Why using an antenna might be harder than you think
Replacing cable with an HDTV antenna? Might be trickier than it seems.
When someone told me they were able to get rid of cable using Netflix, Hulu and an antenna, I was intrigued. Let’s face it – I was pumped! I wanted to do that!! It seemed soooo easy. What could go wrong? Well…let’s see. As I learned, the antenna option is not necessarily an option for everyone.
Our first attempt at buying an OTA antenna was a big fail!
Why was it a fail you ask? Well…. Let me just say I knew going in that I had no clue what I was doing, that the sales guy would probably try to sell me something WAY more than I needed or wanted to pay, and that there would probably be a lot I’d need to learn. You could say expectations were low. If I could go back in time, I wish I’d at least had some answers to basic antenna questions (ex: location and vhf/UHF needs), because I would have saved myself two trips to the store. Well…lesson learned.
So here’s how it went down: After much procrastinating that went something like “oh I don’t know, getting rid of cable seems so hard! Yea but it’s so expensive!”, I decided to head over to BestBuy one day to check out HDTV antennas. Looking is free, right? If we were going to get rid of cable, we’d need to grab local channels to catch local games. As I made my way back to the right section of the store, the inevitable happened. The sales guys descended! 🙁
There were about a dozen different models on the shelf to choose from, and shockingly the recommendation I got was for an Antennas Direct Micron-R Clearstream UHF model that priced out at $74. Now, if you’re me and you’re trying to SAVE money by getting rid of cable, your instinct is probably not going to be to throw down nearly $80 to test out an antenna that may or may not work. In other words, I had my doubts that this purchase would be a good idea. Nevertheless, I was there already and after I made sure a return and full refund was possible, decided to give it a go.
Antennas: great idea, just a lot of factors influencing success.
The first TV I tried the Micron-R on was our main floor TV. This is the one where we all usually watch together and probably gets the most use, so it’s also the one where the antenna reception really has to work. The main floor TV is located near a corner of the room, somewhat towards the middle of the house, away from windows. As I “danced” around the room trying to find the best spot for picking up channels, the kids thought I was playing some cool new game and wanted to help. As I scanned for channels on the TV and kept coming up empty, I quickly got annoyed. If we strung a 13′ cord across the room, I was able to position the antenna close enough to the window that I could finally pick up 22 channels. However, important to note that this involved me holding the antenna about 2 feet from the ceiling, 2 inches away from the window. Hmmm…that might be a tough spot. Also important to again point out that if we kept this positioning, there would be a long black cable literally running across the room. Great fun for the kids to start doing the limbo, but could foresee some pretty immediate issues. What also became immediately obvious is that I was unable to pick up CBS, NBC no matter how I moved it around the room. Hmmmm.
As I learned, no amount of antenna dancing could help with that problem. Why? With those stations (CBS, NBC) broadcasting over VHF, my UHF antenna would be of little use. Doh! Before sending back the antenna to BestBuy, I did take it upstairs and try it out on the TV in the bedroom which is located on our top floor closer to a window. Much better reception overall and able to cleanly pick up a few more stations with the unit positioned on the window. Clearly, no VHF stations though.
So, with one of my little ones in tow, back to BestBuy I went. On my return trip, I returned the Micron-R for a full refund (whew!) and pulled a no-frills VHF/UHF antenna from GE which was on sale for $35. There are plenty of other brands out there, but at the time this was the cheapest one on the shelf and since the first one had been a bust for our main TV, I was feeling less adventurous. One bonus: in between my last trip and the return trip I now also had a $10 gift card so all-in this became a $24 purchase which was way more budget friendly!!
Antenna install – Take 2.
Unfortunately, we still had issues on the main level picking up channels. That TV is just in a crummy spot to get good reception and with the layout of the room it’s pretty much impossible to move the TV closer towards the window. Although the GE antenna was able to pick up the VHF stations and ~40 stations overall, quality was spotty for some of the “weaker” stations. Bummer!! One bright spot: different story for the TV located on the top floor. We’re able to put the antenna directly on the window and were able to pick up all the main local channels with awesome quality…some HD local channels actually looked better than they did on the satellite which was a little strange!!
I guess one possibility is that we could consider getting rid of DirecTV on this particular floor and rely solely on the antenna. Something to consider since we pay a monthly fee for that receiver box and service.
Conclusions: an indoor antenna may not be the way to go for us.
Again…Bummer! This seemed like such an easy task at the start. Unfortunately, a basic, no frills indoor antenna is not going to cut it for our cable project. The main TV is really the most important unit where we’d need to pick up reception. Based on our distance from transmission towers, other obstructions and VHF/UHF needs, it looks like we will need something a little more powerful. We could try to install an attic-mounted or outdoor-mounted unit, but with those models running more towards the expensive side and a little more uncertainty around how to run the wiring it’s not a project we are willing to undertake just yet. One other possibility is to get something like Simple.tv and perhaps re-broadcast the OTA signal throughout the house, but that is also a solution that will take more investment (will do a post later on what Simple.tv is and involves). Bottom line: without installing an outdoor antenna, we’re unlikely to replace much of our cable with an antenna.
Anyone else have issues like this? Can’t imagine we’re the only people on the planet not able to pick up OTA channels…why else would aerio have been so popular.