New DTV Antenna

In early June, a local company installed a DTV antenna for me. About 2 weeks later, I discontinued Cox TV service but kept Cox Internet service. The experience was reasonably pleasant and my TV watching not at all affected. After all, how many reruns of Ice Road Truckers and Mythbusters can one watch in a night? There’s so much program being produced that you can’t see it all as it originally airs. As I learned my way around Netflix, Hulu+, and iTunes, I found myself watching less and less off the air (TiVO, actually). Thus the decision to scrap cable TV.

A DTV antenna is the device that lets you do this. This is a post mounted device similar in appearance to an oven rack with some wire frame bow ties in front of it. The Antennas Direct antenna that I have gives about 14db of gain and is surprisingly compact but it is UHF only. Our area has only UHF channels so the reduced bandwidth is no loss. The antenna mounts to a J post mount secured to the roof. This requires some roofing skills. The antenna feed line and ground line cross the roof and drop down. The feed line continues to the smart home voice/data/video distribution panel in my closet. The ground line continues down to the power panel ground rod.

The local installer installs these antennas for $300. It typically takes a 2 man crew 2 hours to do the installation. On my day, they got behind courtesy of Tidewater congestion and left as a thunder storm approached with the mast and feed line ungrounded. I contacted the owner and they came out about one week later to complete the work. The crews doing this work have some basic construction skills but are not licensed electricians and don’t have old work electrical skills. If they did, they’d be much better paid licensed electricians.

If you are considering a change from cable or dish TV to DTV by antenna, I’d recommend having a licensed electrician do all the inside wiring out to the exterior of the building. Your electrician will have the old work skills to add wiring to your building with a minimum of mess. Let the antenna people wire down to the ground block that your electrical installs. This will result in a much neater installation. The folks who do this work just don’t have the time to do a neat old-work job like your electrician would.

When I was researching grounding, I learned several things. The antenna and feed line must be grounded. This is true for both DirecTV and DTV antennas. The National Electrical code requires it and DirecTV requires its affiliated installers to do proper grounding. A quick survey of the neighbors shows that grounding is not happening. Most installations have no grounding at all.

Why ground? Electrical and fire safety. Grounding keeps exposed wiring, like the F connector body, at ground potential to protect you and your equipment from the mysterious influences of strong electric fields. The second thing it does is to mitigate the possible lightening damage should the mast be struck. I’m surrounded by trees but a strike on one of my trees could hop over to the house, particularly the TV antenna. The energy follows the ground wire which directs it to ground. This is a better deal than having it use the building to find its way to ground. Even with a ground wire, the lightening energy will probably hole the roof deck and splinter the framing it passes near on the way to ground. There may be a fire. Without grounding, the damage would be much more and the fire off to a much better start. A Ledyard neighbor learned about lightening strikes. This one punched a hole in the garage roof and splintered the corner studs and started a small fire which the volunteers were able to put out without major loss. Back in the day, antennas were properly grounded unless homeowner installed. All the local TV retailers provided antenna installation service and did it right.

How well does off-the-air work? Better than cable actually. Digital TV works perfectly or not at all. When it begins to get flaky, the picture tiles where packets of the picture data went missing. There is no snow, ghosting, strange colors, etc. Just a pristine image or nothing. The cable companies typically compress the local broadcasters additionally to get more channels on the cable. Got to make room for that adult content somehow. It is typical that PBS looks better off the air than off cable.

By not watching cable, I’ve missed most of the political nastiness that the SuperPACS have aired 😦 I’ve been using Hulu+, Netflix, and iTunes to watch the best of the best from the last decade or so. I’ve been buying Game of Thrones and Merlin from iTunes, and filling in from Netflix and Hulu+ I can always find an hour of TV worth watching after catching News Hour, Daily Show, and Colbert Report.