Friday, June 12, 2009

Free TV 101 - Part 8: Attic Hijinx

Now that I had a longer cable I moved the antenna to the outside on my fence. After a quick rescan of the TV, I found the reception was not as good as when I had the antenna inside. I went off to the attic and find a high spot.

We have cathedral ceilings so the attic goes pretty high. I put the antenna on top of the insulation at one of the highest points and reconnected it to the TV. I was able to find a hole to run the cable back inside. Another quick scan and now I got 26 channels. Wow! Now that’s a lot of free TV.

I found many of the stations that had already gone digital tended to have multiple channels. For example, 27.1, 27.2, 27.3. However, most of these had different broadcasts on each channel. Looked like I now had a lot of choices which included all the major networks, multiple weather channels, several independents, and of course, my ION Life and regular ION. Got to be able to watch MASH and Hogans Heroes.

I repositioned and rotated the antenna on the insulation to see if it would make a difference and it didn’t. There’s still about seven feet of space between the insulation and the peak of the roof. I bolted the antenna to a board and secured it between the rafters as close to the roof as I could. Man, is it hot up there, even at 7AM! Oh wait. I’m out of shape.

It was tough to get between the rafters and find something to stand on while trying to get this thing mounted with screws. Another quick scan and now I got 31 channels. It just kept getting better and better. After looking at my list from the antenna web site, I did’t think I would get much more than those. I had several channels that weren't even on the list.

Today, we will see what happens after the Digital Transition. Stay tuned for Digital Monday.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

First ones there

Remember "National Lampoon Vacation"? When the Griswalds got to WallyWorld, Clark Griswald kept saying, "first ones here". Well, yesterday they opened a new Sam's Club in Morrisville, and as business card members we were invited to the pre opening. We got to the front door as they were cutting the ribbon, and, we were the first ones there!

OK, Ward had to dig out his member card so a few people actually stepped in before we did. But I was able to outrun them to the free food.

These guys came down from Jersey where they run an Italian food firm. They make their own mozzarella, and the owner kept singing out, "fresh mozzarella".

This stand had garlic cheese-filled pasta (really good), quesadillas and chips with mango salsa.

This was one crowded area, where they were giving free cheesecake samples. You could buy one for $12, normally they're $40. We didn't buy one though, we're both on special diets for our health and we'd need a whole cheesecake in the house like a hole in the head.

There was lots of other stuff to sample too: coffee, pastries, sausage, dips, egg rolls, quiche, milkshakes, barbecue, pretzels, breakfast egg & cheese sandwiches, fruit and cheese and grand opening cake. We also came home with the goodie bag filled with chocolate, cookies, OTC drug samples, pens and notepads. All in all, not a bad week day date night.

I HAD to take a picture of this. When was the last time you saw the clothes at a warehouse club stacked this neatly?

Free TV 101 - Part 7: Swapping "The Shack" for "The Depot"

Sorry there hasn't been any new post for the past two days. I was wrestling with a broken air conditioner, and I just didn't feel like writing a new blog piece in an 86 degree house.
Of course, I went home and quickly set up this Frisbee looking antenna. Connected it with my handy 6’ cable. I put this on top of my TV cabinet and had to rerun the scan on the TV. The learning curve was shorter this time because I remembered to scan first to compare results.

Most impressive! The digital stations were much clearer and for the most part the analogs were acceptable. Still, I could only get only a few more stations with this antenna.

I tried it repositioned but it really didn’t make a bit of difference. Now I quickly realized what I really needed was a long piece of coax so I could move the Frisbee to different locations in the house to hopefully improve reception.

On the Web I found the Shack had a 100' coil of coax that should fill the bill. Wow, they wanted over $50 for this coil. Too rich for me, so I decided that I may have to order from the Internet. I started the search and found I could get a 100' coil at most sites for about ½ the price of Radio Shack. Then I had the revelation: what about Lowes or Home Depot? I checked. Just as I thought -- they had the cable in stock at both these stores for about the same price as the Internet stores. So it was off to The Depot

Monday, June 8, 2009

Free TV 101 - Part 6

By Ward

When we left last week, I was testing out my new $60.00 Starship Enterprise-shaped table-to
p antenna. First, a few more notes about that table-top antenna. You remember I found that the remote was used to rotate the antenna inside the housing to get a better signal. The antenna wants you to set the locations for each channel as you tune it in. Then when you change the TV channel you have to rotate the antenna using the remote. I found this cumbersome, particularly since I had a number of different channels all at different locations. You may need to rescan the channels several times while setting this up.

I liked the possibility of using a larger indoor/attic/outdoor antenna. I thought about how much I was willing to spend on this project and the limit I set was $150.

Radio Shack took the Star Trek antenna back without a problem. I told them what I had tried and ask
ed for additional suggestions. They suggested several options but as for directional vs. omnidirectional, the decision was pretty simple. The folks at The Shack basically said to try the Frisbee-looking antenna next. I had looked at this one on the Internet. It had good reviews and can be used indoors, attic, or outdoors. I now had a $90 antenna and went back home to see how many additional channels I could get with this super Frisbee.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Free TV 101 WEEK 1 SUMMARY - Do it yourself

Summary of Week 1 for the Do-it-yourselfer

Will you be happy with what’s available for free?

We can still get TV free over an antenna. Now that stations are going digital, you’ll get even more channels and better reception.

Figure out which channels you absolutely need. Think about what you tape or DVR.

Go to to see a list of channels available in your area. Any analog stations will become digital or go away on June 12. Some digital stations are not yet at full strength but will be after June 12.

Decide which antenna you need and where it will go

Cable/satellite service ads may make you believe it’s difficult to receive HD TV over an antenna. It isn’t. In fact, you can get channels with rabbit ears.

You can put an antenna on the roof, in the attic, or right on the TV stand. It doesn’t matter whether you place it inside or out, but the higher you can get it, the better the signal will be.

Are you subject to any Homeowner Association restrictions on an outdoor antenna? Legally, you can put up any antenna no bigger than a satellite dish regardless of what your HOA rules state. It’s an FDA regulation.

You can get an omnidirectional, tabletop antenna for about $60. It will pick up a signal from any direction, however, it doesn’t do that automatically, you have to use a remote to point it.

Other equipment you may need

You'll need a cable to attach the antenna to your TV. That’s not always included.

After June 12 you’ll need one of those digital converter boxes that the government was giving out coupons for to use the antenna on any old analog sets. You don’t need one on a digital set.

First Steps

The connector for the coax cable should be on the back of the set.

You’ll probably have to let your TV scan to find channels. Look for the scan setting on the TV menu. You can also try pulling the power plug out from the wall for a few seconds and putting it back. When you turn on the set the scan should start.

Don’t worry about how badly some analog stations come in, they’ll be going away soon.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Free TV 101 - Part 5

Check below for Parts 1, 2 , 3 and 4

I discovered the remote is used to rotate the antenna inside the housing to get a better signal. I had assumed because it was omnidirectional it would work regardless of where it is located. Well that was the wrong idea. After playing with the remote for a while I quickly realized this was probably not the antenna I needed. After all, I wanted all the free stuff I could receive.

I was able get about 15 channels after fiddling around and moving the antenna to different locations. All of these turned out to be digital, and the analog stations still looked pretty lousy. I sat back in my easy chair and thought about what I wanted to try next.

The first question I had was how much do I have to spend for this project to get free TV? It’s certain that this particular antenna would not do the job I wanted. I looked on that wonderful WWW and found that Radio Shack had larger indoor/outdoor antennas that may work for me. I also discovered that digital signals are limited to about 60 miles. I looked on my handy printout and found that all the stations that were identified by are within the 60 mile radius. I also discovered than the higher the antenna can go, the better the reception would be.

From everything I read, it didn’t matter whether it was inside or out. Maybe what I needed was something that will be able to go in the attic or outside on the roof. This meant that it was time to go back to The Shack for a return and new purchase.

We'll have a summary this weekend of the main points for anyone who wants to do-it-themselves, and I'll return on Monday with more meat and potatoes.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Free TV 101 - Part 4

Part 1 here
Part 3 here

Radio Shack had a number of styles available depending on where the antenna is to be located. My first choice was a table-top or inside antenna. It looked like the Starship Enterprise from the movie Star Trek. It's omnidirectional, which means it doesn’t matter which direction it points and it can sit on top of the TV cabinet. The folks at The Shack told me this is one of their best sellers for inside antennas. The cost for this adventure was about $60.

Armed with my new antenna I went home watch some free TV. There, I unpacked my new toy. The whole thing looked pretty simple to install; it had a remote control and a 1/2 page instruction manual. Note -- there was no cable included in the box to connect this antenna to my TV, but lucky for me I had a 6 ft. long spare cable left from a previous move. You know, that stuff always accumulates!

I decided to try it on my digital TV rather than use one of the old analog sets. I think it would have worked fine on the analog set if I used the Digital Converter box. Naturally, I connected it up right away and figured I’d read the instructions later.

Having used cable for so long meant it took a while to figure out how to switch inputs on the TV to connect this new toy but I was able to find the coax connection on the back of my TV. It was back there with the rest of the HDMI connections.

Once I got everything hooked up, I still couldn’t get any reception. It was time to break out the book that came with the TV. Right there on page 18 I found the answer. I had to let the TV scan and look for all available channels when using an antenna. After finding the setting on the TV menu, I let the scan begin. It took 10 or 15 minutes to complete. I then sat down in front of the TV with my handy list of available channels (printed from the web) ready to catch my first glimpse of free TV. Of course, you know, I had to do a quick surf to see how many channels I could get regardless of how clear they were. Wow! I got about 20 channels right off the bat. But it turned out only 6 or 7 were clear enough to watch. These were the local ones that had already gone digital. Turned out I needed to read the instruction manual for the antenna after all.

See you tomorrow ;-)