year.But these NEW ONES will all be SD and HD !!! Thank You for your support.PS Irecord HD on an DISH 921. OTA is Excelent. Discovery seems to have very little compression on Sat.It rates with the best I”ve seen . Once again TNX for being there for us Tivo people.

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