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How to choose the best antenna for HD TV

Which HD antenna is best?

Choosing the best antenna for HD off-air broadcast reception is an important piece of the process in receiving all that free high quality HD content.  If you haven’t seen HD off air programming you’re in for a real treat.  A properly aligned antenna feeding a quality HD television produces some of the best pictures you will see!  Neither cable nor satellite can compare to the picture quality from Over The Air (OTA) signals.  Let’s get on with setting up your new OTA antenna.  We will talk about how to choose the right antenna, a little of the math behind what makes for the best antenna and cable setup, and how to align the antenna based on your location.  Easy business!

First off, stores like your local Radio Shack, Target and Walmart will probably carry multiple models of antenna, ranging from something small that sits on your television and looks cute, to a huge array that mounts on your chimney. Selection of the best antenna for your area should be based on a few simple points.

Here’s a list of basic things you need to know before going HD antenna shopping.
-What channels do you want to receive. Make a list of them.
-What is the distance from your TV to your proposed antenna mounting location. This may be self evident as we move further thru this excercise of choosing the best antenna for your particular location.
-A basic map of your viewing location (home) with some notable landmarks you can use for antenna alignment. A simple line drawing or printed map will do fine here.

Use the Color Code System

Once you have collected this basic information, you can go use a nifty tool that is the fruit of collaboration between The National Association of Broadcasters and the Consumer Electronics Association. This “antenna calculator” if you will, considers your location, known geological information, height above sea level and broadcast tower location information to make recommendations on the type of antenna system you need.

To get started, navigate to AntennaWeb.org and enter your location information. First, you’ll see a list of broadcast stations in your given area. Confirm the stations you want to see listed before moving on. If so, good, if not, go back and figure out where we took a wrong turn. Second, you’ll see a map showing radians that are highlighted as you mouse over different HD broadcast stations on the list. Basically what’s being shown here is what type of antenna you need to buy, based on the color code of the station radian, and what direction you need to point the antenna to receive a given broadcast station.

Real life examples of antenna plots

This particular situation, example picture below, in Houston is fairly easy. All of our UHF (Off-Air HD Stations are typically UHF) stations are located within 10 degrees of each other, allowing us to select the constant recommended antenna, a medium sized directional configuration. Furthermore, the single antenna in this design can be oriented in a single direction to receive all of the channels in our design.  The important thing to see here is simply that all the target viewing stations can be received by alining your antenna South South West.

Map of Houston Television Broadcast Towers

Map of Houston Television Broadcast Towers

Here is another example, picture below, of a not so easy configuration. This broadcast tower set, located in Atlanta, includes towers in excess of 60 degrees apart, making single antenna solutions unlikely. Receiving each of the broadcast stations shown in this image would likely require 2 antenna, oriented such that each antenna was able to receive 2-3 of the stations. The cables could be combined using a common splitter/combiner in your attic, running a single cable down to your set top box for receiving. Situations requiring more than one antenna are significantly more involved, but not so complicated that they should be avoided by the average user. Just plan on a little more trial and error getting the perfect antenna alignment. The end result is worth it when you finally sit down in your living room and are able to pull in a dozen or more quality HD broadcast stations for free!

Atlanta Television Broadcast Tower map

Map of Broadcast towers in New York

Below is an image showing a rundown of the various antenna type and correlating color codes. This chart was developed as a buying/install guide for Digital HD antenna. This chart was developed by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)

Antenna selector legend

Antenna selector legend

What makes the right antenna right?

HD Antennas are made in a variety of sizes and shapes. The color coded system developed by CEA and NAB breaks antennas down into 7 sections, ranging from small multi-directional antenna to large directional antenna. Basically, What is important to remember is that you can’t change physics. Larger antenna have more gain (ability to collect the signal), and smaller antenna have less gain. There simply is no substitute for gain. Designs calling for large directional roof mount antenna require just that. Smaller antenna that bear marketing slogans like “Indoor HD High Gain Highest Signal Quality” are just small antenna, and will always be outperformed by a larger more appropriate antenna if that’s what your design called for. Size matters!

Once you’ve determined what type of antenna you need to purchase, by using the guide above, you’ll want to consider how the cable will be routed between the antenna and your HD Tuner.   Be conscious  of distance, and remember that the longer the cable run, the more signal loss you’ll have.  The more signal loss, the poorer the signal and the resulting picture on your TV screen.  Long cable runs are not your friend, keep the cable short!

How do these antenna add up?

The math here, if you’re interested, goes something like this. For every 100′ of average RG-6 coac cable used, you will see a signal loss of 1.5-2dB. Every connector used (1 for each end of the cable) will add a loss of about 2dB. So, assuming we start out with a 15dB gain antenna, minus 2dB for 100′ of cable, minus 4dB for two connectors, we are down to 11dB by the time our cable reaches the receiver inside the house. When this value get’s too low, you begin to loose the HD signal occasionally or all-together. Weather such as rain and snow also reduces signal received, so it’s important to have a strong enough signal that weather events don’t disrupt reception. Bottom line here is to use good quality connectors and keep the cable runs as short as possible.

Comments or Questions?

Take the time to plan your OTA installation  and you’ll reap the benefits of a well designed system with years of  quality of HD broadcast. OTA, also known as digital TV, is often better quality uncompressed modulation shaming what both satellite and cable networks offer, and the price is free!

Please let me know if you like this article or have any questions about the antenna selection or installation process in the comment section below. Good luck installing your high gain HD Broadcast Television antenna.

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Watch 2012 NCAA March Madness Basketball Games Online

In previous years, you could stream the NCAA® Division I Men’s Basketball Championship online and through a number of mobile devices for free. In 2012, things have changed a bit. Streaming the basketball tournament is no longer free, but CBS, the NCAA and their partners have made it very cheap and accessible. In fact, I wish more sports operated like this.

For just $4, you can watch all 67 games of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament live on your computer, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and select Android phones (full list of supported devices here).

  • To get started online, visit ncaa.com/marchmadness or download the the app in the iTunes and Android stores.
  • Create a 2012 March Madness Live account
  • Login on your device of choice and you’ll be able to stream the basketball tournament live, listen to live radio coverage, track brackets, get upset alerts and send updates to your social networks.

You DO NOT have to pay separately to stream the basketball tournament to different devices. Simply login with your March Madness account.

Click the graphic below to start streaming the 2012 NCAA Basketball Tournament online. If you’re having issues, make sure to turn your pop-up blocker off.

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Stream Super Bowl XLVI Online

Super Bowl XLVI kicks off February 5, 2102 in Indianapolis and no matter how you like to watch sports online you’ll have plenty of ways to stream the big game this year.

Tom Brady gets sacked by a Giant. Photo by avinashkunnath via Flickr

Tom Brady gets sacked by a Giant. Photo by avinashkunnath via Flickr

For the first time ever, NBC and the NFL will team up to stream the Super Bowl online. Power up your PC and tune into NFL.com or NBCSports.com. Both streams will be in high-definition and will give online fans the added bonus of switching between different camera angles and feeds of the Patriots and Giants. One potential drawback with streaming the Super Bowl online is that you’ll see a different set of commercials than the folks watching on TV will see. Kickoff starts at 6:30 p.m. EST, make sure your browser and plugins are up to date prior so you don’t miss a minute of the action.

The NFL will also stream the Super Bowl through their NFL mobile app to iPhone, Android and tablet users. The catch here is that it’s limited to Verizon customers only (sorry AT&T and Sprint). The NFL Mobile app includes player statistics and play-by-play from the action down on the field.

If you do happen to have an AT&T, Sprint or alternative smart phone service, I’ve heard a couple rumors that you may be able to stream the game to your phone via the NFL.com mobile site. I can’t confirm until game time so cross your fingers if you’re with a network other than Verizon.

There are also some third party unauthorized broadcasts that you may be able to snag on Justin.tv, UStream or First Row Sports (Justin.tv and UStream also have mobile apps available to all users). Keep in mind that these streams are often lower quality and could go out at any time.

Good luck on Sunday. May the best stream win!

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Watch and listen to your favorite iTunes podcasts on Roku

Watch and Listen to Your Favorite iTunes Podcasts on Your Roku

Love your Roku, but miss your favorite iTunes podcasts? Well, today is your lucky day. Simply add the free iTunes podcasts private channel to your Roku and each and every podcast in the iTunes store is available at your fingertips. Search and sort by genre, categories and providers. Got a podcast that you can’t get enough of? Just favorite it from the Roku menu and the app will keep it safe and secure the next time you’re around.

In testing the app, audio podcast streamed nearly instantly and video programs had just a bit of buffering, but nothing that impacted the experience. Of course, this all depends on the speed of your internet connection.

To get started, add the iTunes Podcasts Private Channel by clicking here.

Thanks to Roku Guide for the tip.

 

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Articles

Watch Downton Abbey Online or On Your iPad

The 2011 “most critically exclaimed television show” Downton Abbey has returned to PBS for a second season. Season 1 of Downton Abbey premiered in late 2010 and follows an aristocratic family living in the early 20th century. The drama takes place at the fictional estate of Downton Abbey in North Yorkshire. Downton Abbey has been nominated for  and won multiple Primetime Emmy and TV Choice Awards.

If you’re just getting into the program or would like to catch up on the first season, PBS has full episodes available on their website and through their iPad app. Season 2 previews, episodes and actor interviews are also available for download,  See the PBS website for details and enjoy Downton Abbey on iPad.

Watch Downton Abbey online at PBS.org or download the PBS app today.

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Watch The U.S. Open Golf Tournament Live Online

The 2011 US Open Golf Tournament begins Thursday, June 16 from Congressional Country Club near Washington DC. ESPN will carry the first two rounds of the tournament on TV and ABC will cover the event Saturday and Sunday. If you’ve cut the cord and don’t have ESPN or can’t be in front of a TV, I’ve got a couple of options to watch the tournament online.

  • Download the iPhone or iPad U.S. Open app. The app has been updated to include photos, videos, radio coverage, a course map and flyovers of each hole. The best part is the included live streaming video of featured groups and dedicated holes.  You’ll probably see marquee players (no Tiger this year) in the featured groups.
  • Log on to ESPN3.com. Even though you don’t have a cable TV subscription, many internet providers give you access to streaming sports on ESPN3.  Coverage on Thursday and Friday will begin at 10AM EST.
  • USOpen.com will have live marquee group video throughout the tournament in HD-quality and promises some intriguing new features like PicStream, which posts simultaneous photos from the course, and Play Tracker which will have real-time course visualization of groups and player locations. USOpen.com will also have up to the minute stats and live scoring.
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Setting Up iTunes Home Sharing To Stream To Your iOS Device

Home Streaming on your iPod

Stream music and movies from your computer to your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch

Apple has enhanced the way you stream music, TV, and movie content from your computer running iTunes to your iOS mobile device. Previously Home Sharing only allowed sharing media between computers, but with the iOS 4.3 update you can now access your library from any iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch on your home network.

Ars Technica has the complete guide, but here’s a quick run down of the steps.

  • Make sure you’re running iTunes 10.2 and your device has iOS 4.3 installed
  • On your computer, go to Advanced > Turn on Home Sharing
  • On your iPad, iPhone or iPod, go to Settings > iPod > Login using your Apple ID under the Home Sharing section (hopefully this is the same Apple ID you’re using on your computer)
  • Go to the iPod app on your mobile device > More tab at bottom > Shared > select your Library
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Connecting Your iPad, iPhone or iPod to your HDTV

The iPad 2 was released Friday and with it came  lots of hype around a slimmer design, faster chips and included cameras. But, being a cord-cutter, I was much more interested in a small accessory that was demoed at the keynote.

Connect your iPad to your HDTV

Apple Digital AV Adapter is $39

When Steve Jobs showed off the Apple Digital AV Adapter ($39), I got giddy like a school girl. This little adapter would make it possible for you to mirror whatever is on your iPad, iPhone 4 or iPod Touch screen — apps, presentations, websites, videos and more — all on on your HDTV or HDMI-compatible display and up to 1080p HD (movies play at up to 720p). Everyone can sees what’s on your display — even when you rotate iPad from portrait to landscape or zoom in and out. Video mirroring is built into iOS so it’s very smooth and polished. No settings to tinker with or configuration needed.

The Digital AV Adapter also comes with a second 30-pin connecter that gives you the option to charge your device at the same time. No need to worry about running out of juice in the middle of your juicy slideshow.

I created a video to show you mirroring of a movie, Hulu Plus app and the PBS app. In my experience, it worked very smooth although you may want to adjust the settings of your TV for a few of the apps. Time will tell if apps could potentially block this feature in the future.

Note: Only the iPad 2 supports 1080p mirroring for apps. The original iPad, iPhone 4, and iPod Touch 4th gen will only support 720p mirroring. Video on all devices displays at 720p. For more information, check out the product page.

 

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Keep The Buffering Man Away – Test The Speed Of Your Internet Connection

Many cord cutters depend on a setup that is heavily reliant on the speed of their internet connection. Streaming Hulu, Netflix and other services require a broadband connection, but if your connection isn’t fast enough, you may experience a lag or videos that stutter. For example, Netflix suggests that you have at least 3.0 Mb/s to stream DVD quality video. And although many services will lower the quality of your video depending on the available speed, you’ll want to make sure you have a big enough pipe to accompany all the other things  in your household that connect to the internet.

Results from SpeedTest.net - Testing the speed of your internet connection

To test the speed of your connection, go to SpeedTest.net and click the aqua “Begin Test” button. Their tool will take the next 30 seconds to test your download and upload speeds and ping latency. For this example, we’re most concerned about the download speed.

The sample to the right is fast enough to work with Netflix and offers a little bit of wiggle room for others who may be surfing the internet or listening to music on your network.

If you find that many of your videos are buffering for a long period of time (> 1 min), then try these helpful hints.

  • Use a wired connection for more consistent speed. Wireless speeds could vary based on device, transfer speed and interference.
  • Make sure no other bandwidth intensive applications are running elsewhere on the network (i.e. video games, file sharing, Skype)
  • Lower the quality of your stream or try lowering the resolution on your display.
Speedometer image from aramc via Flickr
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How-to Watch Live Sports Without Cable

Often the big kicker for people considering getting rid of cable is the perceived lack of sports. I’ll admit, I was one of the non-believers before we cut the cord last year. I’m a big sports fan and the thought of giving up ESPN had me tossing and turning at night.  Constantly searching for solutions to  the question, how to watch sports without cable, this list should server as a jump start for newbie cord cutters.

You’ve got to do your homework and there is no perfect or ideal setup, but it is very possible to watch live sports without cable. Let me share with you what I know.

I recommend that you read the entire piece, but if you’re short on time, here’s the skinny on watching sports online.

Football (NFL and NCAA) Baseball (MLB) Basketball (NBA and NCAA) Hockey (NHL) Other (NASCAR, Golf, Soccer)
Service NFL Sunday Ticket To-Go MLB.tv NBA League Pass Broadband NHL Game Center Live ESPN 3, mobile apps. iTunes
Device(s) Mac, PC, iPad and smart phones, PS3 Mac, PC, iPad, smart phones, Playstation 3, Roku, Boxee, Samsung and LG internet connected TV’s and blu-ray players Mac, PC, smartphones Roku, Boxee, PS3, iPad Mac, PC
Price $350/season $100/season or $120/season for premium $120/season to follow 7 teams all season, $190 to follow all 30. Price drops mid-season. Also offers a mobile only option to stream games only to smartphone $170/season. Price drops mid-season. $0 – 10
Notes Regional and national games available via over-the-air antenna, ESPN 3 and NFL.com Blackouts apply similar to cable or satellite ESPN 3 and CBS Sports stream games online. During NCAA tourney, purchase mobile app. Blackouts apply similar to cable or satellite Blackouts apply similar to cable or satellite ESPN 3 often streams women’s sports, golf and other small sports. Find past NASCAR races on iTunes.

First off, get yourself a good antenna

A cheap $20 indoor antenna is often more than enough to pick up over-the-air HD channels.  Choosing the right HDTV Antenna is step one, so take the time and make sure you know what antenna is right for your area and the channels you want to view watch. Picture quality delivered from Over The Air, also known as OTA, antenna is brilliant due to the high bandwidth of off-air, and the pure uncompressed video stream. Reliability seems to be very good and I’ve had no problem picking up regional college and pro sports. NFL and college football games all day on Saturday and Sunday? Got ‘em. National broadcasts of NBA games? Piece of cake. Professional baseball? Of course.

Are you ready for some football?

Watch football online with NFL Sunday Ticket To-Go

Antonio Dixon from Ed Yourdon via Flickr

Ok, so you’ve got the antenna for local and nationally televised games, but what about out-of-market games or Monday Night Football? In the past you were pretty much destined to slop off to your local sports bar and plead with the waitress to turn on your game, but last season DirecTV changed that. Anyone can now purchase an entire season of NFL Sunday Ticket To-Go (previously you had to be a DirecTV subscriber). You’ll get HD-quality streaming to your computer, iPad or smartphone plus they throw in the Red Zone Channel, live stats and the ability to switch to any game live.

The price is steep at $350 for a complete season, especially if you cut the cord to save money. Here’s hoping that the NFL and DirecTV will feel the pressure of cord cutters and lower the price in upcoming seasons.

Update: You can now purchase NFL Sunday Ticket and view it on your Playstation 3 without a DirecTV subscription.

If you don’t want to pony up for a complete season, often times you can find someone rebroadcasting a game deep in the under-belly of the internet.  We are constantly asked how to watch espn without cable or satellite.   Check out Justin.tv or do a quick Google search. This is typically frowned upon by the networks and often shut down fairly fast. I’ll elaborate more on the dark side of cord cutting in future articles.   For they time being, the best way to watch the NFL on Roku is still to install an HD antenna on your tv.  This is the best quality image you can get as well.

If you can’t wait until fall for the NFL season to start, watch the combine live on NFL.com.

Baseball is headed for home

MLB.tv on iPhone

MLB.tv on the iPhone from artifishall via Flickr

Major League Baseball is what every major sport should strive to be like. This cord cutters paradise offers live, on-demand HD quality games for $100 to $120/season. MLB.tv has an app for just about everything imaginable including Roku, Boxee, iPad, Playstation 3, smartphones and a few internet connected TV’s and blu-ray players.

The premium package adds a few special features like home and away broadcasts and the ability to view multiple games. If you’d rather not spring for an entire season you can purchase a monthly pass with the ability to cancel at anytime. Keep in mind that blackouts apply to MLB.tv just as they would with cable.

Basketball with an assist

The NBA has an online offering called NBA League Pass Broadband. Just as Major League Baseball, their apps run the gammit of Roku, iPad, iPhone, computer. NBA League Pass gives you the option to watch up to 3 games at once, live DVR functionality and a full season of archived games. The NBA has 2 packages for cord cutters. Follow 7 teams of your choice for an entire season for $120 or get all 30 teams for $190*. As with baseball, local and national blackout rules apply based on your location.

TNT adds to the party with free online broadcasts of week night NBA games. Features include a cool mosaic view where you can watch the game at 4 different camera angles and the option to follow an iso-cam of one player (which is determined by fan vote).

For college basketball fanatics, strap on the antenna, dial into ESPN3 and CBS Sports Online or stream live tournament games to your iPhone. If you have an XBox 360, you can stream ESPN3 to your TV.

*Note: since this post was written mid-season, the NBA has dropped its price to $65 and $100 respectively.

***Check out our updated story on watching March Madness online.

He shoots and scores with hockey

Watch NHL Online with GameCenter Live

NHL Hockey by Chase N. via Flickr

Hockey fans won’t be left out in the cold because the NHL has come strong with NHL GameCenter Live. You’ll get 40 games a week streaming through your Roku, Boxee Box, PS3 or iPad for only $170/season (Note: now $79 for the remainder of this season). NHL GameCenter holds its own with DVR functionality, live home and away, picture-in-picture and live chat.

Hey, what about ____?

If you’re looking for golf, women’s sports or soccer, ESPN3 has a great selection. NASCAR fans will be happy to know that TNT will at times stream smaller races online. Classic NASCAR races can be purchased through iTunes.

Like I mentioned above, there is no perfect solution and watching live sports online is going to cost you in some instances. So, how have you dealt with watching your favorite sports without cable? Is there something I missed? Tell me in the comments below.

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