SydneyDigitalTVFilter: how can I improve my reception?
September 13, 2010 5:01 PM   Subscribe

SydneyDigitalTVFilter: how can I improve my reception? Will the consumer-grade antennae work?

I've got an old TV in a back room of my unit (the front room faces east and reception is good, the back rooms, not so much) to which I've added a digital set-top box, plugged into an old pre-digital (powered) antenna.

The reception is pretty good for ABC and Seven, but Nine and Ten are flaky if they work at all. And when scanning, it didn't find any SBS channels at all.

I can go back to a high-street store and get all kinds of flashy looking antennae which are "digital ready!" and have all kinds of impressive promises on the pack, in about the $20-$30 price range. Would this be throwing good money after bad?

Say I buy one and it doesn't help. Where do I go from there? What's the next step up, short of calling a contractor and spending in the hundreds to get a professional setup installed for the building as a whole and involving the body corporate, with all the hassles that entails.
posted by AmbroseChapel to Technology (12 answers total)
A tv-nut friend thinks that our digital tv's won't pick up digital channels at all because the cable from the outside antenna is low-grade.

My parents had the same problems as yours (fuzzy on some channels, unable to get SBS at all) and they bought a flash gold-coloured cable at Harvey Norman. They didn't change the antenna setup at all, just the cable that connects it to the tv's, and they now get perfect reception.

In a block of units though, I suspect that sort of cable change could entail the body-corporate dramas you are trying to avoid.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:25 PM on September 13, 2010

I've got a old bunny-ears antenna stuck to my window next to the TV that's nearly as old as I am, scavenged from a pile of junk in a garage. It picks up digital TV including SBS pretty well (in the inner west, on top of a hill). Without the antenna there's no reception whatsoever.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:35 PM on September 13, 2010

Response by poster: Just because I didn't say this before, our block has no external antenna at all. So a new cable from the RF wall socket to the TV won't help because there's no wall socket!
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:11 PM on September 13, 2010

I've got ordinary rabbit ears - the reception for digital is best when the rabbit ears are near the window, and only one of them is extended (and pointing straight up). No fancy cables involved.
posted by girlgenius at 6:19 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's really impossible to give specific advice in marginal signal situations. On top of that, everything I've read on the local DTV forums suggests this goes double for Sydney, especially closer in to the city. The only way to be sure is to ask a local antenna installer for tips.

But, in very general terms:
  • Be wary of amplified antennas. They're a fine enough idea in theory; in practice the problems are that
    1. if your problem is due to noise (i.e. not just weak signal), you're amplifying the noise along with the signal, and
    2. DTV in particular is susceptible to problems with too much signal, so adjusting to fix weak signals can cause problems with strong signals.
  • In many cases, the fancier-looking the antenna, the worse it actually performs. In inner-suburban Brisbane, with near line-of-sight to the towers but with concrete internal walls and the city directly inbetween, I found the old coil-style indoor antennas outperformed even rabbit ears. While that experience went against the opinions of most antenna guys - and even my own tech knowledge & common sense - the figures (signal, S/N, and BER) backed it up.
I'd suggest asking in the NSW/Sydney sub-forum over at If you give your suburb and outline your problem, a few local installers are likely to pop up with some more detailed answers & suggestions. I see your near Darlinghurst - IIRC mtv, charlesc, and debruis are the guys around there.

(Beware, though, of AlanH. I won't say he's totally wrong - he was an ABC lifer before retiring - but he's got a bad case of Male Answer Syndrome, has a reputation for being astoundingly wrong when it comes to DTV, and often derails threads to push a huge barrow of outspoken opinions uphill against the forces of reality…)
posted by Pinback at 8:07 PM on September 13, 2010

Response by poster: If that's the Alan I'm thinking of, I think I actually know him IRL! Small world and all that.

Cheers for that link, Pinback, very useful.

[I don't actually live near Darlo, I just gave the central coordinates of Sydney for privacy reasons.]
posted by AmbroseChapel at 11:40 PM on September 13, 2010

I bought this antenna from dick smith for $20 and it gives me perfect reception on all channels (inner west Sydney). If you keep your receipt, they'll return it within 14 days, so I figured it was worth a shot.
posted by Kris10_b at 2:17 AM on September 14, 2010

Response by poster: Actually Kris10_b that link doesn't work for me, the Dick Smith website doesn't do URLs the way you might expect -- can you post the name of the item or how to find it via search?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:29 PM on September 14, 2010

From looking at the end of the link, it'll be part number L4017. Try searching for that, or just click here.
posted by Pinback at 3:13 PM on September 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks again Pinback.

The only solid recommendation I can find for an antenna on that Digital TV site costs ... roughly what the set-top box cost! Which is interesting.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:38 PM on September 15, 2010

Have a browse to get a idea who the local installers are, and either PM them or post a Q in the relevant subforum (you'll need a certain number - I think 5 - comments to post or PM; there's a thread in the off-topic subforum for that purpose). Admittedly, most of the advice - particularly for Sydney, which as I mentioned is a bear because of the shape/location of the city & multiple transmitter sites - is targeted towards specific 'difficult area' rooftop antennas, which is why the price of the common suggestions seems high. But I've no doubt someone will be able to suggest some indoor solutions.

But Kris10_b's advice is good - people on that forum often recommend trying DSE's indoor antennas specifically because of their generous no-questions-asked return policy.

Might also be worth asking about the specific STB you've got - some are known to have quite poor low-signal performance. Funnily enough the cheapy no-names from K-Mart et. al. are often amongst the better performers, while the slightly-more-recognisable-name cheapies from DSE / JB's / etc., and even some well known brand-name ones, can be amongst the worst.

(& just on that I'll throw a suggestion in here; if anyone's looking for an SD-only unit, pick up a 2nd-hand Topfield. The old PVR-5000T twin-tuner PVR's can be found for < $100, the PVR-4000T even cheaper, and the STB-only TF-4000T even cheaper again. Excellent low-signal performance and, provided the initial power supply problems have been properly fixed (~$30 worth of parts), are bulletproof.)
posted by Pinback at 9:08 PM on September 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks again. My preferred solution right now is an internal antenna to solve the immediate my-wife-needs-her-soccer-fix problem.

I've got a 2013 strategy in place for the whole building to have a proper antenna on the roof, splitters, amplifiers and so on, but that's going to have to be proposed and voted on by the Strata, which is a hassle.

And don't worry -- I got a no-name cheapo STB as per your advice, having learned the same lesson long ago about DVD players...
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:34 PM on September 17, 2010

« Older DV/HDV Camera and mic solution?   |   How shall we call him? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.