This isn’t my normal OpsMgr type blog post so for my OpsMgr colleagues out there feel free to skip past this one unless you are interested in the topic.

Today’s post discusses the lessons that I learned as an IT geek attempting to upgrade my home television service by replacing the in-house antenna I had in with an attic installed antenna. I decided to blog this because there were a lot of lessons learned which I think may be helpful to others who may want to do this same process (this includes you Bill!). I’m sure that professional installers would do a better job than I did – I’m just an IT geek learning this stuff as I go so take what I figured out here with that in mind.

For background, I blogged a while back on this when I originally shut down cable and satellite television for our household. The post on it is available here: Windows Media PC, NetFlix and Hulu: Using Technology to go Back to Basics, Save money, and Control Media Content. As a summary, the primary driver behind our switch to this approach is to decrease monthly costs for the household.

So, with no further delays – on to the lessons learned!

Challenges when recording TV over the air:

The solution I had in place for television was working well with one exception – my antenna reception was decent most of the time but couldn’t be counted on all the time. When recording digital channels from an antenna it’s pretty much an all-or-nothing in terms of the signal. The good news is that it’s an HD quality signal so when it is working it’s beautiful. The bad news it that failures when recording would result in segments where the video would either be extremely blocky or just stop completely for a period of time. Additionally, with my indoor antenna there were several channels which I could not receive a sufficient signal for.

What stations are available in my area?

There are several great websites which can show you what channels are available in your area. I recommend:

http://www.antennaweb.org/ or

http://www.tvfool.com/

As an example, for my location there are about 33 of a total possible of 51 stations available where I live. The maps shown provide information including the channel name and number, distance and direction.

HD Antenna?

There is no such thing as a “HDTV antenna”, they all are.

Per: http://www.wral.com/wral-tv/story/1180264/:

UHF and VHF?

While all antennas are capable of receiving HDTV, there are antennas which will receive only UHF or VHF. Check the stations that you are interested in and choose an antenna accordingly.

Choosing an antenna:

There are some great resources on what antennas to buy, and I also recommend asking neighbors what they have used if they have gone this direction. There’s nothing like knowing a specific antenna and how well it works in your neighborhood. Good readings on available antennas are available at:

http://www.antennaweb.org/Info/AntennaInfo.aspx

There are indoor antennas, attic mountable antennas, or antennas which can be mounted on the roof. Which one you need will vary depending upon what stations you need to receive. For our situation, an attic mounted antenna was preferred to mounting an antenna on the roof. [Or more appropriately stated, there was no way in the world I was going to climb up on a texas level sloped roof and install an antenna… ]

I ended up buying an “Antennas Direct V21 High Gain UHF / VHF Antenna” from NewEgg as it appeared to match my requirements extremely well.

Do I need a pre-amplifier?

I wasn’t really sure if I would or would not need a pre-amplifier. From what I have seen up to this point, you only need a pre-amplifier if the antenna will be a long distance or have the cable split to different locations. If it’s a direct run from the antenna to where you need to receive the signal a pre-amplifier shouldn’t be needed. As an example, in my case the antenna cable was directly run to my Windows Media pc on a less than 50 foot cable run.

Where to install the antenna?

If there is an option to do so, it’s best to mount the antenna on the roof. It’s estimated that 50% of signal strength is lost by mounting an antenna in the attic instead of on the roof.

If you are mounting the antenna in the attic, choose the highest location available to mount it if all things are equal. The higher it’s mounted the better signal that should be able to be received by it as long as there aren’t obstructions between the antenna and the source of the signal.

In my case, the best spot was in the highest attic in the house which was optimal from a height perspective, but less than optimal due to difficulty with mounting the antenna in that location.

Building the base

One of the key lessons learned from this process was to build a solid base to mount the antenna from. The area that was optimal to install the antenna in was not floored – it was only rafters and insulation (under the installation was what would have been an extremely painful or possibly fatal fall if I happened to go through the ceiling so I was really hoping to avoid that).  The first step was to build a base that would be large enough to be able to put a ladder on. This was accomplished by laying down 2×4’s and flooring in the area as shown below.

IMG_20121006_165332

Mounting the antenna

We used PVC pipe to mount the antenna and drilled screws through the end of the pipe to attach it to the frame in the attic as shown below:

IMG_20121006_172843

Once the PVC pole was attached, additional supports were added higher up to tie off the PVC pipe from three different directions to stabilize the pole so it would not move once it was put in place.

IMG_20121006_173545

The final mounted antenna is shown below:

IMG_20121009_171315

Wiring in the antenna:

To wire in the antenna, we located the coax cable which was running to the room that the media pc was in and tracked it back through the attic. After verifying that we had the correct cable we cut the wire and use a snap-n-seal coax connector kit to get the coax cable able to be plugged into the antenna (thank you Greg – this worked like a champ!).

Results of the upgrade to the attic antenna:

After connecting the coax from the antenna to the media pc, it was time to re-scan available channels and see what was out there. I was able to pick up a total of 24 stations with the new antenna! Of the 24, 22 of them were the top level of quality signal (6 bars, green). 2 of them were at a warning quality (4 bars, yellow). After removing the two which were not sufficient quality, and eight more (because my Spanish speaking skills are significantly lacking).

The end result was that we are receiving a total of 14 HDTV stations which are working extremely well at this point in time. So far the signal has been consistent, and the stations which are available include several more than were available when using an antenna in the house.

What other lessons were learned during this process?

  • The total cost on this project was less than $100 to acquire the antenna and various pieces used during the antenna mounting process.
  • As with many other things in life – start with a solid foundation.
  • Duct tape is wonderful as a temporary solution but isn’t recommended for all things in the long term (Good call Andreas!).
  • Everything in life takes longer than I expect it to. My estimate to do this installation was an hour, it took three for the original installation and one more to go back and finalize it.

Thanks and wrap-up:

I owe a huge thanks to my son Gavin for all of his help with this project especially his focus on our build-out of a solid foundation to work from for this project!