Help TV me please: new TV, antenna, and old stereo?
April 19, 2012 8:13 PM   Subscribe

What TV and digital antenna do I buy? Please drag me kicking and screaming into the semi-modern era of television viewing. I want to watch TV, not pay for cable and have the sound travel through my vintage stereo.

I have never purchased a TV, I have always had hand me down varieties but the last one just died and I'm considering stepping up to the semi-modern era. Please explain to me what kind of TV I need to be able to hook it up to a digital antenna and stop paying for cable. Will any new TV do this? What kind of digital antenna do I buy? Lastly, I want to plug my DVD player and stereo into the new TV. I'm assuming the DVD player isn't an issue. My ancient (think early '80s era Kenwood) stereo may be trouble. How do I make all of these things play nice? Please give specific examples of a TV, antenna and any other gadgets I should buy to make this work. Also, would I be able to plug my laptop into the TV and use it as a monitor, too?
posted by fieldtrip to Shopping (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
As far as I understand there is no such thing as a "digital antenna", the technology is no different from analogue antennas. What you're looking for is a TV with a built-in digital tuner (abbreviated as ATSC) and an outdoor antenna (the indoor antennas in my experience have all been pretty poor). I can't link sites now but what you want to google is OTA (over the air) and inputting your location you can get recos on which way to turn your antenna and how much range you're after. ChannelMaster is a brand that gets good reviews on the message boards, I have the 4221 in the attic and get about 15 channels in HD where I live.
posted by dismitree at 8:31 PM on April 19, 2012

As far as I understand there is no such thing as a "digital antenna", the technology is no different from analogue antennas.

That's not always true - it depends upon the frequencies each location has chosen for digital or analog TV signals.
posted by pompomtom at 9:05 PM on April 19, 2012

Visit AntennaWeb for info on what's available to you over-the-air. You plug in your address and it will tell you what stations will have good reception. You will also get information on what kind of antenna you will need. The closer you are to the stations, the simpler/cheaper the antenna. We get the major broadcast network and some crappy random channels, all in HD. One antenna is hooked up outside to the cable input to one jack/tv and another is hooked up to the tv directly. Both were pretty cheap, as I recall. From what I understand, it's uncompressed too. I believe the cable and satellite providers compress their channels to fit more in the available bandwidth.
posted by jroybal at 9:11 PM on April 19, 2012

That's not always true - it depends upon the frequencies each location has chosen for digital or analog TV signals.

There are no longer analog TV signals in the US.

Pretty much any TV antenna from rabbit ears to the big masts that go on the roof that were manufactured after the switch will have a snipe saying the antenna is for High Definition and Digital ready Even if the guts of the antenna hasn't changed in decades.

There's a site called AntennaWeb where you can plug in your address and it will show how far away you are from the broadcast antennas and the relative strength. From there you can find a type of antenna to get.

I live in the middle of a largish city on the 5th floor and can all the local OTA networks in San Diego, Tijuana and Mexicali. I also get a few analog channels from Mexico that still have their analog channels broadcasting but compared to the HD version I don't even bother having it in the channel lineup. All from a $10 Radio Shack rabbit ears antenna. Some days I can't get CBS though which is weird since it is on the same mountain as another channel. But I'm not going to go out and buy an expensive channel to watch a channel I never watch.
posted by birdherder at 9:17 PM on April 19, 2012

There are no longer analog TV signals in the US.

Nor in Australia, but that doesn't mean the same bands were used for both.
posted by pompomtom at 10:09 PM on April 19, 2012

Okay, so what I am hearing is that any new TV and any antenna will work together. Is that right? And from the antenna review: there are cheap ugly antennas that work just as well as the fancier more expensive antennas? Either should work for me since I live in a city (Denver)?

How do I hook up a modern TV to an old stereo? I think that TVs don't have RCA outputs any more, right? Do I need to get a something-RCA adapter?
posted by fieldtrip at 10:37 PM on April 19, 2012

UHF. The vast majority of US digital Over The Air (OTA) broadcasts of digital TV are on UHF frequencies, so what you need most is the little loop-style antennae.
posted by NortonDC at 10:52 PM on April 19, 2012

I bought a fancy, power boosted for my TV, and got an ok signal.

I learned the trick on metafilter where you hook the coaxial cable leading to "antenna in" on the tv to the power outlet on your building and use the whole building as an antenna and got a much, much cleaner signal.

I'd recommend that and saving a bit of money.
posted by bswinburn at 11:08 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Pretty much all TVs made these days still have RCA outputs for stereo sound. So you should be good on that front, too!
posted by zsazsa at 11:16 PM on April 19, 2012

My TV pulls down a lovely digital signal using a coax antenna adapter with a paperclip screwed to its terminals. Seriously — it took a bit of bending and snipping to get the paperclip just right, but in the end, I've got a nub attached to the back of my TV that does the job perfectly and invisibly. I live maybe 5 miles, line of sight, from most of my area's broadcast towers. So yeah, don't worry overmuch about fancy antennas unless you discover that you've got special circumstances to contend with.
posted by mumkin at 12:28 AM on April 20, 2012

You can use a small, cheap outdoor antenna indoors if you don't care about it looking elegant. I have a 4-bay outdoor antenna, bought for $15, that is perched on a bookshelf and brings in all the Toronto channels (except SUN-TV, which does not break my heart at all) and one Buffalo channel, even though my place is in a bit of a valley several kilometers north of the CN Tower.

TV Fool can map out stations you're likely to receive with indoor, attic and roof antennas. Unlike Antenna Web, it does accept Canadian addresses (which the OP doesn't need to worry about, but others reading this may find the larger geographic scope to be useful).
posted by maudlin at 1:36 AM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bswinburn - how do I do this? How do I hook cable up to a power outlet? I'd live to give this a try before buying an antenna.
posted by fieldtrip at 6:40 AM on April 20, 2012

It sounds like you have cable now. If so, make sure you get a TV with a QAM tuner. (It's pretty common, so just make sure the set you have has it.) Then you can cancel cable and should STILL be able to get TV through your cable box for free. It's usually just the over-the-air ones, but you won't have to worry about reception, and you might get some extras. Check for available channels by going here and choosing your current cable provider.

This isn't a guarantee, but don't buy an antenna until you try it. More info here. (That article says you have to pay something, but I don't.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:29 AM on April 20, 2012

Actually, most TVs do not have RCA outputs for sound any longer. Some do but most don't. Many may offer a optical output. In that case you'll need a converter.

How do you currently control the volume on the stereo? Even if you get a TV that does have RCA outputs for sound it likely will always output a full volume signal. The TV's volume controls will not affect the loudness of signal going out over RCA (or optical), so you'd have to control the volume using the stereo's controls. If this old 80s Kenwood doesn't have a remote control, that means you'll have to get up and walk across the room to change the volume.
posted by The Lamplighter at 11:10 AM on April 20, 2012

fieldtrip, here's a thread about the house antenna thing. Best answer: it'll kinda work, maybe.
posted by that's candlepin at 12:41 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all of the great responses. Super helpful.
Yes, The Lamplighter you have basically guessed correctly. I was running everything through an old VCR so that I would have RCA outputs to work with. And, yes, there is certainly no remote controls and I have had to play with volume on the TV's remote and walk across the room to adjust the stereo volume. Fortunately, it is a small living room.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:42 PM on April 20, 2012

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