DIY HDTV Antenna

The good – It’s cheap & it worksdiy_antenna_sm

The bad – Limited applications

The ugly – It’s not the prettiest thing

 

First of all, let me state right up front that there is no such thing as a digital or HD antenna. An antenna is an antenna, and there is nothing special about receiving a digital or HD TV signal, compared to an analog or non-HD TV signal. Now that I’ve debunked that myth…

An HDTV for under $300?
I purchased a Samsung T240HD LCD HDTV/monitor this week. Yes, it’s a full 1080p HDTV, complete with over-the-air and cable TV tuners. It’s also a widescreen computer monitor. For $300 I couldn’t pass it up.

HDTV Service Options

Our main TV service provider is DirecTV. We also have basic cable TV service, as a backup— DirecTV’s satellite signal doesn’t transmit well through heavy rain. We don’t pay for HD service on either of these, since we don’t have an HDTV—well, we didn’t until the Samsung arrived. So I had no way to test the HDTV capabilities of the new Samsung T240HD.

Upgrading DirecTV to HD would require replacement of not only our receiver, but also our satellite dish. That’s something we figure we’ll do in the future, but not right now. We’re not about to pay cable TV for HD service. I figured I could easily pick up HDTV broadcasts from our local stations using an antenna.

A Good Old Tried-and-True Antenna
Back in the mid 1960s through the early 1970s, my Dad and I used to design and install radio and TV antenna systems, antenna towers and rotors, and whole-house antenna wiring systems. That was until cable TV came to our small town, and nearly everyone switched to cable TV. But cable TV’s prices have ballooned past the point of “a fair price for a good service,” IMO. So I’ve been wanting to eliminate cable TV completely, by picking up local stations with an antenna. Now I have double the incentive to do so.

I found the HDTV Antenna Labs website, which is about selecting antennas to pick up over-the-air HDTV broadcasts. They had a link to the AntennaWeb website that listed local and nearby TV stations, based on your address. I also found the TV Fool website, which provided a more complete list of area stations. Information was provided on each of these stations, including how easy or difficult it might be to pick them up using specific types of antennas. Using the information from these three websites, I researched various makes and models of TV antennas on the Internet. I knew from past experience that indoor antennas are basically a waste of money, and various user reports on the Internet confirmed this. I also did a search for DIY antennas.

A DIY Antenna?
Based on my past experience installing antennas, I know that antennas basically are very simple devices. They are constructed of thin-wall aluminum tubes, or medium-to-heavy gauge wire, or both. The “science” is all in the design and application. So building a good-performing DIY antenna shouldn’t be difficult, as long I found a good design that would be appropriate for my application.

I found several DIY antenna designs, ranging from elaborate to simple (and cheap). I found one that would be VERY cheap to build— it used coat hangers as the antenna elements, a small wooden board as the base, and screws and washers to hold it all together. The actual design looked solid, and I thought that it should be able to pick up most of the local stations, even if it was placed inside the house.

Building The Antenna
I already had all the parts and tools required to build the antenna, except for the screws and washers. Those were picked up for a few dollars at Lowes. Building the antenna was really pretty simple. Cut the coat hangers to the proper lengths, bend them to the correct shapes, attach them to the wooden board, and terminate the antenna with a 300-to-75 ohm transformer. Quick and easy work.

Since this first antenna was just for experimentation purposes, I wasn’t worried about how pretty it looked. I was only concerned with how well it would function, or if it would work at all. Click here to see my finished antenna.

Putting It To The Test
I hooked up my DIY antenna to my Samsung HDTV, using a 5 foot 75 ohm coax cable. Obviously, the antenna was located inside the house, right beside the TV. With antenna attached, the Samsung HDTV located and picked up 18 digital stations, including several in HD, and 3 low-power analog stations. I didn’t even have to tinker with the placement of the antenna—I just leaned it against a door. Impressive! Click here to see a photo of the on-screen listing of the channels.

All of the digital broadcasts were very sharp and clear, with no ghosting or other artifacts. The HD broadcasts were simply stunning. This is with the TV right out-of-the-box, with no adjustments for color, brightness, contrast, etc. Click here to see a photo of one of the HD broadcasts. Then click here to see a close up of the station and program info. Yep, that’s a full 1080p HD broadcast. This good an image with a $300 HDTV and a DIY antenna!? I’m impressed.

Next, I hooked the antenna up to our main TV in the living room. It’s a regular old(er) analog tube Mitsubishi, non-HD, 4:3 aspect ratio (not widescreen). Since it has an analog TV tuner, I had to use a digital TV converter, which provides the digital tuner. It located the same TV stations as when hooked up to the Samsung HDTV, except the HD broadcasts were just “regular” 4:3 images, not HD. Once again, I didn’t tinker with the antenna placement—I just leaned it against the wall. The image was much better than the same channels through our cable service!

I then moved the antenna and the Samsung HDTV to the basement, to test the antenna’s reception performance below grade. Placement proved to be a little more critical in the basement. But after the 4th location, I picked up the same stations as before, when I was upstairs.

A Success!
The DIY antenna experiment was a total success. I was able to pick up all the local stations that I had expected. I even picked up a station that is 24 miles away, which surprised me. However, there are 3 stations that are 30 miles away, and one that’s 44 miles away, that I’d like to receive. That will require an outdoor antenna, either another, more elaborate, DIY design, or a commercial product.

The best part is that I’ve proven that I can happily dump the cable TV service, and its overly-expensive monthly bill, even if I use this first-generation DIY coat hanger antenna. Any money that I might spend on a better DIY or commercial antenna will amount to about 3-to-5 of our basic monthly cable bills. A worthwhile trade-off, IMO. And the signal quality will be better than cable. What’s not to like?

…jf…

2 Responses to “DIY HDTV Antenna”

  1. Starting From Scratch:The Digital Hdtv Receiver | Give Up too Fast! Says:

    [...] DIY HDTV Antenna | The good, the bad, and the ugly [...]

  2. Sharon Says:

    Thanks for sharing all the aspects of DIY HDTV Antenna, great informative post.