HDMI Switchers and Cables – Internet TV Options

April 11, 2014

 After starting the series on disconnecting from cable TV “Cutting the Cord” , I realized it was a never-ending story. There are so many branches to the story, I decided to just consider it another category and write about it anytime I felt like it.. Granted, this is a little outside of the “prime objective” (Protecting Your Home Through Preventative Maintenance), but what the heck… its my site and I get lots of hits on Internet TV Options :).

The HDMI connector on the rear of your TV is currently the best way to get the highest quality reception from the source (DVD, DVR, Cable Box) to the TV screen. The quality of reception is no better than the cable that carries it. Typically TV’s have 2 maybe 3 HDMI connections. Optimally, for peak performance having a cable from each device to the TV will provide the best performance. However, for many people (me) it might not be practical, especially if your equipment is located in another room (like me). For this reason the best solution may be one good cable and a HDMI splitter (aka switch). By adding this device near your equipment you can connect all the source equipment using short cables, then you only require one cable between the TV and the HDMI splitter.

How do I choose a HDMI splitter? You can spend as little as  10 bucks to as much as several hundred. I looked throughout the  available devices and found the Monoprice products to be moderately priced and include the necessary features. Whether you go with Monoprice or not, here are the important features to include within your selection process.

  • Number of ports: Select a device with at least one maybe two or more ports than you need. For only a couple of bucks extra, you can accommodate a future game console or DVR. I would suggest a splitter with at least 4 ports.
  • LED indicators: A power-on lamp as well as a source indicator
  • IR Remote: If you equipment is located in another room, remotely switching from one source to another will be important. Granted, you now have ANOTHER remote to keep up with. Make sure and read my recent article on remotes.
  • HDMI Compliance: Make sure the device you purchase meets the current HDMI standards known as “HDMI 1.3a”. This is an industry standard rating that defines a level of performance. The features associated with HDMI 1.3 or better will provide higher speed and deeper color. It will also support 1080P. If a 3D TV is in your future, change that to HDMI 1.4.
  • Supports 1080P:  This will ensure, the device will not limit the broadcast ability of the source equipment. Devices compliant with HDMI 1.0 or better will cover this item.

What do I pick for an HDMI cable? There are lots of choices. It can be very easy to get caught up in the hype of all the flim flam marketing mumbo jumbo.. Most retailers jack the prices of most interconnect cables to recoup the lousy margin they had to take of the DVR they just sold you. (See PM cable comparison)  So if you can wait a couple of days, just buy it over the internet.. You will save BOO KOOS of money, especially if you have to buy a long one (like me). Many times, too much information just helps in making the decision difficult. (Some times when I try to explain some techy things to my wife, she reminds me that she really just wants to know what  time it is, and not how to know how to build a watch.) The basics are important: Larger wire size for longer distances. The smaller the number = bigger wire size. Here is the simple rules.

  • The lower the number, the larger the wire size (20 gauge (ga.) wire is larger than 26 ga.)
  • Use the shortest cable length between the connection points, don’t buy extra long ones and just coil them up.
  • Cable lengths of 15 feet or less = 24 ga
  • Cable lengths of 20 feet or less = 22 ga
  • Cable lengths of 45 feet or less = 22 ga (cable lengths over 45 feet will require an amplifier to provide you a quality signal).
  • Meets HDMI Standards 1.4
  • If you plan to run the cables through the walls, technically they should meet UL Class 2  to meet the fire rating.

As for a cable source,  I have used both Monoprice and Cablestogo with positive results. If you need a booster for lengths over 45 feet, look at Monoprice as well.

Good luck, BOB

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Cutting the Cord Part IV:II Seamless Intergration

August 28, 2011

As a refresher;  this is my trek to recreate a non cable, alternative TV solution to replace the $100 a month cable habit. Admittedly, I take a bit longer than your average media reviewer to make a decision or evaluate something.  As I mentioned back in Part IV.I, one of the hooks with the Cable TV option is the (relatively)  seamless use of cable box provided remote control and access to programing. As mentioned, the solution I have been creating is a bit more complex. To achieve a similar viewing experience, you need an antenna, an internet connection, a separate DVR, and maybe a DVD player.  While building this solution, I have been collecting additional remote controls and as of this moment I am up to 7 for one TV.

Houston We Have a Problem: Even for a techno geek, 7 remotes is over the top. Here are the devices in my solution requiring a remote:

  1. Cable Box, yes its still hooked up
  2. TV remote; used to shift from one source to another
  3. DVD;  to pause and play  those redbox rentals
  4. ROKU Box; Once you are in ROKU mode, you have to surf around through the selection menus
  5. HDMI Switch; Since all my equipment is remote from the TV, I use one HDMI cable from the A/V closet to the TV, so the switcher allows me to redirect the source from the cable box, DVR or ROKU box
  6. A/V receiver; I use this device when I want to use the surround sound speakers to watch movies
  7. CD Player; not really part of the TV solution, but a remote that is used to turn on the CD player

So needless to say, it was time to consider my options. Here are my concerns:

  • My current solution is fairly complex. It may require 2 to 3 different remotes to switch between the various sources.
  • If my solution is too complex or takes to many hands and remotes, its way too inconvenient. Two or three remotes might work, but 7 is way over the limit
  • If my wife wont accept the procedures required to get to the various sources, she will push back.

Universal Remotes: These all in one controllers  have been around nearly as long as multiple remotes. I have to admit, being cheap, I never considered any of them good enough to justify the expense. However, it was worth some research to see where the technology currently is.

The good news is, there have been dramatic strides in this category of electronic devices and by most sources, the Logitech brand is viewed as the bench mark product by many professional equipment reviewers.

Looking at the Logitech family of remotes  (at least 3 to choose from), they all function the same way but the 650 model only supports 5 devices and the 900 supports 15. In the middle is the Harmony One. The major differences with the more expensive 900 is the RF control. The Harmony One is very similar to the Model 600, but will control 15 vs. 5 remotes. Do you need the RF version? What is RF vs IR. IR (InferRed Light) devices require  line-of-sight to see all the devices vs. RF (radio frequency) that can transmit through walls. So, if you have all your equipment in a cabinet or closet, the RF device will project through the wall (granted you will still require a device to convert the RF to IR to talk to all the equipment since IR is the most common communications path for residential grade AV equipment. The Harmony One appeared to be the best choice for me since I already had an IR pipe to my equipment closet and I needed to control more than 5 devices.

Here is what makes the Logitech standout:

  • The tactical buttons to move around the devices (DVR, DVD, Cable Box) are pretty common. Such as; forward, back, up down, fast forward etc. So, no mater what device you are using, those common command buttons remain the same.
  • Device specific command are through a touch screen that allows you to access specific buttons  to further customize your request. (i.e. choose a CD track or access specific segments of a DVD). These commands are not near as regularly used as the ones mentioned above.
  • Activity based commands: This is the icing on the cake. With programing, you set one button to perform multiple functions on multiple devices. For instance; to watch a DVD with my system this is what happens: TV=On, TV=Video 1, DVD=On, DVD=Play, A/V Reciever=On,  A/V receiver= Video 1.  That is 6 commands over 3 different components  with ONE BUTTON. This is AWESOME… MY WIFE CAN DO THIS!!!!!! SHE DID THIS BEFORE I SHOWED HER HOW!!!!!!
  • The downside: I got excited in the last bullet point, so as you can imagine there is a “But”. You must use your PC to program the remote. Actually I see this as a plus. I found the program fairly easy to negotiate.  With installed programing, it walks you through the various components to perform the set ups… Yes, it will take the better part of a day to complete this function, but it is TOTALLY worth it. With Logitech library of  remotes, the program remains updated so, if you buy a new DVD in 2 years, they will probably have the code set , so all you have to do is upload the new instructions.

I have to admit, this part of “Cutting the Cable” caught me off guard. I did not figure this into the equation. However, if you look at my original formulas (Part I)  on cost and budget, we had some room to make some adjustments. The Harmony One has been out a couple of years, so the price has dropped from its original price of approximately $239 to about $165. The model 900 is fairly new, so they are still pricy ($349). Granted if your equipment is concealed you will need either the RF version remote or an IR Repeater (Channel Vision or Smarthome both have decent solution for under $100). If your equipment is in a remote closet, the RF version will keep you from having to run wires from the TV to the remote location and there is no receptor located at the TV. For me, I had already wired for IR, so it worked out better for me to use the IR.

I am approaching to final step, so stay tuned to see if we can make the final cut.


Cutting the Cord IV.I

May 8, 2011

 If you have read my posts on this subject, cutting the cable cord is a growing interest.  CNET correspondent David Katzmaier revealed the reality of his journey that resulted in returning to cable. Cutting the cord can be difficult and you may/may not be a candidate for the transition. Since I am not complete with the cut over, I thought I would do a state-of-the-transition of my own, but more in a techno-nerd sort of way. Here are some things I have learned along the way as well as some concerns and considerations:

  1. Cold Turkey: As the author of the CNET article mentioned, he went cold turkey in one fail swoop and besides the immediate cable withdrawals he also struggled with antenna adjustment issues. A broadcast antenna can experience similar reception issues found with satellite services more so than cable or phone based services.
  2. Antenna Reception: As noted in my earlier entries, having a good antenna and good broadcast antenna service will be paramount. This is the core of your (off cable) service. If you have poor reception, pixeling, or blocking you will get quite frustrated with the service. If your antenna service is marginal on a good day, it will be poor on a bad day. Wind, rain, tree’s with large leaves in the summer will all negatively impact the reception. If you are old enough to remember depending on a TV antenna for all of your broadcast television, you will remember fuzzy, scratchy and intermittent service. This can also occur with the digital antenna.
  3. Limited Reception: Some channels will not show up. Obtaining ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX are the big broadcast providers. However, due to antenna placement, you may have difficulty receiving all of them. Even being relatively close you may find it difficult to get good reception. Spend the money on a good antenna, mast, coax, splitters and amplifiers to ensure high quality reception. If you are not a much of a technogeek, consider hiring a professional to establish your antenna service. As a DIYer project, its quite a trial and error process.
  4.  Antenna Placement: Even though having an antenna on a 10 ft. mast may work for many urban dwellers, antenna masts of greater proportion may be required. In my case, I have struggled with getting adequate reception of the 4 major networks off of a 10 ft. mast (and I live in the city).  I have continued to tweak my arrangement and after about 2 months. I have been monitoring the quality during some spring showers and it appears to be working pretty well.
  5. It’s Not the Same: To put it bluntly, cable TV services do a decent job to create a seamless one remote solution. Without the cable box, you will have to manage your watching habits a bit more. Using the tuner built into the TV, you will have to select different input sources that you have to move across to see what you want. For instance: the Broadcast antenna will be source one, where the Roku box will be another as well as a DVD player. Most modern TV’s have multiple input sources built into the tuner .
  6. No Online TV Schedule: With Cable, it got real convenient to channel surf the TV guide to see what else is on. Right now, an online TV schedule does not exist in my arrangement. However, as an option, TV Guide has a mobile app for Iphones and Itouch devices. You can program in your zip code to see localized TV programing. (NOTE: Once I install the Channel Master DVR, the TV guide is part of the programing, so I assume I will regain the surfing feature.)
  7. Multiple TV’s: Much like the cable boxes, if you want to watch multiple viewings through the Roku box, you will need more that one (there are other methods to use one centralized Roku box, but it will cost as much as just adding a second box). However, if you are just looking at broadcast TV on a specific set; no additional boxes are required.
  8. Sports: If you are tied to live time sports beyond your normal region or programing area; cutting the cord will be an issue. If you are still committed to making the move, you might consider looking at the online sources for real-time sports outside of your region

Cut the Cord Gradually: This would be my biggest recommendation. It’s best to wean the household off the cable instead of the flash cut.

  1. Dedicate one television to the conversion: This will allow you to gradually move toward using this solution as an acceptable viewing solution.
  2. Connect the new antenna to this TV to work out any bugs found in the reception. As I mentioned, we struggled with getting adequate antenna service to work a reliably as the Cable Service. For that reason we continued to go back to the other room. Since it appears we have cleared up the problem, we dont find it necessary to go to the other TV to watch broadcast television. This process will also help you identify what programing you are really watching. If you find you have to watch Overhauling, or the DIY network, it may be a struggle to make the final cut.
  3. Live with the solution for a month or so: Get the antenna service working well. Purchase the Roku box and use that to watch on demand movies. We got the Roku box and we have watched a few movies, but maybe 3 over the last week, which is a lot less than I thought I would be watching.
  4. The good news: Broadcast and Internet TV options continue to grow. Stay tuned for my next installment of “Cutting the Cord”.  My next step is to purchase the Channel Master DVR (recently reduced to $299 on Amazon).

Stay tuned!

BOB


Cutting the Cord Part IV; My Choices

January 31, 2011

Change can be difficult, CATV  companies have done a decent job in creating enough content value for many of us to keep the product even though the quality of the service may be lacking.  The solution of cutting the cord requires the viewer to change their habits. They are betting you will not.  Those of you that require a wide selection of live sports are going to have the most difficult time finding equitable alternative solutions. On the other hand, if you like to watch broadcast TV,  movies, vintage TV or some of the popular Discovery type programs, much of that is viewable from sources such as Netflex.

This episode of my excursion will cover the choices I have made and why.  As you have probably figured, this solution is like a multi legged table, where each leg supports part of the table. It will take a little more effort and some getting used to. But, by most accounts, it will get better.

My Choices:

  1. Broadcast Antenna: (You already figured that one out). To date, I have been impressed with the overall HD quality. There is a noticeable difference between my Uverse (HD) reception and the (HD) broadcast antenna. As previously mentioned, solutions such as the UVerse require alot of compression to get it through the copper wires that serve your house. This compression process degrades the sharpness of the image. Just remember, so far, there are fewer HD Broadcasts than found through the CATV or Uverse type solutions. Worth mentioning, since the digital conversion of  broadcast television, we have barely seen what broadcast television may become.  The biggest drawback appears to be the lack of a on-screen TV guides. See number 2. With the recent digital conversion, local broadcasters now have the ability to provide simultaneous program choices within their channel spectrum. In other words, you may find that the NBC affiliate has the primary station (52.0) a weather only channel (52.1) and maybe a sports (52.2) channel. So to us regular folks it looks like we now have 3 NBC stations instead of just one.   The broadcast antenna business could be the sleeping giant in the bunch.
  2. DVR: To bring broadcast TV up to speed with CATV, a DVR is nearly a must. The Channel Master DVR is a no-subscribtion, one-fee to purchase product. Besides the standard DVR type function it will provide you the on-screen menu that you will miss from CATV. The only draw back so far is that without some other equipment, its a one-box, one-TV solution. (I have some ideas on this one that I need to try.) The Channel Master DVR appears to be the industry leader.
  3. Netflix: There are dozens of choices out there. Netflix appears to have the least amount of hooks (i.e. upgrades and add-on for a fee). To get the Netflix (or streaming video), you will need some form of internet connection. Most new TV’s and DVD’s include an “internet ready” feature. Or, you can just purchase a standalone box. The Roku box appears to be the best choice for me.
  4. Roku Box: The Roku box brings the ethernet connection to your TV that allows you  to pull in streaming video from Netflix. Additionally, you get access to other Internet services such as Pandora, MLB, Hulu Plus and more. Some are fee based some are not.

Disadvantages of giving up cable: Even though I have solved many of the drawbacks and concerns I mentioned in my earlier posts, there are still some that remain with my current solution.

  1. One box, one TV: Assuming you want to watch Netflix on multiple TV’s, the one box per TV solution is actually the short answer. There are some other devices on the market that will allow you to manage 1 input source to 4 output sources. Look at Hometech Solutions for a better understanding of your options.  If you are willing to spend more of your budget, purchasing additional boxes is an easy answer. You may find, you want to replace your DVD (I do), so the Roku box can be used elsewhere.
  2. Available programing: At this point, I believe I am at about 85% of my content target. However, with Netflix, their bargaining power with the various sources continues to increase. So I look for this to get better.
  3. Live Sports: This too is getting better. For a monthly fee you can use your Roku box to access MLB/UFC for some of your sports obsessions.  However, if you are one that consumes all the various sports networks  with all the various programing, it may be worth it to look at those programs through you PC.  
  4. MSNBC, CNN, FNN: These networks are very similar to the Sports Networks; they worked hard to come up with as much odd ball programing  from minute by minute coverage of Wall Street to documentaries about Walmart.

Advantages of living without cable TV:

  1. Cost Savings: So far, with the chosen solutions I have this much invested; 1)Roxu box $59., 2) Broadcast Antenna, amplifier and misc $150. 3) Channel Master DVR $350. and last 4) Netflex $7.99 per month. As mentioned Netflix probably has the largest content offering but there are others coming on-line daily. Unfortunately , if you subscribe to all of them, you are back to the monthly fee of $80 bucks and regular cable programing may become a better deal. 
  2. A la cart viewing: This is something consumers have asked for but traditional CATV has avoided. With the use a Roku type box, you can pretty much subscribe to what ever you want (based on what they currently have to offer). However, be warned,  so far some of the pricing I have seen from the content providers will easily add up to the cost of CATV. 
  3. A lot less crap:  Have you ever wondered why you can block a TV station from your television, but not from your CATV provided set-top-box? Because they don’t want you to!! They use this marketing tool with program providers as a way attract new content to their network. We all surf channels, and there is always a degree of random stopping  to see what is on QVC, so they use that surfing to their advantage.

Next time we will review the new equipment and see how easy/difficult it was to install and turn up.

If you have not read the earlier posts on this topic, click on Techy Things to see all of them.


Cutting the Cord Part III – Internet TV Options

January 12, 2011

If you haven’t been following this series, I am attempting to duplicate as much of  my current television viewing habits without the use of traditional CATV services. This would also include  subscription television service from companies such as Comcast, Cox, Time Warner; as well as  the Phone company versions nationally known as Direct TV, DISH, FIOS (Verizon) and U-Verse (AT&T). Watching TV on my PC is not my goal, even though you will recognize some of the services and programing that are geared toward that viewing medium. Dont get me wrong, there is a huge trend in watching video programing over a laptop or stationary PC. However, if you have looked at any new video components lately you have probably recognized a blending of the technology by having TV’s and DVD’s  “Ethernet Ready”.

Netflix  subscriptions have grown rapidly over the past few years, from a mere 4.2 million in 2005 to a robust 19 million (est.) at 2010 year-end.

In this post, we will look at the Internet options. I have to tell you that it can be near overwhelming to review the different choices. In this current evolution,  many new (and old) players are trying to find a gold mine with the killer application by trying to have the hook that catches the largest viewers. Within the discovery phase, it was apparent there two distinct target audiences with a third being a blend of the two;

  1. Viewers wanting to watch video and television programing from a PC or Smartphone device.
  2. Traditional television users wanting to view mostly traditional programing. 
  3. Hybrid providers that are looking to capture some of both user groups.

My concentration will be #2.

This market is very hot and there are new players almost daily. It seems like I turn up another one that I didn’t see the last time I looked.

I admit, I am probably not the target demographic audience (18-35) as I am not real interested in a lot of the home-brew video’s but it seems a lot of the sites are really pulling in a lot of amature and second tier type programs. Based on the selection process (surfing their site) it can take hours of just looking for something worth watching, and you may spend more time looking for it than actually watching it. For what it’s worth, there are hundreds if not thousands of pilot programs that fail before they ever get to the traditional TV or even cable. So, even though you may find lots more choices, there can be a lot of trash to flush through. Most of these options are chasing the target audience mentioned above. This age group is a lot more mobile than I am, and at this point, setting down at the TV to watch a movie or uninterrupted program is more of what I am after. Admittedly, I do watch some videos on my PC, but it is usually more about fact-finding or how-to, with a little bit of mindless dribble:).

The Obvious Contenders: ABC; CBS; NBC; FOX

As figured, most of these sites are everything you don’t want them to be. Lots of commercials,  flash and glitz. It reminded me of the early internet days, when web sites had lots of pop-ups and blinking bill board type ads. However, the exception was FOX. FOX was fairly straight forward. It was easy to find the schedule, most viewed shows and episodes. They too have commercials, but they don’t blast you the second you open the webpage. Kudos FOX. However, for me, the network options don’t add a lot of value as I was already planning to obtain those feeds from my outside antenna. If you have determined an exterior antenna is to expensive for your location, but you can receive digital (DSL) internet service, this would be the method to obtain the major networks, granted you will not receive any local programing. The “local affiliate” is where you get local news, weather and regional based programing only available over the airwaves or through the traditional CATV provider.

I have also found sites for TV Land, Discovery and about every known TV station you have ever viewed. Most all of them provide some form of programing, but I found more reduced or “shorts” (less than 5 minutes) than full length episodes.

The Internet Rivals: There are actually three different types in this category. 1) Services that use some type of box to get you from the Internet to you TV and, 2) subscription based streaming video and 3) PC Host Software.

Let it be known, this list is not complete as it could be a full-time job just to keep it up to date. 

Box Type Solutions: These  solutions provides streaming video to a traditional television.

  1. Roku: Has been around since 2002 and probably has one of the largest following.  They have teamed with certain subscription based providers such as NetFlix, Hulu,  and Amazon. A  simple solution, that works well.
  2. Boxee Box: Fairly new. They have been in the streaming video business for a couple of years but just this month released their own BOX by D-Link. It’s a bit more techy, but is picking up followers.
  3. BlockBuster TV: Instead of selling their own box, they are promoting various devices that the Blockbuster software is installed on. Their site provides a list of recommended equipment. Their model is still about renting individual videos and is priced that way. If they plan to stay in business, they will be changing this model fairly soon to match Netflix as this solution is getting the most traction.
  4. Slingbox: This is a bit different animal worth mentioning. Sling.com has subscription services and access to media like the others but with a twist. With a slingbox you can drive your viewing content to a mobile device, PC or TV. For example; if you want your PC to be the receiver of media content but you want to view it on your TV (or Iphone), the slingbox will redirect the content.
  5. Google TV: About to be released,  but appears to be hitting a few bumps along the way. Logitech will provide the BOX for the solution. Goggle will be a collective medium that will allow the user to combine viewing selections of traditional TV, but also bring in YouTube type services as well as the consumers personal video/picture library. This will be a combined subscription/box service.
  6. Apple TV: Not new, but hitting a few bumps along the way like Goggle TV.

Subscription Based Streaming video:  You will notice there is a bit of cross over between the Box solutions with the streaming services. Basically, if you want to stream video directly to your TV, you need a Box. The Box works as a cheap Internet connection dedicated to your PC, in lieu of tying up a PC (which can do the same thing).  I found about 30 choices but picked the ones I found most promising based their webpage and matched my intended viewing habits. For me, I am not real interested in watching traditional TV on my PC so a lot of the internet TV choices don’t really apply, unless I wanted to go the Slingbox path. You will find a large amount of duplication (content choices) from one service to the next as they are all pretty much dealing with the same deck. To date, NetFlix appears to be the 1000 lb. gorilla and may have a slight advantage over the other services.

  1. Netflix: 7.99 per month. Appears to have the largest selection. You can use a Roku box as mention or a Wii, PS3, Xbox or one of the newer Blu Ray DVD players. If you keep up with the news, Netflix is having problems and have doubled their price for those that want streaming + mail out disks. I have had Netflix for about 4 months and have not been overly impressed with the content selection. I believe other players will come to bat using the Roku avenue  that could either dilute or match the Netflix streaming marketshare.
  2. Hulu: Lots of programing is free, but premium is 7.99 per month.
  3. FindInternet TV: Has a fairly easy menu structure to navigate. Includes most of the common program choices. Also has some sports.
  4. TVneto: Much like the others but also has some live sports.

PC Host Software:

  1. Microsoft Media Center: Available with Windows 7, this software program is designed to allow the user to collectively bring the various websites to the PC. By looking at the software, its obvious it is geared toward large screen viewing. with limited menus and large fonts. It can use both a cable/antenna input as well as the internet. I have barely scratched the surface of this application, but it appears (with limitation) will be similar to #2 below. This is probably the top end techno geek solution, but even with a cheap PC, its still $300-$400 bucks.
  2. Unknown TBD: During my investigation, it became very obvious that with all of these various Internet hosting sites, there needed to be one type of collective or search engine that would allow the user to create their own programing guide without having  to visit all the different sites to find it. So far, I was unable to find such application, but it probably won’t be long. UPDATE!! I found what I belive to be the closest solution to this unanswered question. Clicker allows you to look for programs and tell you the different sources to view it from. Also you can set up favorites. So far, I like it. Not perfect, but the best of what I have seen. If Clicker were to hook up with Roku; this could be the solution. If you are going the Media PC route, Clicker will be tremedous help in navigating the sea of programing.

Before I started this investigation, I really thought  the winners were going to be very apparent. What I have found is that the video streaming business is very hot and becoming quite competitive with lots of big players showing up everyday.  At this stage in the game, the choice made today may be good for 4-5 years as the evolution will continue at a rapid pace for now.

Next time we will see what solution I picked and review the process of installing and using it.


Cutting the Cord Part II; Installing a TV Antenna

December 15, 2010

  The first step in cutting the cord will require the installation of a TV Antenna. As of June of 2009 broadcast television as we know it totally changed. All television providers were mandated by the US Government to convert their broadcast signal to a digital format. For that reason, if you choose to add a TV antenna, you must have a TV with a digital tuner or a converter box. If you have been purchasing television through a CATV provider you were not required to have a converter box. See DTV.gov for more information on converter boxes.  You will need a converter for each analog TV.

With digital broadcast television (antenna) service, you may find you get a better quality picture than from your CATV provider as the signal you are receiving is not filtered or choked on the way to your house. Just remember, not all programing is recorded in digital or HDTV. Reruns of Star Trek or HEE HAW will still look about the same.

Choosing and Installing a TV Antenna

  1. Choose  a high quality TV antenna:  Go to AntennaWeb and follow the instructions. This is a great site funded by the National  Broadcasters  Association (NAB) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).  It does a great job of  analyzing your needs based on your specific address and zip code. Antenna selection and placement is very important. With digital broadcast TV signals, proper tuning and high quality materials are very important. AntennaWeb will tell you what TV stations you should expect to receive based on your location and the antenna selected. Follow the recommendations on the AntennaWeb page to the letter to ensure the highest quality service.
  2. Choose a good site for the Antenna: Your antenna of choice will have to be aimed in the direction identified in AntennaWeb. You can do this with a simple camping compass. Look for a location on the house with the least amount of obstructions toward the direction the antenna will be aimed.  If your house has a gable style roof, it should be easy to attach mounting hardware for the mast. Without a good place to attach it to your house, you may have to consider a free-standing antenna mast. This can add significant costs.   On the AntennaWeb page they will also recommend specific antennas with brand choices.  I have found Channel Master equipment to be superior. Regardless of the brand,  it is imperative to follow the recommendations of style/type of antenna recommended by AntennaWeb.   
  3. Grounding Required: Just like the CATV and Telephone services, you should ground the antenna mast as it is probably the tallest structure off the top of the house. If you mount the antenna near the CAT/Telephone enterance, you can add a #10 ground wire from a bolted connection at the antenna hardware to the existing ground wire of either the CATV or Telephone servies. For full understanding of grounding and bonding, take a look at the articles in the Electrical tab.
  4. Use High Quality Coax Cable: Use a high quality quad shield coax. You can purchase coax from the Orange Box store for small quantities. If you are going to wire the whole house look at CablestoGo for bulk reels of cable to save some money. If you will be getting your internet service from the cable company, you may have to provide new coax for one or the other. Check with your cable company to see if they can use your antenna coax to supply Internet Service (don’t hold your breath as they want to sell you both).
  5. Make the connections: Assuming you are running new coax or needing to make connections, you will need F-type connectors. I recommend using the Compression style NOT the crimp style for the best quality connection, they are not cheap, but this is what the professional will use. Applied correctly, they will be trouble-free. You will need to buy a special tool to apply them. The Orange Box carries both, if you want to buy them locally. If at all possible, route your new antenna cables near the same location as the CATV house connection. There will be an F-Type connector (and possible splitters) at this entry point. Simply disconnect the cable coming from the street (cable provider) and make you antenna connection here. Granted, if you wanted to retain  the CATV connection, this will not work. They make A/B switches that will allow you to switch sources, but if you do that you have to mount this A/B switch somewhere that you can get to it easily. The other choice is to add a second set of coax cables. If you are starting from square one and are installing coax cable for the first time, consider using Siamese style quad shielded cables. This way you will have two independent coax cables to each room. That way, you can connect both the primary and secondary cables to the TV allowing you to make the switch through the TV with your remote. NOTE: A splitter and an exterior A/B switch look very similar but they are not. The A/B switch allows two sources where the splitter provides two outputs.
  6. Splitters Required: For applications with multiple TV’s, you will have to run the coax into a splitter.  This allows you to start with one cable in and multiple cables out. NOTE: Everytime the signal is split, the signal strength is cut in half.  So, the more the splitters, the weaker the signal. To avoid the loss in signal strength, boosters or amplifiers can be added to the coax circuit. Make the decision to add the amplifiers AFTER you have hooked everything up and you determine you 1) have a weak signal, or 2) cannot receive all the channels you expected.
  7. Turn it up: Make all the connections to the TV’s and aim the TV antenna in the desired direction. Most new TV’s have “auto selectors” that can program your TV to all stations that the TV tuner recognizes. This is a good way to get started, but you will probably want to edit that list after you have the antenna locked in. Use the guide from AntennaWed to validate the stations you should be receiving.
  8. Troubleshooting: With digital TV reception, there is no such thing as a fuzzy picture. Poor reception will appear as an intermittent signal,  frozen/choppy picture or no picture (signal) at all.  Adjust the antenna a couple of degrees one way or the other to bring in a better signal and run the auto-select program in the TV again. If you are still not receiving all the channels, read #9.
  9. Troubleshooting II: If you find one TV receives all the channels at one TV but not at  another, this may be an indication that you need an amplifier to boost the signal. Install an amplifier per the instructions. Channel Vision carries these products too. This may solve your problem.
  10. Troubleshooting III: If you continue to have difficulty receiving some channels you may have a large obstruction (buildings, trees, mountains, hills) in the way. You can try moving the antenna to another part of the house and or try raising the antenna. Unfortunately you may have to compromise by living with the stations you can clearly receive. 

  I have completed this portion of  cutting the cord. Admittedly, I had some issues with signal strength due to cable length and splitters. If you follow the methods described, you should be able to clear up most problems as I did.

Next time we will look at the Internet TV options and how to maximize your choices.