Coming into the digital TV age kicking and screaming
June 14, 2009 9:22 PM   Subscribe

Are the new indoor antennas to use with the DTV converter boxes any better/more effective than the old rabbit ears from years ago?

We've got an analog tv, hooked up our converter box (Insignia NS-DXA1-APT) and are using an old set of rabbit ears that were made in the 60s. We can get 9 stations reasonably well (but do have to reorient the antenna quite a bit).

Would there be any advantage in getting an indoor antenna specifically made for converter box/digital TV--or is this basically a law of diminishing return?
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs to Technology (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There Is No Such Thing As A HDTV [Or Digital TV] Antenna

That said, a modern antenna with an amplifier can (empirically) increase the number of channels you can collect, and the stability of those channels.
posted by benzo8 at 9:27 PM on June 14, 2009

The Coat hanger TV antenna works beautifully for me.
posted by TDIpod at 9:47 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Benzo8 and SirOmega, thanks so much for the links! Wealth of info out there.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 9:49 PM on June 14, 2009

Most digital TV stations are up in the UHF band. Old-style rabbit ears are VHF only. You need an antenna that can do UHF well, and in fact in most markets you can get by with a UHF antenna because it'll also do OK in the high VHF band.

A small number of markets are cursed with low VHF stations -- Philly in particular. For those, if you're not picking up the low VHF station(s), you may need a monstrously huge antenna.

If you post your location (or add it to your profile) I'll provide specific advice.

You really should spend a few bucks on a new antenna. If you have an attic, setting one up up there is ideal. Fortunately, UHF antennas are relatively small -- higher frequencies equals shorter wavelengths equals smaller antennas.

Whatever you do, don't give up and get cable or satellite! Keep asking for help.
posted by intermod at 10:04 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Intermod is right, the rabbit ear antennas are best for the old VHF analog stations.

A bow-tie antenna is the best choice for better digital television reception for an antenna inside the house.

If you live a city where all the transmission towers are in the same place, you might consider a Yagi antenna for optimal directional gain.
posted by Argyle at 10:32 PM on June 14, 2009

The thing that is different about DTV is that it's harder to orient your antenna correctly, for two reasons. One is that there's a bit of a delay between the signal being received and the picture showing up, so if you're fiddling with the antenna it's harder to connect your actions with their effect on picture quality. The other thing is that digital receivers tend to exhibit a sort of threshold effect, where as long as the signal is good enough, the picture is near-perfect; when the signal gets weaker, the picture goes to hell very suddenly.

The receiver box can actually measure the signal quality precisely in real time, and so some digital TV antennas are electronically steerable— the receiver can then effectively aim the antenna in the right direction. It would be hard (but not impossible) for you to do that by hand.

But if your old analog antenna was already pointed in the right direction for a given transmitter, then it'll still be pointed in the right direction to receive digital signals from that transmitter, so no need for a new antenna in that case. As far as the antenna (and everything else before the receiver) is concerned, there's no difference between an analog signal on a given channel and a digital signal on the same channel.
posted by hattifattener at 11:05 PM on June 14, 2009

A little more antenna knowledge as to why you need different antennas for VHF low (RF2-6), VHF hi (7-13) and UHF (14-51). An optimal antenna is 1/4 the wavelength (remember wavelength*frequency = c (the speed of light)). So for RF 2, thats 54" (or 108" for a dipole antenna, aka rabbit ears). For RF 51 at 690MHz its 4.27".

Its one of the reasons I wish the FCC would have wiped out VHF, at least 2-6, for TV broadcasts...
posted by SirOmega at 11:06 PM on June 14, 2009

Following on SirOmega's comment, I found that collapsing my rabbit ear antenna made for the best digital over-the-air reception. I get many more channels digitally than I did via analog.
posted by zippy at 11:18 PM on June 14, 2009

Thanks to everyone who commented. I believe we will stick with our old antenna for now--we collapsed the rabbit ears and did improve reception on several channels.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 9:32 AM on June 19, 2009

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