On the Roof

Before You Buy an Antenna

Go to TitanTV.com, add broadcast for your market and review the listings.  See what’s on when you watch TV.  Record the channels that you are interested in watching.  Visit TVFool.com to see how many of these channels are likely to be picked up by an antenna at your location.  Click the link that lets you check your address and run a report.  Run the report for your location at different elevations to determine the impact of attic, roof, or mast mounting.  Your report will resemble this (click to enlarge)…

TVFool Report

The chart in the upper right corner lists stations you can expect to receive in descending order of signal strength.  Each entry is color coded to indicate suggested antenna type.  The chart lists the direction and distance to the broadcaster from your location.  This information is plotted on the polar graph in the upper left corner.  At the bottom, another chart breaks out VHF vs UHF with signal strength.  Print out TWO copies of the polar chart.  One is for VHF and the other is for UHF.   We want to look at VHF separately because it’s trivial to combine VHF and UHF signals on a single coax, so it’s practical to point two antennas in two directions.   Mark your targeted stations with a highlighter that matches the color coding of the strength chart.  Now you have enough information to choose an antenna.

Choosing an Antenna

When people are discussing broadcast reception, the distance between the receiving equipment (your antenna) and the transmitting equipment (the TV station) is critical.  Use these area designations to discuss this proximity — especially when searching for help on the internet.  Area Designation For VHF/UHF…

  • Deepest Fringe 100+ miles/60+ miles
  • Deep Fringe 100 miles/60 miles
  • Fringe 80 miles/45 miles
  • Near Fringe 60 miles/40 miles
  • Far Suburban 50 miles/35 miles
  • Suburban 45 miles/30 miles
  • Far Metropolitan 30 miles/25 miles
  • Metropolitan 25 miles/15 miles

CEA-certified Antenna Mark for Outdoor Antennas…

Antenna color codes are broken into six different zones. These  zones identify the different types of antennas that are required for a consumer to receive optimal reception. Typically, the closer consumers live to the signal tower, the better reception they will receive. They may also be able to use an indoor antenna versus an outdoor. The farther away a consumer lives, the opposite is true. However, there are many variables that impact exactly which antenna a consumer will need.

Small Multi-directional
DESCRIPTION
The smallest of TV antennas, they receive equally well from all directions.
APPEARANCE Good looking designs including novel shaped disk and patch antennas, and antennas that attach to satellite systems.
USE This is where signal strength is highest and away from reflecting structures or low areas.
COLOR CODE Yellow
Medium Multi-directional
DESCRIPTION
Somewhat larger and slightly more powerful
APPEARANCE These antennas include novel stick, wing shaped or disk antennas with long elements.
USE An amplified antenna is recommended in the green area anytime a long (20 feet or more) cable run from the antenna is required, or when more than one device (TV or VCR) is to be used with an antenna. They work best away from reflecting structures or low areas.
COLOR CODE Green
Large Multi-directional
DESCRIPTION
Bigger in size, these antennas receive more signal power. Better for greater distances from signal source and areas with low signal strength.
APPEARANCE Styles include element antennas. These antennas can be used to reject simple ghost situations.
USE When mounted at rooftop heights (30 feet or higher) outdoors, amplified antennas can be used in light green color code areas away from reflecting structures or low areas
COLOR CODE Light Green
Small Directional
DESCRIPTION Antennas that act like large multidirectional on channels 2-6 but on higher channels these antennas start to have useful ghost reducing effects. Picture quality is excellent when no signal reflecting structures are around.
APPEARANCE Multi-element rooftop antennas.
USE Suitable for far edge of light green color code areas. Amplified antennas with rooftop mounting can be used in these areas if the area is free of signal reflecting structures and is not in a low area.
COLOR CODE Light Green
Medium Directional
DESCRIPTION Most popular rooftop antenna because of its modest size and ghost reducing characteristics.
APPEARANCE Multi-element rooftop antennas.
USE If there are ghost producing reflective structures near TV receiver antenna location, this kind of antenna is best for yellow, green, light green and red color code areas. Amplified antennas with rooftop mounting can be used with the blue color code.
COLOR CODES
Yellow
Green
Light Green
Red
Blue
Large Directional
DESCRIPTION Large antennas used in weak signal areas for maximum possible TV reception.
APPEARANCE Multi-element rooftop antennas.
USE Can be used in any color code area, but requires an amplifier and roof mounting for blue and violet color codes. Amplifiers are not recommended for yellow color codes.
COLOR CODES
Green
Light Green
Red
Blue – with amplifier
Violet – with amplifier

Reviews and Recommendations

Antenna Hacks compares popular antennas.  If their data is overwhelming, scroll down to the bottom for a conclusion.  Most important information is this…

Nothing here should be interpreted as attempting to represent antenna “performance”; the only parameter being compared here is received signal level, a function of an antenna’s sensitivity, or gain.  In practice there are numerous other factors that affect performance; height above ground, reflections that can cause multipath, the quality (and thus loss) of downlead cable, poor house distribution, splitters, amplifier quality, installation anomolies, and so on.

Still, I share their love for the 91XG.  AntennaPoint will tell you where, at what frequency, how far, and how powerful local stations are. Bounce this off the Antenna Hacks graphs to see how well you might receive a particular channel.  Antennas Direct has an antenna selection help page that includes live chat help.  Solid Signal will help you choose an antenna.  They have a support phone line as well.  Hidef forums are a good place to discuss and research antennas.

Bottom Line

While these categorizations can help you decide what antenna might work for you, the reality is that your mileage may vary due to location, installation, stations, and, well, the weather.  I was pretty happy with my DB8, but the 91XG plus a Y5-7-13 works better in my attic.  On the roof or in my neighbor’s attic, there may be better options.  Walmart and Radioshack carry antennas and will let you return an antenna if you are unhappy.  Whether in the attic or on the roof, be careful.  Here is a guide for professionals.

Location is Everything

When I was trying to locate the optimum mounting position for my antenna, I put it on the floor.  My kid yells up, “That’s much better, dad!”  Lesson learned.  Instead of trying to calculate the best position and orientation, I mounted the antenna on a piece of mast secured to a piece of plywood.  Using this, I was able to easily raise and lower the antenna while moving it around my attic.  My spotter was in an adjacent room watching signal levels and picture quality for our ‘key’ channels.

You can use a signal meter to do this, but signal strength is not the same as signal quality.  A pair of cell phones and a friend in the living room or a portable television at the installation location will give you a much better feel for signal quality — and a good picture is what we are looking for.

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