By Steve Bass | Friday, July 9, 2010 at 7:50 am
No doubt, watching a TV show or mobile in high definition is miraculous. The picture is sharper than sharp (so much so that like it or not, you can see the pores on an actor’s face).
I’m a DirecTV subscriber, but I’m too cheap to pay their extra fee for high definition service, so I decided to try an HDTV indoor antenna.
The indoor version (Terk FDTV2A Omni-Directional Amplified Flat Digital HDTV) is about the size of a small, thin notebook. It has 360 degree reception and comes with a bracket that lets you mount it a number of ways. I just placed it on a shelf near the TV.
Amazon sells the indoor antenna for about $45. There’s no skill needed to install it. Plug it into the TV’s antenna input port and move the antenna around to find the reception sweet spot. You might have to experiment with the antenna’s powered amplifier to get the best signal. You can make your job easier by giving AntennaWeb your street address; the site will help you orient the antenna’s direction; they also provide a useful FAQ with insights about high definition antennas.
With the antenna plugged in, I whizzed through the TV’s setup to decide which stations were keepers. Except for ABC, I picked up all the major networks, plus each of the multicasting sub-channels, as well as local channels, such as the Spanish speaking stations, and a couple of Asian-language feeds. The FCC has a list of HiDef broadcasting stations and there’s valuable info about antennas and channels (hit the pause button to ignore the dated video pitch) from the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade association.
One problem I couldn’t solve: If I walked in front of the antenna, CBS would fade out until I sat back down.
Terk’s outdoor antenna (TERK FDTVO Omni Directional Amplified Flat Outdoor) takes more skill to install (well, duh…). I tried setting it in the attic as well as outdoors, on the roof. The signal was as good as the indoor antenna and I got all the same channels, including ABC, and had no issue with CBS fading.
After a few months of free, off-the-air broadcasts, I’m dismayed to say that it isn’t worth the bother. That’s because it didn’t take long for me to sorely miss the key feature on the DirecTV receiver we use: Fast forwarding through the commercials of shows we’ve recorded. I also miss the quick rewind and the ease of recording shows.
One solution was to find a receiver for off-the-air broadcasts. That wasn’t easy.
TiVo was the only one I’ve found that accepts a high definition antenna signal, but it’s dreadfully expensive. I searched for–and couldn’t find–a TiVo-like PVR or a DVR set-top box. (And before you write about any scheme that involves a PC, take note that I didn’t use Darryl’s advice below…)
So I asked the experts on the CD_ROM YahooGroup for advice. (CD_ROM has been around for ten years; despite the name, members talk about anything involving video and audio. Join here.) Here’s what I learned:
Susan Semple told me about the Magnavox HDD and DVD Recorder. It sells for about $250. There are rave reviews on Target’s site, but more than one Amazon buyer pointed out a few serious-enough deficiencies for me to cross it off my list.
Despite my admonitions, Darryl Gittins, the CD_ROM moderator, had a PC-based, geeky suggestion:
Here’s a crazy side-consideration for using a noisy PC for in-the-living-room: If you have a basement under the living room, drill a 1-inch hole through the floor (apologize to your wife later), put the PC in the basement, run the video cable, and a USB cable (for a USB hub to run USB devices, such as the RF receiver, the keyboard and mouse) through the floor into the living room. Sure, you can’t easily access the CD drawer and such, but it otherwise works great, and it’s quiet! (Yes, I actually do this for TWO systems in my house).
Your decision may be different, but I’m returning the antenna to Terk, and forgoing a high def image. Want to talk me out of it? Give me some suggestions; I’ll post the best in a future newsletter.
[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]