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How to receive free high definition tv off the air!
by Don Butler - Hamuniverse.com

This article is written with helpful information to get you started with receiving free HDTV by using indoor or outdoor antennas to receive tv stations off the air using your HDTV. Many hours went into the research for this article plus my experience in the electronics field for over 50 years so I hope you will get some good use from it. Enjoy!

It is not all inclusive and you should understand that there are many variables involved in getting free HDTV reception. Our recommendations of tv antennas in this article are to be used as a guide only and for helping you to make good decisions based on our research.

Let's get started!
If you were to take a pole and ask TV viewers across the U.S. how they get their HDTV reception at home, about 8 out of 10 would most likely say from cable or satellite. The other 2 or 20 percent would say they don't pay ANYTHING for HDTV reception! They get their HDTV reception free! Yes....FREE!

There is a huge movement across the U.S. with people changing over from their cable or satellite tv providers to free off the air TV. They are tired of paying hundreds of dollars a year for poor quality tv reception, lack of good customer support, bad weather problems with reception and worst of all, they ARE NOT getting true HDTV from cable or satellite tv providers!

So how do they make the changeover and get free HDTV reception without paying hundreds of dollars a year you ask? There is a very simple answer to that question that many people do not know....

You get it over the air by direct broadcasts from the HDTV stations in your area and you are NOT by paying for cable or satellite tv! You ask again, HOW? Simply by using an external TV antenna connected to your HDTV. You can forget cable and satellite TV! 
Now was that a simple answer or not? Free HDTV that's just waiting for you and free!

How can this be? The recent changes from analog TV, (the old type of TV signal that took up lots of frequencies), to the new digital formats, enabled the TV stations that do the actual broadcasting over the air of the signals in high definition or standard DTV signals enable them to broadcast both types of digital signals. (standard free DTV and FREE HDTV).

After the change, those people who did not have an HDTV must either buy one or use a converter box on their old "analog" TV to get "standard definition" DTV pictures.

To receive free HDTV reception requires an HDTV set and a strong TV signal that is in true HD (high definition) feeding the TV from the antenna. Most tv stations now transmit their programming in true HDTV and...it's free if you know how to get the signals by using an off the air antenna instead of cable or satellite! Getting HDTV direct over the air using an external antenna is MUCH better than cable or satellite tv providers can send to you due to the technology involved...over the air HDTV is visibaly better! You are getting it direct from their transmitters and it is not being relayed to satellites where it is compressed and then retransmitted back down to earth to the cable companies and then distributed over poorly maintained cable lines. See note below.

Note: All TV sets sold after May 25 2007 should already have a built-in digital TV tuner. The easiest way to tell if it is an digital is to check the TV set or manual and it should be a marked as "Integrated Digital Tuner", "Digital Tuner Built-In", "Tuner", "DTV", "ATSC" or "HDTV". If you don't find the wording, check the users manual for it.
Get true HDTV reception off the air!
In order to get a good strong high definition signal from over the air, your HDTV needs to be connected to a good antenna designed for the area in which you live according to the distance from the actual local HDTV transmitters in or near your residence. A simple built-in antenna may NOT work at all depending on where you live in relation to the tv station's transmitter.

By their nature, HDTV signals off the air do not usually travel as far as the old type analog signals did; so the reception "RANGE" of most of them is much shorter. A digital tv signal is either excellent or non existent; unlike the old analog tv that may have had a "snowy" picture but still watchable. When the digital signal is not strong enough for the digital tv to "lock on", then the picture becomes "pixalated" or very blockey with many colored squares or just a plain blank tv screen! This symptom usually means you need a stronger signal coming to your tv with an external tv antenna.

To make up for this, the adding of a good external "tv antenna", usually outside or up high or both to your HDTV should drastically improve the number of stations you can get and for free.

Now here is where the term "HDTV ANTENNA" or "Digital Antenna" comes into play...there is no such thing as an "HDTV antenna" or "Digital Antenna" regardless of what you have seen in any advertising. The laws of physics are the laws of physics....! TV antennas are designed using the laws of physics to receive a group of frequencies, not a particular "type" or "mode" of signal. The antenna does not know the difference! As an Amateur Radio Operator, we us different "types or modes" of signals....all with the same antenna! We do no have to use an antenna designed for "digital" if we want to transmit a digital signal over the air!

Most manufactures of tv antennas merly add the word "HDTV" or "high definition" or "Digital" to their antenna ads to make it look like this is some new fangled super duper device designed specifically for HDTV...THEY ARE NOT!. The free HDTV signals over the air that are broadcast by the local tv stations, can not tell the difference from an "HDTV" antenna, digital antenna or another antenna that does not have the "HDTV" word in it's advertising. An antenna designed properly to receive a group of frequencies is an antenna, is an antenna..that was not a typo. So don't pay extra for an "HDTV" hyped antenna...period. Any standard good quality TV antenna will work fine just the same as long as it is designed for your reception area and you just saved some hard earned money! Most of the advertising for tv antennas now include the word "HDTV" or "Digital" making you believe that they are something "special" designed specifically for HDTV. They are not. And, since the makers and supplier of TV antennas take advantage of those that don't know any better, they make most people believe that having a "digital" type antenna is much better or required to receive the digital tv signals off the air. There is little we can do about that except be an informed shopper.

An example of this that you can try would be to use the old outdoor antenna you were using to receive "regular" tv years ago before the transition to "digital tv. One stipulation though, it should be in very good condition and the feed line coming from it to the tv should be not worn, broken, etc. You may be surprised that your old tv antenna may work fine and it is certainly not a "digital" or "HDTV" antenna. Again, an antenna is an antenna.
An "antenna" is nothing more that a conductive material designed to "catch" an "rf frequency". Period.

A simple definition of an "antenna" is:
is a device for converting electromagnetic radiation (radio and tv ,electromagnetic signals,etc) into electrical currents in conductors or vice-versa, depending on whether it is being used for receiving or for transmitting, respectively. (Notice no reference is made to HD, Digital, DTV, High definition, etc! If you don't believe me, do your own research.) Or better still, see what the FCC says about Antennas and Digital Television The FCC is charged with the governmental regulation of the electromagnetic spectrum in the U.S. This article is very interesting and won't take up lots of your time.
Please come back here when you are satisfied that an antenna is an antenna is an antenna.

Question: So now that I know more, what requirements are needed to receive free HDTV or DTV where I live?

1. You must live in an area that is capable of receiving over-the-air (OTA) broadcast signals. In other words, you must be within the coverage area of the tv stations you are trying to receive and have a good signal from them off the air. Much of the U.S. population should live within range of an OTA broadcast tower. This may not be true if you are living in a very rural area, like a desert or where a mountain range is between you and the stations/s. It is possible to live within the range of a broadcast tower and still not get a signal, like if you live near large buildings or have physical objects such as a metal roof, large buildings, large hills and other objects blocking the signal getting to your tv antenna.

2. Your local broadcast stations must be transmitting in digital or HDTV. All commercial tv broadcasters are now required to transmit DTV and HDTV is an added bonus if you have an HDTV.

3. You must have an HD TV that has a built-in digital (ATSC) tuner or a HD-ready TV and an external HD receiver connected to it OR if you have the older analog tv, you will need a digital to analog converter box.

Questions: I was under the impression and had heard or saw somewhere that I am not allowed to put up a TV antenna to receive over the air free tv signals where I live due to local homeowners associations, etc. Is this true?

A frequent concern to many renters or home owners is the fact that outside tv antennas are not allowed due to various "rules and regulations" of home owners associations, etc. This is far from the truth. The FCC overrides these so called "rules" in most cases. So don't be afraid to put up an outside tv antenna! For the source of this information, see this link to the info on the FCC website here. This is Federal law and completely overrides any local homeowners association, renters law, landlords rules or rules or regulations you may have heard! It is a long read! Read it carefully and understand what it says.

What antenna should I buy for receiving FREE DTV or HDTV?

So you ask, what antenna should I get to receive the free HDTV from off of the air where I live so I don't have to pay dearly to the cable or satellite tv companies just for local programming, major networks, etc?

There are many variables in the answer to this question, but distance from the TV station transmitter, its direction from you, its power output, its tower height, terrain between your home and it, obstacles, and your tv antenna height and design, etc ALL play a very important part in the answer.

So how do I buy the right tv antenna for my location?

Getting free HDTV reception or "standard definition" digital TV using a converter box for off the air tv requires an antenna designed for your reception location relative to the tv station/s transmitter and its direction and distance from your home.

It is very helpful to know the approximate distance and direction from the tv station your receiving location is. Proper "aiming" of the antenna is very important also if you are any distance away from it. Many people are "lucky", like myself, in the fact that they live some distance away from a major tv "market" and all of the tv station transmitters are located very near each other...this makes "aiming" the tv antenna a simple operation for me because from where I live, about 50 miles out, they are all in the same direction. So in my case, I just point the antenna for the strongest signal for the weakest station and I get all of the stations perfectly as long as my antenna is designed for my location.

If you live in a location that is between many different free HDTV stations coming from every direction at different distances, then you will have to decide whether or not to attempt to get all of them by using a directional antenna with a rotor.

Tips and techniques for aiming your antenna towards the tv stations:

First, you need to know in what direction from you the transmitting station/s are.

Tip: The FCC provides free information for use in aiming your antennas by using maps of All Full-Service Digital Television Station Coverage Areas and also a very handy Reception Coverage area web page.

One of many methods to decide on direction and what type of antenna needed to get free HDTV is to use a tv signal coverage map like the example below for the Dallas/Ft.Worth area taken from FCC engineering pages mentioned above:

KERA Dallas/Ft.Worth TV coverage map
Map scale in miles: center to outer most red circle aprox 70 miles.
(70 miles is about the maximum usable range of a digital TV signal!)

I have added some "circles" to the map for clarity and explanation. You won't see my circles on the FCC maps!
The center of the map example above marked in a small black dot is the location of the KERA TV transmitter in the Dallas/Ft.Worth,Texas location used in this example. 
Areas within the blue ring towards the center should get good (excellent) reception with small set top type antennas as an educated guess. It works for me fine.

Areas between the blue and the black circle should get best reception using outside house top type antennas.

Areas beyond the black circle need the most powerful and very large outdoor type antennas to get the best reception for free DTV and HDTV. These are sometimes called fringe or deep fringe.

The small red circle is my approximate location about 50 miles from the transmitting tower for KERA TV and the red arrow is the direction I would need to aim an outdoor directional antenna. However in my location, the terrain is very flat between my house and the transmitting tower and most of the Dallas/Ft.Worth transmitters are located in the same area in the center of the map.
I can get about 30 stations from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area with a small set top "rabbit ear" type antenna inside the house and absolutely FREE "off the air"! If my antenna was on the second floor, I would get the same signals even stronger but not clearer. I might even get more stations from other cities. Height of the antenna is everything. Digital tv is either there or it is not...there are no snowy or weak pictures like the old style analog tv of yesterday.

So you can see that obstacles, height and terrain make a lot of difference in my case. Your situation may be entirely different than mine due to all the many variables.

Areas between the outer most red circle and the black circle should use the very large directional antennas. If you happen to live beyond the outer circle, you would not get this tv station unless you happen to be on a very high mountain top! Remember, you won't get the old "snowy" picture. With the way digital tv works, you will normally get nothing at all.

How do I know if I have coverage for a particular tv station in my area? 
To see your area tv station coverage maps go to the link below...follow the instructions and skip the "Network Map" section and  look for the "Coverage Maps for All Designated Market Areas" nearest you. Click on the city that is nearest you.The coverage maps for all of the tv stations within your coverage market will be displayed. Then come back here for more information. If you are between the outer SOLID "circle" which may be deformed and the center of the map, you should have coverage for that particular station and its free!...see the entire list though. Depending on how far "out" you are from the center of the map will determine what type of antenna you will need and will give you the general direction in which to aim your antenna. 

DTV Reception and Antenna aiming maps using your address, city, zip code.
This set of maps and information is very accurate. Simply click the link below,

then add your address, city, zip code, etc to the upper left section and click "Go"...it will show you a list of stations and a map with your location centered. On the left there will be a station list on a color coded background. Green for strong reception, yellow for moderate reception, etc. Now to be more accurate, zoom the map in to your general location marked by the "red marker" ..left click the marker and hold the click, then drag it to your exact street location and release the click..the software will recalculate the station list shown on the left. You should zoom into the exact location of your home for best results.

Now to see the direction from you to the station transmitter, simple pick a station call sign (Call letters), from the list on the left, click it and a line will appear on the map from your location to the transmitter site for that station. This is the direction from you to the station in a straight line. Check other station directions by doing the same with their call signs. Unclick each when you are done with them to keep the map from being very cluttered.

Look below each station call sign for "Compass direction to tower"..you should see a number..this is the direction on a compass you should use in aiming your antenna for that particular station. Record the compass heading for many stations on the list and hopefully, they will all be within a very few degrees of each other..take the average of them and that is the direction you want to aim your antenna using a compass. Also pay attention to the "band" the tv station transmits on...If all are UHF, then you will only need an antenna designed for UHF and not a VHF/UHF TYPE. If there is one or 2 stations listed as VHF and you want to receive them, then you will need an antenna designed as VHF/UHF. Antennas are usually measured in gain so the higher the number, the better it will perform for you.

Tip...if you are several miles "out" from the transmitter locations, then by aiming your antenna for the best signal strength for one, then they all should be very close as far as aiming is concerned if they are all within a few degrees of each other. In most metro tv areas, the transmitter sites are NOT within the center of the city on a map like many people think..they are usually outside of the center of the city sometimes many miles.

If you happen to be very close to the stations and the compass headings are "all over the place" in many directions, then to get the best reception, you may want to consider using an antenna rotor and "aim" them separately each time you change the channel or get the type of tv antenna that is omni-directional. Using an antenna rotor is usually not needed though. The signals will usually be strong enough if you live within a few miles of the tv towers.

How do I choose the proper antenna "type" for receiving the correct TV Bands for my area? How do I know whether to buy one that covers all TV bands like VHF/UHF or exactly what kind of antenna "type" do I need for my location?
If you were paying attention, this was answered above. In the chart on the left after you click on the link below and follow the instructions:
http://www.fcc.gov/mb/engineering/maps/ you will see a list of the tv stations available to you and in the right side of the list the letters UHF OR VHF under the "Band" column. If ALL of the stations listed are UHF, then you only need a tv antenna designed for UHF tv channels. If you see only VHF listed, the antenna must be designed for VHF tv channels.
If it is a mixture of both UHF AND VHF, then you will need an antenna designed for BOTH UHF AND VHF channels!

What types of antennas are available?

There are basically 3 to 4 types of tv antennas with many models and price ranges in between depending on your needs and pocket book. The cost of the antenna is a very cheap considering you only have to pay for it one time and you don't have to worry about paying those high cable or satellite tv bills (hundred$ of dollars over the year every year), over and over for a bunch of channels you never watch.

We have some recommended examples below:
Remember that any well designed tv antenna will receive free HDTV or digital tv signals!
But before you go further, something worth noting.
When you are in your planning stage as to what TV antenna you may need, you need to consider whether or not the TV stations you intend to receive , broadcast on the VHF TV band only, the UHF TV band only, or both.
Some broadcasters use a portion of the upper VHF TV (called the high band), plus a portion of the UHF TV band and many stations  are only UHF stations. So as an example, if your TV stations broadcast only on UHF TV band channels, then you would not need an antenna that has both VHF and UHF capabilities.
But if your area TV stations broadcast on both the VHF and UHF TV bands, then your antenna MUST be designed for both. There are also off the air TV viewing areas where one or more of the TV stations  broadcast on the low end of the VHF TV band, the high end of that band plus the UHF bands. I hope this is not confusing to you. If in doubt about which type of antenna to buy, get one that cover ALL of the UHF AND VHF TV frequencies. 

1. Short range, small "set top" antennas such as what are called "rabbit ears".
These are designed as a very basic antenna for receiving very strong local stations when you live within or near the city limits and the station transmitter. Many are designed to receive from all directions by simply turning the antenna for best reception.

2. Medium range outdoor all directional or directional antennas. The all directional types are sometimes called omni-directional. These are the most popular rooftop antennas because of their modest size and expense. These are mounted outside your home as high as possible from the ground or up in the attic as a worst case and receive from all directions or from one direction depending on their design type. Many have internal amplifiers to boost the tv signals to a stronger level than the standard set top or rabbit ear types.

3. Long rangedirectional sometimes called fringe or deep fringe. These types are used when the tv signals are very weak and when they come from one direction or can be rotated or aimed at the station with a mechanical "rotor". These types are usually very LARGE and used when the less expensive antennas will not work in your area.

Selecting which of the types above may be confusing for you, but to be able to get free HDTV, bigger, HIGHER and OUTSIDE type antennas are always better if that is possible for you and your situation.

We've done lots of research for you and here are a few highly recommended and highly rated antennas that should get you great reception depending on your situation and location relative to the stations. If you are undecided, always go a step higher in price than what you think you will need. Remember, outside tv antennas are much better than set top types for receiving free HDTV OR DTV signals.

should not be used when closer than 10 miles to nearest station.



Some common questions:


Q: My wife calls these things ugly and won't let me put it on the roof. My hands are tied. Can I install it in my attic or behind the house?
Yes you can, but keep this in mind. One layer of asphalt shingles + roof felt + 3/4 " plywood roof deck = 50 percent reduction in signal strength. Add any metal or aluminum backed insulation in the walls or under the roof or walls and the signal will be most likely blocked. You'll have to remove the insulation or install the antenna in a different place. If your using a directional antenna, you'll still need to make sure that the narrow end points toward the transmitter of the TV station with nothing between it and the station transmitter if at all possible. If the wife wants those daytime soap operas FREE then up it goes on the roof is the best option or out in the yard on a support that is in the clear. When in doubt about the size of the antenna, always go larger!
Q: My Homeowners association prohibits antennas on the roof, what can I do?
A: They are not allowed to do this by federal law if it prevents you from receiving FREE off the air TV. Show them the Federal law concerning antennas, homeowners and their rights. In 1996, The FCC affirmed the rights of homeowners to place antennas on property they own or control. Check out the FCC ruling here: http://www.fcc.gov/mb/facts/otard.html. The law basically states that homeowner association covenants cannot prevent you from installing tv antennas or dishes. The rule "prohibits restrictions that impair the installation, maintenance or use of antennas used to receive video programming." Masts higher than 12 feet above the roof line may be subject to local permitting requirements.
Q: How far can I be from the tv transmitters and still get a good signal?
A: Getting reliable reception beyond the curvature of the earth is difficult and in many cases impossible due to terrain. The good and bad news is that terrain and other obstacles have a major impact on reception.  Flat terrain is also very good. If mountains or large hills or other major obstructions are in your way, bad news. Beyond 70 miles, unless you can get direct line-of-sight to the transmitters, the number of things that could impact reception negatively are many. Accept that what you want due to where you live in relation to the tv station may not be possible.
Q: I have read ads for an antenna that can pick up stations 200 miles away. Is this really possible?
A: Under extremely rare circumstances, a television antenna could possibly pick up stations 200 miles or even more away. However, rarely will an antenna get terrestrial(earth bound) television broadcasts over such a distance. Don't expect it!

Theoretically, it would be possible if you lived on top of a mountain and the broadcast towers were also on a mountain top. At normal elevations, however, the curvature of the earth pretty much limits effectiveness to about 70 miles for UHF tv band signals. Low VHF band (channels 2-6) can bounce further than this, but currently only about 7 percent of digital TV channels are on the VHF band. Most Digital TV channels are on the UHF band - which is line-of-sight transmission. When you buy an antenna, get one that has both VHF AND UHF channel coverage unless you know for a fact that all of your local stations broadcast in the UHF TV band only. In most tv markets, the stations transmit in the UHF tv band with a channel or 2 in the VHF band.
Q: What about "HDTV" antennas they sell at the electronic chain stores, won't these work?
A: Maybe, maybe not, but often times they are no better than a plain length of wire. Very few of the antennas sold in this electronic chain stores have much success with digital reception. They usually have poor performance on the frequencies where digital broadcasts occur and have a difficult time with multi path distortion. Most utilize low grade amplifiers that introduces noise on the tv signal or are shaped to be aesthetically pleasing, designed to sell to the techies, but are contrary to the principals of digital TV reception and the laws of physics. Many are cheaply built copies of the established and well known antenna companies like Channel Master and Winegard. Winegard antennas are made in the U.S.A.

Hints and Tips!
If you have more than 1 tv, you can hook the others to the main antenna using coaxial cable and multi set couplers designed to feed more than one tv. You can even attach several TV's to the main antenna by using in-line boosters to keep the signal strong to each of them.

Always use NEW high grade coaxial cable like RG-6. Never use RG-59 due to higher signal losses in it. You want the maximum signal from the antenna passed to the tv.

Although getting free HDTV off the air has it's advantages, mainly a much clearer high definition picture than cable or satellite and no cost to you except the one time expense of getting an antenna set up, you will likely only get the major networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS and a few other local non-network stations. In large metro areas, there are also many foreign language broadcasts and Christian Tv channels.

Remember, you are not paying dearly for literally hundreds of channels you will never watch. And don't forget about all those "music" channels" that your paying for but never listen to. And who wants to watch the hour long "commercials" pretending as "info" channels. Free tv off the air provides your basic tv needs so why pay for all those extra channels when you don't need or want to?

If you already have a rooftop antenna that is not being used, then try it out first before buying another antenna. It may work just fine depending on the condition it is in. Think of all the money you will save by getting free HDTV off the air!

Follow the instructions that come with the antenna. NEVER use small thin metal tubing to support the antenna. The wind will take it down and all of your work will have been for nothing.

We are not responsible for nor liable for your installation under any circumstances!
This article should be used for educational purposes only and is not intended to be an installation guide.

Summary...Why you should be viewing FREE HDTV off the air:

Save Hundreds! The average cable or satellite tv subscription is about $75.00 per month nationwide in the U.S. An inexpensive set top rabbit ear antenna can be less than a good meal out! An outside TV antenna is more expensive but you can get more local stations.....free and you only have to pay for the antenna once and it is yours!

The Most Watched Programs are on Local TV Stations...why pay extra to get your local news, etc from satellite or cable when you can get them for FREE using your own antenna depending on where you live?

Off the Air TV is Always On! Weather such as rain does not bother local off the air tv reception like cable or satellite tv does. Off the air tv uses entirely different frequencies and technology!

Best HDTV Quality! The technology is entirely different receiving the HDTV signals off the air. The HDTV signals transmitted to you are PURE HDTV, not compressed for cable or Satellite TV.

Easy to Install to your TV! Connect your external antenna to the "ANT" input of your HDTV, rotate it to receive the most stations and your done! Follow instructions for the TV for off the air reception. You will have to put your TV into the Search mode to program the off the air TV stations in your area. Follow your instructions that came with your TV. If your home is already wired for more than one tv, then you can in most cases connect the wiring to the new external antenna. No set top boxes or convertors required! Using more than one tv from one antenna can be a bit more complicated and requires multi tv couplers, splitters, more signal to start with coming from the antenna, etc.

So what are you waiting for...get yourself an external antenna and start watching FREE HDTV!
If nothing else...use it for a great backup of your present expensive cable or satellite tv setup that WILL go down from time to time! I do!

Online sources for external antennas and more info:

Use Amazon.com search window below or click the text link to search for TV antennas. Great Deals!

TV Antennas at Amazon.com

Also check out Antennas Direct for a wide selection of top quality tv antennas!
Antennas Direct - Maker of high performance antennas designed specifically for outdoor HDTV reception. Buy direct and save.

This article written and copyrighted by Don Butler Hamuniverse.com

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