Aereo Survival Guide

I wish I could send an email to the 500,000 Aereo customers who lost service last week.  Hopefully, some will find this post.  I have been asked by many of these refugees for a dummies guide for transitioning from Aereo to an antenna.  Here it is.

  1. Run  TVFool report for your address.  This report will tell you what channels you can expect to receive, what type of antenna is required, and where the broadcasters are relative to your home.
  2. Visit  Use the local broadcast guide for your market to see what is on each VIRTUAL channel on your TVFool report.
  3. Make a list!  Make a list of the channels on your TVFool report that you would like to receive.  Include the REAL channel, the VIRTUAL channel, the PATH, the DISTANCE, and the MAGNETIC AZIMUTH.  Sort the list by VHF vs UHF (VHF stations have REAL channels from 2-13 and UHF is the channels from 14 on), then by MAGNETIC AZIMUTH.

Now you have a realist prediction of channels you can receive via an antenna.  If the list is insufficient for your needs, you probably should go back to cable or satellite.  If you like the list, it’s time to  consider installation and operation options

Scenario 1: all broadcasters you want to receive are green on your TVFool report.  You should be able to get by with a set top or window mount antenna.  I would start with a RadioShack model 1501874 simply because it is inexpensive ($15), can be purchased and returned locally, supports vhf and uhf reception, and is easy to position/reposition.

Scenario 2: some stations are yellow or red on your TVFool report.  It’s just one channel or a group of broadcasters in the same general direction from your home.  You can probably put an antenna in your attic and aim it at the ‘weak spot’ to make things work.  A very directional UHF antenna like the 91XG will provide excellent gain at fringe ranges.  The 91XG will pull in high VHF channels which are strong, but, if you have low VHF or marginal VHF stations you may want to couple a VHF antenna.

Scenario 3: stations that are in yellow or red which are not clustered close together.  Depending on how far away and how far apart the broadcasters are, you might be able to pull everything in with a broad beam antenna like the HDDB8X.  In parallel, it’s two arrays provide up to 23 db gain.  Each panel can be aimed separately reducing overall gain while widening the beam or aiming in two directions.  If this is not sufficient, a directional antenna can be put on a rotor and pointed at whatever individual station you want to watch.  This creates problems when you have multiple televisions or DVRs usng the signal.  Some people use multiple antennas switched at the television set.  I pull in an individual station with a separate antenna which is connected to a Simple DVR.

Choosing a location.  The best place for an antenna is not necessarily on the TV, behind a picture on the wall, or wherever the Comcast cable pops out of the side of the house.  Conventional wisdom says to put the antenna at the highest place with an unobstructed view or the horizon facing your broadcasters.  Reality, due to matters of cost, convenience, and magic, might dictate an alternate location.

I prefer the attic to the roof.  While you will experience some signal attenuation through the roof and walls, you will not need to ground your installation and your hardware will be protected from the elements.  An antenna in the attic is much easier to service than one on the roof.  If you decide to install your antenna outside, be sure to do it safely.  Wherever you install the antenna, experiment.  Professionals ‘walk the roof’ to find the spot with the best reception.  I had my attic antenna mounted on a hospital pole and wheeled it around until I got the best reception.  A music stand works well too.

Note that you have not yet spent a dollar.  It’s important to minimize investment until you are committed.  Your decision to move forward or go back should not be based on avoiding sunk costs.

Now we have to spend a little money.  You need to buy an antenna and a commercially terminated RG6 coaxial cable long enough to reach from the furthest possible antenna installation point to a television — preferably with some kind of signal strength meter — plus hardware to temporarily mount the antenna.

Mount the antenna and run a cable from the antenna to a television.  Scan for channels and see what you get.  If you are not satisfied, move the antenna to another location.  If you can not get a satisfactory signal, add an amplified at the antenna.  I like the RCA TVPRAMP1R  because it lets you couple a separate VHF antenna.  Once you get the antenna pointed, you will want to run that cable to a central point in your home for distribution to your televisions.  I use the EDA2400.

Add a DVR!  Aereo’s service included a basic DVR and a program guide.  The broadcast TV signal stream includes data to create a guide, but most televisions have no provision to craft a nice guide from the data.  TiVo makes a great DVR which includes a really nice guide and scheduling interface.

A lot of people are going to be very happy to buy a TiVo Premier, pay for the lifetime service, and watch television. A two tuner Premier with 75 hours of storage will set you back $550. If you want to share the two tuners with another room, you can buy a Tivo Mini ($250 with lifetime) and if you want to watch your Tivo away from home, you can add a Tivo Stream for $130. So, living room, bedroom, remote use, with 75 hours of storage for $930.  Alternatively, one could purchase a pair of Simple DVRs ($185), a pair of usb disks ($200), and two Roku 1′s ($100) for $485. This would give you two tuners, 800 hours of storage, remote access, plus thousands of streaming media channels for 1/2 the cost of a basic TiVo installation.  For the $930 you did not spend on a TiVo, you could purchase four Simple DVRs, four Rokus, a Channel Master DVR+ for the living room, and two years subscription to Netflix.

In any case, your DVR will surpass Aereo’s.


By Len Mullen Posted in OTA, Tip