Pointing An Antenna

Most people point their antenna by trial and error — using a compass then fine tuning by judging picture quality or watching a signal strength meter on a TV or DVR.  Some people invest in a signal strength meter.  I have a better way.

I use a Silicon Dust HD Homerun to point my antennas.  The HD Homerun has many advantages over much more expensive signal strength meters including…

  • inexpensive
  • easy to use
  • simultaneously monitoring two stations
  • dual use
  • better information

An HD Homerun is a dual tuner device that streams your antenna signal on your LAN.  The least expensive OTA HDHR available at this time is the HDHR Dual which retails for $129.99 and is currently selling for $79 on Amazon.com.

It’s very easy to use…

  1. Attach the HDHR to you LAN and antenna
  2. Install and run the HDHR app
  3. Open two instances of the HDHR Config Tool
    • Set each to a channel you want to analyze
  4. Adjust the antenna to achieve the highest possible Symbol Quality

Notice I said Symbol Quality.  The HDHR app reports signal strength, signal quality, and symbol quality.  Per Silicon Dust…

  • Signal Strength (ss) is the raw power level as measured by the receiver
  • Signal Quality (snq) is how clearly defined the digital data is
  • Symbol Quality (seq) is the amount of correct or corrected data over the last second

A less technical explanation where the concepts are explained in terms of the experience of listening to a radio…

  • Signal Strength represents the volume
  • Signal Quality represents how clearly you can hear the lyrics
  • Symbol Quality indicates the percentage of the lyrics you could hear or guess correctly

Signal Strength is somewhat irrelevant; if your antenna isn’t pointed properly, it doesn’t matter how loud you turn up the volume, the static will prevent you from hearing the lyrics correctly. Similarly, amplifying a weak HDTV signal can result in a high signal strength but too much noise to decode the digital data correctly.

Use the Signal Strength for a rough idea of direction, but align the antenna for the highest Symbol Quality, ignoring Signal Strength.

Let’s take a look at a real life example…

hdhrus

Here I show my TVFool report next to two instances of the HDHR Config Utility.  As I adjust the antenna to pull in WMUR, I can easily see the impact of the change on WBZ.

Once you have your antenna pointed, the HDHR is a great tool for understanding performance issues.  When I am having a bad reception day, I pop up the Config Utility to see what is going on.

Finally, the HDTV was not designed as an antenna pointer.  You can use it to watch broadcast television via a number of apps and servers.  To sum things up, everyone should have an HDHR on their network!

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By Len Mullen Posted in OTA, Tip

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 TitanTV.com.  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

FCC Form 2000E

Broadcasters are required to maintain PSIP guide information including time and program name.  If a broadcaster is cheating by simply sending ‘DTV Programming’ or something similar, they are breaking the law.  When you notice a problem, it is polite to report the problem to the station, but you can report the problem directly to the FCC using FCC Form 2000E

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Complaints
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

  • by telephone

1-888-CALL-FCC or
1-888-TELL-FCC (TTY)

By Len Mullen Posted in OTA, Tip

Simple TV for Dummies

After playing with the Simple TV DVR for a couple months, I have a couple tips to share.

  1. Simple TV DVR Disk List (disks I have tested)
  2. simple-tv-api (script to copy files from USB disk to MP4)
  3. STV Download GUI (utility to copy files from disk USB to MP4)
  4. A new blog for you!

Here is a link to my Simple TV DVR review and a link to the Simple TV DVR user forums.

By Len Mullen Posted in OTA, Tip

Mailbag: 11/16/2013

The email address for this blog is thebeersoncomcast@gmail.com.  If you found the blog, but no answer, feel free to drop me a line.  Here are some responses to visitors’ questions…

Q: Can I attach an antenna to a Roku?

A: No.  Not yet at least.  Audiovox is supposed to release an antenna with a Roku Stick this quarter, but there has been no buzz about this since January.  I like the Simple.TV whole house DVR for this.  It has a single tuner that can be used by the DVR or up to five televisions tuned to watch a single channel of programming.  You can add as many DVRs as you like.  The new v2 DVRs are made by SiliconDust and include two tuners in the box.

Q: Can I get continuous programming on my Roku?

A: Yes.  Sort of.  The B/W channel is true Linear Programming.  Linear Programming means that someone plans 24 hours worth of programming and you watch whatever is on when you tune  in the channel.  If you just want to have something play continuously, there are a lot of channels that let you ‘Play all’ clips.

Q: Can I get Live TV without cable/satellite?

A: Sure.  Visit TVFool.com to see what channels you can expect to receive with an antenna and visit TitanTV.com to see what is on those channels.  No reception in your location?  Check out Aereo and Skitter.

Q: Is it illegal to ‘format shift’ DVDs I have purchased and stream them from a media server in my home.

A: Maybe.  I am not a lawyer.  You can read about Fair Use here.  The Copyright Office of the US concedes that, “The doctrine of fair use has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years,” and that, “[the] distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined.”  Even as I key this, courts are conflicted as to what Fair Use is.  If you are making your digital copies available to others, then you are probably going to have a problem.  If you download digital copies made available by others, you are probably going to have a problem.  If you are making copies of copyrighted materials you legally purchased and are taking reasonable measures to prevent others from using the copies illegally, you are probably not on anyone’s radar, because you are not “[diminishing] the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.”  That said, you are on your own if the courts disagree.

Q: Is PlayOn/PlayLater legal?

A: No one is suing MediaMall.  Just the same, whether you are using a Roku, Plex, or PlayOn, beware of third party scripts.  It’s almost never OK to download copyrighted materials without compensating the copyright holder.

Q: Is there a YouTube channel for Roku?

A: Yes.  Quite a few.  What’s On (enter asecret as your zip code and restart to reveal YT content); VideoBuzz (must be side-loaded); Plex and PlayOn both have Roku channels that include YouTube scripts.

Q: What’s the best DVR for cable cutters?

A: Tivo — if money is no object.  Simple.TV is a whole house DVR that is smart like Tivo but less capable and less expensive.  SiliconDust and Simple are collaborating on a two tuner Simple.TV DVR.  If you just want to record shows off the air and pause/rewind/fast forward televisions, it’s tough to beat EchoStar’s DTVPal.  The DTVPal is out of production, but EchoStar and ChannelMaster are working on a new DVR that combines OTA recording with OTT features.  If you want to record web videos and Netflix streamed programming, check out PlayOn/PlayLater by MediaMall.

Mast-er of My Domain

Earlier this summer, I learned that GETTV was coming to Boston.  Unfortunately, the transmitter was not within the reach of my attic-installed 91XG, so I decided to move the antenna outside.

Project objectives…

  1. improve reception
    • ION
    • GETTV
  2. minimize exposure to heights
  3. minimize cost

First stop was TVFool.com.  I ran my location report repeatedly increasing the antenna height.  From this exercise, I learned that there was no reasonable height above my roof that would dramatically improve reception.  I decided that the height of the antenna would only be sufficient to clear the roof line.

I studied telescoping and hinged masts as well as guyed and bracket installations before deciding to go with a bracketed 1.75″ aluminum mast on a hinged/swiveling stake.  The mast consisted of four foot, ribbed sections.  Each section of the mast weighed two pounds and was designed to insert onto another.  The overlap was four inches and reinforced.  This made the mast rigid, but light.  Comprised of eight sections, the mast extended nine feet above my roof and weighed less than 20 pounds.  I could stand it up an lay it down without assistance.  I installed a sheet metal screw at each joint to prevent the sections from rotating.

Unfortunately hoisting the mast with eleven pounds of antenna at on end proved to be challenging.  In the end, I installed a pair of screw eyes near my roof line and pulled the top third of the mast into place.  Now it took two people to raise and lower the mast safely, but strength and skill mattered little even with antennas, amp, grounding wire, and coax installed.

Bracketing the mast was not as easy as I expected.  I had difficulty locating 1.75″ mounting hardware.  I ended up modifying the brackets that attach the mast to the house and the hardware that holds the Y10-7-13 to the mast.

I use the guy wires that pull the mast into place to hold it in the brackets, so the mast can be lowered to the ground for service.  I spent less than $250 for the mast, brackets, a grounding rod, and other hardware (grounding wire and guy wire would have cost another $100).  Most importantly, ION and GETTV are rock solid.

By Len Mullen Posted in OTA, Tip

Tip: Tabcasting Playon

Just a quick for Chromecast owners who run a Playon server.  Google and Playon have sent out a LOT of updates in July and August.  Along the way, http://m.playon.tv in a Chrome tab stopped working properly.  This post provides two workarounds.

The Problem:  When you open http://m.playon.tv in a Chrome tab, the user interface populates with your channels, but clicking a channel does nothing.

Playon’s Response:  You are trying to do something that is unsupported…

Alex Webster (PlayOn Support)
Sep 01 10:39 (EDT)

Len,

PlayOn is not meant to be browsed from a web browser. We do know that Chrome at one point did work, but they have since updated their web browser and it no longer works the same. However, if you use your arrow keys and enter button you can still browse through your server via m.playon.tv in your web browser. The issue is just that it will no longer pick up mouse clicks.

Kind regards,

Alex
PlayOn Support
http://www.playon.tv

Workaround #1:  Use your keyboard.  All that is broken is mouse support, so use the cursor keys to navigate the screen and the enter key to simulate a click.  Once the video is loaded in the Chrome tab, you still need to click the Play control.  This is the only workaround I have tried.

Workaround #2:  Rollback.  I don’t know if this will work, but I was headed down this path before learning that keyboard navigation still functioned.  I’m only posting the information here because it took me a little time to figure things out.  It looks like Google deployed a new flash player which broke the Playon page.  If you only use Chrome for Playon, you may want to try to roll back to an earlier version and prevent updates.

While this seems easy, Google does not archive old revisions in a public place, by default enables automatic updates, and re-enables auto-updates when you open help.  So, you need to locate an older version, uninstall the current version completely, install the older version, disable updates, and re-disable updates everytime you use Chrome help.

Q: Can I roll back Google Chrome to a previous version?
A: No – rollback is not supported.
To get to a previous version (which would not be supported by Google), you would need to uninstall your current version, delete every user’s saved profile data, and re-install the older version. Users’ personal profile data is kept in:

On Windows XP: C:\Documents and Settings\\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Chrome\User Data
On Windows Vista / 7: C:\Users\\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\User Data

This means users will lose their bookmarks, history, etc., so use this method with extreme caution.

Google does not provide access to older versions of chrome, but you can find them here…

http://www.oldapps.com/google_chrome.php

Here are two methods for turning off autoupdates…

VideoBuzz: Open and Easy!

The popular banned Roku channel is now open source and it’s developers have automated the installation process.  Enjoy!

http://utmostsolutions.github.io/myvideobuzz/

What is VideoBuzz?  VideoBuzz is an opensource roku channel that plays videos from popular Internet video sites.

Why Would I Want Another Roku Video Channel?  VideoBuzz is a very well written Roku channel that provides easy access to YouTube including subscriptions and search.  Roku provides no official access to YouTube and has ‘officially’ banned private YouTube channels.  While Roku ‘insiders’ have access to YouTube via SECRET features of sanctioned channels, none compare in quality to VideoBuzz.

How Do I Install VideoBuzz?  Roku allows developers to install a single channel directly on their Roku.  This ‘side-loaded’ channel is not subject to Roku oversight.  VideoBuzz is a ‘side-loaded’ channel.  The developers have created a script that automates this process for you.  You can use this script or manually put your Roku in developer mode and side-load the channel yourself.

If you are interested in developing Roku channels, VideoBuzz makes an excellent template.  The developers have made the source and scripts available for analysis and modification.

Chromecast, Aereo Rescue CBS Fans

Unable to reach a contractual agreement by their Friday, 5 p.m. deadline, Time Warner Cable dropped the No. 1 primetime network in New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas and several other markets.

USA Today is reporting that a contract dispute has left TWC customers in eight markets without CBS programming.  This includes six of Nielsen’s top ten programs and, potentially, NFL Football.  The affected markets are… Continue reading

Solved: Youtube on Roku (Updated 8/8/2013)

VideoBuzz is now opensource and can be installed using a script.  More here.

YouTube is a popular channel on OTT streamers.  Roku has never officially supported a YouTube channel, but there are a number of private channels that support it.  One of these has been removed.  The VideoBuzz channel has been ‘voluntarily’ removed from the list of Roku channels.  VideoBuzz was unique among Roku YouTube channels in that it was simple to install, easy to use, and worked.

Why did Roku VideoBuzz Roku pull the channel?  No one knows.  Roku won’t say, but the mods and VCMs on http://forums.roku.com claim that there was an IP issue…

There’s been a fair bit of speculation about VideoBuzz and the reason it is being deactivated. I want to take a moment to elaborate:

Every developer agrees to abide by the terms of the Roku developer agreement when creating a developer account. Among the requirements in the agreement, we require that every channel publisher must have the appropriate rights or permission to distribute the content within their channel through Roku. Other requirements include written authorization is required for channels with international or foreign language content. Channels that violate the developer agreement are subject to deactivation, though typically we do give them a chance to come back into compliance (or prove they are not violating it) before acting on it — we do realize that it can be a complicated world when it comes to rights for content. Sometimes we’re made aware of channels through formal notices (e.g. DMCA takedown notices or cease and desist notices) and other times we are notified more informally. Since we respect all content owners’ rights, we have to take each notification seriously and explore it for violation. Regarding VideoBuzz specifically, we don’t believe that today a Roku channel can stream from YouTube without violating YouTube’s terms of service (at least specifically section II paragraph 14 of the YouTube Developer TOS).

That’s not really true.  It can’t be.  The mods and VCMs have been promoting the use of Plex as an alternative…

Plex on Roku, out of the box, won’t receive YouTube. If the user modifies the setup to enable it, neither Plex nor Roku is at fault. They took deliberate steps to prevent YouTube on Roku through Plex, and the user subsequently took deliberate steps to enable it.

Playon also streams YouTube to a Roku (right out of the box without the user deliberately doing anything except installing server and channel) — despite the fact that mention of the channel can get you banned from the forums.

There is the issue, here is the solution…

Continue reading