OTA HDTV Reception Q&A

Updates on the DTV transition and how to receive over-the-air digital television for free.

Location: Richmond, IL, United States

Hello there! I created this blog to share the information about over-the-air HDTV reception you have been wearily searching the Web or calling technical lines for, whether you have decided for less expensive means to get your favorite TV shows, or still adjusting from the over the air broadcast DTV transition that occurred on June 12, 2009. After working for a leading antenna manufacturer for almost 5 years, during which time I've shared my expertise with those who asked on the phone and by email at work, I decided to do the same in the Blogosphere! Confused about getting your local HD channels? Just click through the archives, some of the most useful information is in the early posts from 2005-06. If you want to get in touch with me with antenna related questions, just leave a comment anywhere on this site.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Before last June's transition to digital for full power TV stations, if a market had an analog TV channel 6 in the area, people in that market could listen to TV channel 6 by tuning their radio to 87.7 FM. The reason for this is because the old analog TV format had two major carriers on its channel, one for picture, and one for the sound, broadcasting in the wide FM modualtion scheme. In the case of TV channel 6, the picture was at 83.25 MHz, and the sound at 87.75 MHz, right at the left end of a typical FM radio, which people could tune in to listen to a TV station, mostly for news shows or maybe a sports play-by-play on that specific TV channel.

In Milwaukee, there was a channel 6 on WITI-TV, which is currently a FOX affiliate, and people were listening to the TV station on the radio. But when the DTV transition completed and channel 6 began broadcasting solely in the digital format on a UHF frequency, the radio simulcast went away. Even if the station were broadcasting digitally on its old analog frequency, FM radios would not be able to tune in to the audio since digital TV uses a different and more advanced modulation than FM. Now in Milwaukee, those who have enjoyed listening to the channel 6 audio on their FM radios can do so by getting an HD radio, and tuning in to 106.1 FM HD-3, since HD radio stations can multicast the same way digital TV stations can. Again, since WITI switched to a UHF frequency for its digital TV broadcast, the old channel 6 frequency pretty much opened up.

Meanwhile in Chicago, 95.5 FM, owned by a major corporate radio company, which had been a long running contemporary jazz, or "smooth jazz" format that had been fairly successful for over 20 years, changed its format to Latin pop, taking the smooth jazz format off Chicago radio. But a station manager Pat Kelly, and a small company Venture Technologies Group, had a plan to get the format back on the air, using the FCC allowance that a low power TV station could continue to broadcast in the analog format - create a low power TV station that plays smooth jazz, and broadcast it on the open channel 6 frequency. So a small locally owned company WLFM, LLC, was born. They got a license from the FCC to broadcast on the channel 6 frequency at 3,000 watts, which would qualify it as a low power TV station, from Chicago, and get the music heard on the radio at 87.7 FM. Very strong FM radio stations broadcast at 50,000 watts, but 3,000 watts would still provide a fairly large listening area. So on May 22nd, 2009, days before the DTV transition took place, WLFM-LP began broadcasting, and smooth jazz was back on Chicago radio.

The trick here to make the TV station legal was to have some kind of a picture broadcasting on the 83.25 MHz analog picture carrier, so WLFM-LP puts a continuous slide show of Chicago landmarks along with a station ID logo and a weather ticker on the picture while the music plays on the audio carrier that is heard on 87.7 FM. I actually can tune in to the channel 6 over the air on my analog TV tuner and see that picture, although it is grainy because I am pretty much in the fringe area of the Chicago TV market, but it is there, and the audio on the TV sounds good, so it works on TV channel 6, and on 87.7 FM on my radio.

I discovered this sort of by accident because I had just purchased an FM transmitter adapter for my car to listen to audio on my BlackBerry on my car radio, since that radio was not Bluetooth enabled. I had figured with TV channel 6 from Milwaukee moving to UHF and all digital that 87.7 FM would always be clean for my adapter, but I was curious to see if there was a low power TV station within 200 miles of me that I would be concerned about while on the road. So a TV station search on the FCC's Web site came up with WLFM-LP channel 6 out of Chicago. I tune in to 87.7 FM on the radio, sure enough, I hear smooth jazz, and had to set my adapter to 87.9 FM which for the most part has little noise.

So now WLFM-LP channel 6/87.7 FM, for nearly a year now, has brought the smooth jazz format back, and using local billboard advertisting and social media to get the word out, thanks to the FCC rules allowing low power TV stations to continue to be analog, and hopefully the company will have a solid audience. Two questions arise, though - how long with the low power analog allowance last, and will other companies in other markets follow suit to bring a niche format to the far left of the FM dial?

Saturday, January 02, 2010


Last summer I posted my experiences with the Roku Internet video player on a 720p monitor via HDMI, and streaming the video wirelessly. Since then, Roku opened up its open-development channel store in late November 2009 to finally bring original Web video to the TV set, and released two additional boxes. One of the new boxes, retailing for $120, is 802.11n WiFi compatible to allow HD video streaming at a longer distance from the router in a house than with the original 802.11g model, which is still available. Roku also released a basic player for about $80 with no HDMI output nor HD streaming, but rather as a set-top box for standard definition TV sets for those who still find a use for them after the broadcast TV transition to digital happened in June 2009.

I have the original Roku player with 802.11g WiFi, and following the opening of the Roku Channel Store, I would discover the importance of selecting the right router to ensure the best possible HD video experience wirelessly. When the Roku Channel Store opened, I added Revision3, Blip.TV, MediaFly, and FrameChannel where I can see news posts, photos from professionals as well as my own pictures I can upload, and pictures sent from friends and family via user-approved e-mail addresses. FrameChannel also lets me see recent Twitter posts from people I follow as well as recent posts related to a search feature.

However since the player software upgrade, it seemed recently that the player was not as able to stream the HD content from Netflix and Amazon with the quality I had before, which concerned me. Additionally, when I configured MediaFly on my PC through my account, I subscribed to a few video podcasts in HD. Streaming the HD podcasts on my Roku player did tend to pause downloading the next segment way too often.

I had thought initially that my problem was my cable modem speed. I had been subscribing to the 5 Mbps tier following the Roku upgrade. From my experience with over the air HD, I was aware that TV stations broadcasting in 720p HD with multicasting tend to have their primary 720p stream between 7-10 Mbps for a solid picture, and 10-15 Mbps for 1080i HD broadcasts. So, I figured that even though Netflix and Amazon uses a more technically advance codec for 720p streaming where you could get a decent HD stream on a Roku, PlayStation, XBox, et al, in the 5 Mbps cable modem tier, to enjoy them more consistently as well as HD podcasts on my Roku in 720p would require upgrading to the 10 Mbps tier. So I gave in, contacted my cable company, and requested the 10 Mbps high speed Internet tier, which was no problem since I have my own DOCSIS 2.0 cable modem, so no installer from the cable company needed to visit my place. The change went into effect about an hour after my call. By the way, those who want to go with the blazing 50-60 Mbps speeds that are now available will need a DOCSIS 3.0 modem since this technology uses multiple channels that allow for the super fast speeds and sharing between multiple devices in a home network.

Yet in spite of the upgrade I did not seem to notice an improvement in my Roku player HD streaming at all, which concerned me. So I brought my player to my router, which was a Netgear WTG624 that I had been using for about four years, and when I purchased it I was subscribing to a 3 Mbps cable modem tier, and I was renting the modem at the time before buying my own after moving to my new place and ordering the 5 Mbps tier. I hard wired the Roku player to my router, and I STILL saw no improvement in any HD content streaming.

So I did a test on my laptop with my existing router by connecting to a Web site that can measure my Internet access speed on the machine I am using. With a hard wired connection my download speed was just over 8 Mbps, so at least I was getting the download speed I had upgraded to. But then when I used the same site on the same laptop via 802.11g, my download speed was about 4.5 Mbps. Well, I thought, that would explain the lack of HD quality on my Roku with a wireless connection since my wireless download speed was less than what is required for broadcast 720pHD, but why the lack of quality with a wired connection?

I did some research, considering an 802.11n bridge at first, but then some further research of electronic store Web site product reviews made me realize the problem was my router. Back when it was new, HD video online was only in its infancy, and new routers have been designed to optimize HD video streaming among other technologies like voice-over-IP (VoIP). Some further research of product reviews led me to a holiday sale purchase of the D-Link DIR-655, which per customer reviews seemed like a top of the line router for home networks using HD streaming and VoIP.

When I got the new D-Link DIR-655 router, although it was intended to be an 802.11n router, my Roku and laptop are 802.11g compatible, so I configured the router to operate only in 802.11g mode. What a difference it made - my laptop WiFi download speed on the same WiFi channel increased to 7-8 Mbps. NOW I was getting the high speed Internet I upgraded to. And as for the Roku player, the HD quality of the Netflix and Amazon content became more consistent.

But there was still one disappointment - the video podcasts in HD that I subscribed through MediaFly. Some of the HD podcasts were streaming more consistently and looking great on my monitor with the new router, but one HD podcast, DiveFilms, was still pausing and downloading segments before playing again. Fortunately MediaFly also lets me access the same content in iPod/iTouch format, which is a widescreen standard definition stream, not as good looking as the HD version, but it was not bad either, and the content does stream without interruption.

I have reason to believe that the Roku MediaFly channel does not automatically adjust for the optimal stream the way other channels do at this time, and the reason being is because MediaFly is a podcast aggregator, the video quality uploaded to the podcast is determined by choice of the content authors. I would think that the DiveFilms HD podcasts are uploaded and meant to be played at maybe a bitrate between 7-8 Mbps, right at the fringe of my WiFi speed with the new router, whereas other 720p HD podcasts may be between 4-6 Mbps. It would seem that the DiveFilm HD podacasts are meant to be downloaded and viewed locally on PCs and set-top boxes with local hard drives, like AppleTV devices, and not so much to be streamed online.

Still I am getting better results with the router upgrade, so if you are planning to enjoy HD video wirelessly on devices such as the Roku Player, AppleTV, XBox, or PlayStation, the right network begins with the right router. Make sure the router is 802.11n with 802.11g backward compatibility, and highly rated for HD streaming. Additionally, the right router is a necessity for those planning to purchase a networked Blu-Ray player, or even a new HDTV with wireless network capabilty with Internet service built-in. These products will likely generate some buzz at the upcoming CES 2010.

One final note on the Roku Channel Store - it will be interesting to see in the new year if content providers will develop Roku compatible channels as well as iPhone apps to provide a direct means to distribute independently produced content, and bypass traditional television or movie studio distribution entirely.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Because my posts have become deep in the archives by now with the important information posted about 3-4 years ago, for the sake of navigation simplicity I thought I would list some common barriers to over-the-air DTV signals. Some would probably ask why it seems their DTV picture is outstanding on some days and blocky on others. Well, it has to do with the state of the area atmosphere, which varies on different parts of the day, or even the calendar year. Radio frequency (RF) signals ideally can travel a long distance in free space without any resistance. That is not the case in reality.

When RF signals travel through an environment, or a "medium" as engineers and scientists call them, they go through forms of resistance, or impedance, to their travel. To put it another way, when you drive a car, you may find yourself having to travel slower on foggy days or when roads are icy as compared to dry sunny days, making the travel difficult. Well, that's the same issue with RF signals. Sooner or later even on nice weather days, the natural impedance of the air will eventually reduce the RF signal power to the point where it becomes impossible to receive with even the most sensitive radios. How far the signal can go before that happens depends on the atmospheric conditions, and, what objects stand in the way.

The best conditions for any kind of RF signal reception are during mild nights with little wind and stable air. I say nights because in the daytime, an atmospheric layer is present when the sun is out that scatters radio signals, making reception better in some places and weaker when the antenna is moved by as little as a few feet. Windy days when the air is unstable, high humidity, and precipitation can also cause the air to have a higher impedance and make off-air reception difficult.

Also, there is the issue of obstructions. Non-metallic building materials like wood and masonry, and trees and foliage, are media with a higher resistance than for air, which is why reception in areas with a lot of trees or buildings is difficult, as well as indoor or attic reception as opposed to mounting an antenna on the rooftop. Metal building materials will reflect and/or load RF signals, essentially blocking reception, as well as hills. The ground can literally stop an RF signal in its tracks, which is why using an indoor antenna in a basement den is not worth the frustration.

So this is why that if you live in an area fairly distant from the TV transmit towers that is best to use the largest antenna that you can to ensure you can pull in the signals when the conditions are at their worst, and if you do use an indoor antenna, why should try to mount it as high above the floor as possible to allow the antenna to "peek over" any obstructions near the ground. Also as I have mentioned a long time ago, amplifiers are only good for overcoming signal loss through cables and splitters, and NOT for increasing the antenna range. Amplifiers can only boost whatever signals the antenna can receive.

If you use antennaweb.org or tvfool.com to determine the TV channels you can receive in your area, the calculations do tend to be conservative estimates, taking the varying atmospheric conditions into account to ensure the size of antenna recommended is in fact the correct one. So, if your existing reception comes and goes, try moving the antenna higher and left or right a few feet first to see if the DTV signal meter on your tuner suddenly jumps into the good range. If it doesn't help, you may need to consider a larger, stronger antenna to overcome the obstacles of off-air DTV reception.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Last year I mentioned trying out the Blockbuster video on-demand box made by 2Wire, and it turned out to be a failure. No sooner did they finally get the streaming video consistent did a couple major studios drop the new rental library from the Blockbuster On Demand service from this player, although not the Web site service for PCs.

However using the box set on a secure 802.11g wireless connection to a router only one room away and connected to a 5 Mbps cable modem connection, I did notice the Blockbuster VOD box was capable of downloading at 3-4 Mbps bit rates. I was particular over this box because I would be more comfortable with a box that cached the content that I could play offline with little breakup. Ironically, that was not the case, so I was not becoming as skeptical of streaming content over these set top boxes.

So a couple months ago I went ahead and get the Roku digital video player (http://www.roku.com/) which sells for $99 plus shipping and handling, and I think the timing to get it was just right, because it is about to become the game changer in bringing Internet video on demand to the living room. When I purchased it, Netflix, which was the original partner with this device, and Amazon Video on Demand was available, and just this week MLB.TV premium was added, the first live streaming channel on the Roku device. Additionally, several more Roku channels are on the way, following partnerships with Web video podcast aggregator sites Blip.TV and Mediafly.com, which would allow Roku users to finally enjoy original Web series on the TV set. While there are other devices like XBox, Playstation, and networked Blu-Ray players, they are about three times the cost of the Roku player, and the AppleTV box is twice the cost of the Roku.

So, with an affordable device now available and becoming capable of streaming a wide variety of online content, Web video is about to take a significant step forward over the next several months. And, this Roku box works, if you use the right equipment with it. I have my Roku player connected via a standard length HDMI cable to a 32" 720p monitor, and no surround sound equipment. This is the best setup to have with the Roku player, or any other Web video STB, because the top format this player is capable of is 720p HD and two-channel stereo. True home theater enthusiasts may find the Roku quality a bit disappointing if it is connected to a large 1080p HDTV, marketed as "true HD", and surround sound equipment.

Also, for best results, I would recommend a minimum 5 Mbps Internet connection, and preferably 10 Mbps or better. However, I have had solid 720p picture quality on my 5 Mbps connection. Now, an MPEG-2 720p HDTV over the air broadcast is somewhere between 7 and 8 Mbps (1080i being 10-12 Mbps), but the broadcast also includes 5.1 surround sound. So, I believe the Roku 720p HD can work well with a 3-4 Mbps connection since its compression may be more like a more efficient H.264 or MPEG-4 compression, and stereo sound, so not as much bandwidth would be required for the Roku HD stream. Additionally, while I have had success with a fairly close 802.11g wireless connection, if you plan to place this device further from your router, a hard wired connection, if possible, should be used, since computer cables can reject electrical noise and interference that can otherwise cause trouble for digital video transmitted wirelessly.

That said, when I linked my Roku player to my Netflix account, the first thing I streamed was the series premiere of NBC's The Office, which was available in 720p HD. Because I was watching on a 720p monitor, the picture quality looked just about as good as if I was watching the broadcast HDTV on this same monitor. Now I am catching up on some shows I have missed that are available on Netflix's Instant Play, which does have a limited library for now, and to see the new video releases, you would have to rely on the standard Netflix queue with discs by mail, or order them for $1.99 to $4.99 for HD from Amazon on Demand.

One other observation on how the Roku player works - it relies on a buffer play where the content streams in little segments. When the program begins, the player downloads the first segment before the program appears on your TV, which takes just under a minute if the connection is good. While this segment plays from the buffer, the player downloads the next segment, starting when the previous one ends, thus giving the illusion of a continuous stream with a consistent picture quality. The user can also skip these segments as sort of a fast forward or reverse with thumbnails as a visual clue. Once the segment is selected, the segment is downloaded (takes another minute, so patience is a virtue with this device), and the stream continues. Fortunately if I were to stop a program to do something else, like answer a phone call from friends or family, the player does store the segment where you left off, and once you return to the program, you can start right where you left off, or start the show all over again.

The MLB.TV channel that became available this week for Roku works about the same way with archived games, up to one week, as well as live games. A viewer can go back to a point in a live game and watch on a delay, as well as streaming it live, whose 720p HD picture quality, while not spectacular, is still pretty good.

So with these options and original Internet video on the way, the Roku player could become the paradigm shift for TV viewing habits. Right now my video sources are my over the air antenna and my Roku player. If the Roku can add ESPN360, preferably in time for next summer's FIFA World Cup of soccer, that would be all the more reason to stray from paying for cable, satellite, or telco TV, which would make me think that cable providers may need to reconsider their pricing tiers for high speed Internet and digital video to stay profitable or competitive.

I do have one beef with MLB.TV premium - my address is in the Chicago market but right on the Wisconsin border. Apparently the local games that are blacked out from the service are based on the IP address of the provider; well, I think mine must be in Wisconsin because I can get Cubs and White Sox games on MLB.TV Premium, but not the Milwaukee Brewers, strange since I have a cable modem, and my cable provider has Chicago stations and the regional Chicago sports network for my address, and no more Milwaukee stations after the DTV transition. Go figure. That aside though, my Roku is giving me so many options that surfing cable/satellite channels has become a waste of time and money for me since my off air antenna DTV setup is working out just fine after the transition.

UPDATE (8-19-09) - I was able to get around the blackout issue noted above; the trick is to log on to your MLB.com account on a PC sharing a router connection with the Roku player. Then go to the premium TV section and attempt to view the out of market game that is incorrectly blacked out. By completing a secure form that includes giving your credit card number and zip code, confirming a legitimate home address and market, the site would then link the IP with the right home market, and the Roku player would then play the out-of-market games you are entitled to stream live. And of course, if you miss a home game live, you can see it on the Roku on tape delay once the game is archived about 90 minutes after the end of the game.

Monday, July 27, 2009


It has been over six weeks since the USA's full power analog TV broadcasts went dark, and the few left that are simply providing a "nightlight" service are slowly fading away as the "completely unready" household ratio continues to dwindle down.

However, those over the air households that thought they were ready with their converter boxes or new TVs have realized that they did lose some channels even after a rescan of their tuners. There have been reports of a handful of VHF stations now looking to get FCC permission to increase their transmit power as some households, be they just on the fringe of the viewing area or have indoor environments where the signals are not penetrating the buildings, are missing out on their shows after taking heed of all instructions to convert.

Additionally, there are still some DTV stations that have not yet gone to their maximum allotted DTV transmit power simply because they were not quite financially or technically ready to do, but plan to in the next few months.

So, if you have found a couple off-air DTV channels to be breaking up occasionally on a humid or stormy day, I would contact the station and ask if they are broadcasting at full power, and if not yet, then when. If the stations are at full power, then you may want to consider upgrading your antenna to a larger one that can pull in more signal.

Also, be sure to rescan your tuner about once a month as more and more stations are adding multicast channels to their over the air DTV broadcasts. Who knows, you may find yourself hooked on a new channel that you had to shell out a lot per month to get on digital cable.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


If you just found this page looking for information on how to get solid DTV reception over the air, browse through the links in the left frame, some of these posts are from a couple years ago, but have relevant information. I would go back to the earliest post and work your way up.

For those who did receive all their off-the-air DTV channels with a new digital TV or converter box, well, unfortunately you're not quite set yet. After June 12th passes into Saturday, you will need to rescan your tuner as some of the channels have switched to their final FCC approved DTV frequency. Check your owner's manual for details on how to do this. If after rescanning a couple times, if not all your channels are back yet, you may need to adjust or possibly even upgrade your current antenna. If you have used a UHF only antenna for DTV reception, chances are that you will need to go with a VHF/UHF combo to get all your channels back. You may want to contact the antenna manufacturer tech support line although I would be very patient to get through.

There are also some DTV help centers in your area, which could be at your local library or nearest electronics store. Check the newspaper or its Web site, or search "DTV Help Center" and your town to locate one near you for some good face-to-face help. Before you go, visit http://www.antennaweb.org/ or http://www.tvfool.com/ to get the final post-transition channel list for your area, and how strong an antenna you would need to consistently receive all your favorite channels.

Also keep in mind that not all analog channels will cease; you may be able to receive a low-power station; these stations are NOT required to be all digital just yet, only the major full-power stations in the US.


Milwaukee's CBS affiliate WDJT channel 58, owned by Weigel Broadcasting, has two lower power sister stations, channel 63, which was formerly the Telemundo affiliate for Milwaukee, now all digital on 48.4, and WMLW-CA 41. -CA means a "Class A" station, which is not a full power station, and at 9PM has a newscast from CBS 58. While the other major affiliates will have their news be available only on their all-digital broadcasts, CBS 58 is use their low power stations to continue broadcasting to the about 2% of market households, allowing them to continue to get local news and information on the DTV transition.

This is a marketing tool as clever as cable providers offering limited time low-cost basic cable services to help those who waited too long for the all-digital switch. Using their legal low-power broadcasts may hook new regular viewers.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


With about six weeks left to the June 12th deadline for broadcasters to power down their full power over the air analog broadcasts, here are a few updates:

  • Several stations went ahead with an early shutdown in April; any stations that didn't will do so in June. One station in Chicago, WYCC, a public TV station owned by the city colleges of Chicago, shut down its analog signal on April 16th. Where I live in northern Illinois, I saw static on analog channel 20, a good DTV signal on 20-1 (HD), -2 (SD simulcast), and -3 (MHz Worldview with international news and entertainment).
  • Local stations and the NAB spots are reminding viewers to rescan their DTV off-air tuners after June 12th, the reason being that some stations will be changing their DTV frequency to their final FCC approved frequency.
  • I recently saw a scroll on WLS ABC-7 in Chicago informing viewers that they will shut their analog broadcast down at noon Chicago time on June 12th and because they will revert to their channel 7 VHF signal as their final DTV signal, that over the air viewers will require a good VHF/UHF antenna to get all the channels, which is the way it has to be.
  • Speaking of the right VHF/UHF antennas, there is a good article on indoor antennas recommended for VHF DTV reception by RF expert Doug Lung at this link to the TV Technology magazine Web site: http://www.tvtechnology.com/article/79862. I highly recommend reading this if your old fashioned rabbit ears are not cutting it for receiving digital broadcasts after getting your converter box or new digital TV.
  • Back to ABC7 Chicago - ABC owned and operated stations have started a new DTV sub channel, LiveWell HD, a lifestyle channel which loops six half-hour shows. They are presented in 720p HD, although the quality of this channel is average compared to the primary ABC HD channel. According to a Wikipedia entry for one LiveWell affiliate, the primary ABC HD streams at 10 Mbps in 720p, LivWell at 5 Mbps in 720p, and a weather/news channel in 480i standard definition in 480i. As a comparison, some Internet HD videos are in 720p, and download speeds of 7 to 8 Mbps are recommended. Simply put, the slower the bit rate, the less the picture quality. This multicast channel is available in limited markets - you can get information on this channel at http://www.livewellhd.com/.
  • As of May 1st, Nielsen reports that about 3.5 million of the over 100 million U.S. households are considered completely unready for the June 12th analog shutoff, which, at 3.1%, is a significant reduction of the percentage of households unready back at the start of 2009. The two significant markets least prepared are Santa Fe, NM (8.77% of households unprepared) and Dallas-Fort Worth TX (6.62% of households unprepared). While the improvement, coming after the DTV coupons become more available as part of the recent stimulus package, justified the deadline delay from February 17 to June 12, I would not expect another delay.
  • This time of year would be a good time to check the antenna connected to the DTV box as rainy and unstable air this time of year reduces the amount of signal reaching your antenna. On clear days with high barometric pressure, the signals come in much stronger than days with low barometric pressure with heavy rain and wind. So if you are witnessing this, feel free to browse around the archives with tips on improving your off-air DTV reception.