Antennas Direct Indoor & Outdoor HDTV Antennas

by | Apr 12, 2008 | Component Reviews | 0 comments

Antennas Direct Indoor &
Outdoor HDTV Antennas

PF7 Picture Frame Antenna ($49)
DB2 Indoor/outdoor HDTV Antenna ($49)
DB4 Outdoor HDTV Antenna ($69)
DB8 Multidirectional HDTV Antenna ($119)

Antennas Direct
1699 West Fifth St.
Eureka, MO 63025

The initial government survey when the DTV Converter Box Program was being set up showed that about 13% of the TV households in the U.S. received all or part of their programming using over-the-air (OTA) antennas.  Many households with either cable TV or satellite TV service also have an indoor or outdoor antenna in order to pick up local TV stations not provided by their subscription service. Some special antennas are designed to mount right on the outdoor dish for satellite reception.

Since the free coupons are now being sent out and people are purchasing the converter boxes for their old analog TV sets, many are discovering the greatly improved picture quality they can achieve by receiving the digital signals instead of analog – even on their old analog TV sets. Since DTV reception is normally an all or nothing situation, some users are finding that where they had marginal reception on a particular analog channel before – ghosting or snowy, for example – now their set merely displays a “no signal” warning for that channel. Getting a better TV antenna can correct that problem, and many HDTV owners are adding antennas too.  The percentage of users receiving at least part of their TV reception OTA is growing. Among the advantages for HDTV owners is receiving the highest resolution picture possible, without the data reduction cable and satellite services are forced to do in order to offer as many channels as possible. Also, remember, it’s free!

Depending on the terrain, you don’t necessarily require a rooftop antenna if you are less than 50 or so miles from your stations.  And if you do, it usually won’t need to be a big yagi design since that’s for the VHF band and most of the digital telecasters are in the UHF band, which requires much smaller and more compact antennas.  Only those who must receive stations broadcasting DTV on channels 2 thru 8 will need to have a VHF antenna.  Antennas covering both bands won’t usually be as good on UHF reception as those designed only for UHF.  All of these UHF antennas receive channels 14 thru 69.

I was impressed by the user-friendly materials I saw on one of the online sites offering HDTV antennas and requested four of their models for evaluation, covering short range, medium and long range reception.  Antennas Direct has a distance chart to aid in determination of the best antenna for your particular location. They also have antenna recommendations for major metro areas. You fill in your address and it will tell you which stations you need to receive and recommend antennas to fit your situation.

PF7 Picture Frame Antenna
This faux frame picture is one of two short range antennas I tried. It’s strictly for indoor use, of course, and is 11 inches by 9 inches in size with the coax cable running out of one side (which would be rather difficult to hide on the wall).  The PF7 has a 6.5 dB gain rating.  I live about five miles from the hill with all the local DTV transmitters, so I am definitely in the short range region. The PF7 wasn’t as good as my old Terk indoor antenna, and had some pixillation on some channels no matter how I oriented it.

Upstairs, hooked to the Zenith converter box on my 27-inch analog Toshiba set, it worked much better – probably due to being one story higher in elevation.  All the channels came in well except 49-1.  If the picture frame was hung behind the TV the display merely said No Signal.  Unfortunately, the stations are not in the direction the TV faces, but 90 degrees off to the left.  The only way the picture frame is adjustable is to insert a plastic handle at the back that converts it into a frame to set on a desk. When thus rotated 90 degrees, Channel 49-1 came in well.  The PF7 is described as Unidirectional, and that appears correct;  the other three antennas are multidirectional. But there was no desk or table space anywhere near the TV, so in my case that wouldn’t work.

The DB2 was designed to be an outdoor UHF antenna, but is small enough that it has become popular as an indoor antenna.  It was recently improved into a lower-loss design with a high gain of up to 11.4 dB and a range of 1 to 30 miles.  It uses the familiar bowtie design, with two of the bowtie elements in front, and the reflecting screen about four inches directly behind. It weighs only 2.8 lbs.

I found that both downstairs on my HDTV set and upstairs on the analog TV the DB2 brought in excellent reception of all the stations, and was very forgiving of the direction in which it was pointed. Often the only way to get pixillation on the screen or to cause it to show No Signal was to point it straight up or straight down, showing that even for this very basic design, the multidirectional designation is accurate.  The DB2 is perfect for my particular situation and was able to provide a constant signal on Channel 12-1, which has been a particular challenge for my Terk indoor antenna, which muted audio sometimes and occasionally lost the picture on this channel only.  According to Antennas Direct, using an outdoor antenna indoors reduces its gain by almost 50%, but the combination of my video tuners and the DB2 didn’t seem to be phased by that.

The DB4 doubles the elements of the DB2, one above the other. It thus increases its gain to 13.7 dB and weight to 4.5 lbs.  Its height is increased to 29 inches. It is designed for the mid range distance from TV towers – a range of up to 55 miles.  It can be mounted in one’s attic, on an inexpensive antenna mount on the site of the house (about $18) or even hidden away behind a curtain or furniture in the room.  If used outdoors, it does have an all-weather Balun, and the screen is designed to resist extreme wind-loading.  You probably won’t require a rotator since this is a multidirectional antenna, and even if you have DTV stations on VHF Channels 9 thru 13, it will pick them up as well.

I tested all the antennas primarily on the higher DTV channels, since the ones on Channels 2, 6, 8 and 10 had no problems.  (If you’re new to DTV, stations have kept their original VHF channel names even though they will soon be broadcasting only on UHF channels.) I found that each step up in the antennas offered more resistance to pixilation when moving the antenna around, more of an ability to receive a good signal from almost any direction, and a better signal from a low-power local analog transmitter on Channel 5.  With my Terk antenna that channel is almost nothing but snow.  With each step up its picture became clearer, and with the DV8 it was almost watchable. It also established that the Terk is extremely unidirectional, just like the PF7, which could be a disadvantage in many situations.

This multi-bay HDTV antenna is like two DB4s fastened together.  In a new redesign, it now has 22% higher gain than originally, for a total of 15.8 dB. The DB8 has a range of 70 miles or more and is even more multidirectional than the above antennas – it won’t matter much if your stations are all in different directions.  Its dimensions are 29 inches high x 42 inches wide x 4 inches deep and it weighs in at 10 lbs. It also has weatherproof construction.  This one would be overkill for my location, but for greater distances it looks like just the ticket.

Assembly of all the antennas was easy, and if you need additional materials you will find them at the Antennas Direct site – including coaxial cable, antenna amplifiers, antenna mounts and other items. If you have never hooked your set – analog or HD – to an over-the-air antenna, you may be pleasantly surprised at what is now available in many areas for free, and add your household to that 13% using OTA TV reception.

 – John Sunier


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