Thursday, January 14, 2010

Two HD Antennas Fix My TV Problem

A few months ago (perhaps as many as 6), I decided to do away with my TV service. I was giving Verizon $75 per month for super duper digital FIOS TV and I never watched it. After some careful observation, I noticed that my wife also infrequently watched it.

Some more research revealed that when we did watch, we were watching things like House on Fox or Castle on ABC. All of these channels are broadcast for free over the air. I was paying Verizon $75 per month to watch TV that I could be watching for free with the right equipment.

However, I'm not always home when House is on or Bones is on or Castle is on. Part of that money was also being spent to allow me to record shows on my DVR so I could watch them later when it was convenient for me to do so.

Finally, one month (about 6 months ago), I decided I had had enough. I first bought a little low budget indoor digital antenna and hooked it up directly to my TV. Sure enough, after a little simply aiming and configuration, I was able to pick up a host of channels including Fox, ABC, NBC, & CBS. I was watching my weekly shows without incurring a monthly cost.

Next, I built me a computer. I think it cost about $300. It had a 250 gig hard drive, an AMD X2 processor, HDMI audio/video output, and a TV tuner card. I also installed Windows Vista.

With this computer setup, my antenna and windows media center, I was able to start recording my weekly shows. Media Center has a nice interface for setting up your TV, configuring the picture and recording shows. If you have been using Windows Media Center, but haven't used it to setup your display, you should go home and do so immediately. When I first ran through it, I had no idea that guy's shirt could possibly have pearl colored buttons and be wrinkled! It was incredible.

I bought a nice outdoor antenna and put it in my attic. The antenna looks like the one pictured, but I'm not nearly as good a handy man as whoever took this picture. My antenna leans up against a piece of wood and is nestled down in the comforting folds of the attic insulation. I understand that this is not optimum, but I am also lazy (top right).

After using this setup for a few months, my wife and I were both home when the computer started recording House on channel 4. Suddenly, my wife was overcome with a desire to see what was on channel 8. She tried to change channels and it said something like, "if you switch away from channel 4, the recording will be interrupted." It was diplomatically correct for, "hey Stupid Ass, you only have one tuner card."

Week after that, I ordered another tuner card for my computer. I didn't like Media Center calling my wife a Stupid Ass. When the tuner card came in, I had to get a cable splitter to split the cable signal before going into the computer because now I had two coax inputs (one on each card).

Now, I could record two shows at the same time, or record 1 show and switch channels at the same time. I'm not real sure why Media Center limits you to two tuners, but it does. This also was the beginning of my problems. Shows started sporadically stuttering. It was very irritating and my spousal unit lost her happy TV watching glow.

At one point my non-optimum attic antenna installation fell over. I thought maybe the problems all coincided. I happily went up into the attic and "repaired" the fallen antenna.

This, unfortunately, did not fix my problem. Things got better. The stuttering happened less, but it was still there. I started doing research.

Someone, somewhere, mentioned that in a perfect world, each TV would have it's own antenna. Now, I have my little attic antenna just feeding directly into the splitter where Verizon used to be coming in. All 3 of my TVs are coming off the splitter. Adding antennas is a cheap solution for me to try. Remember I bought a proof of concept antenna early on? It was still laying in the middle of my living room floor (lazy). Abandoned since it had been replaced by the outdoor antenna in the attic.

Last night I grabbed the unused antenna from the middle of the floor and hauled it up to my attic. I fed the big outdoor antenna directly to the line going downstairs to my computer. I fed the "proof of concept" antenna into the splitter to feed my upstairs TV's (less distance to travel). This miraculously cured all my woes. I now get a crystal clear signal on all my TV watching devices. The world is a happy place once again.

And I'm not paying any monthly charges for TV...


  1. I looked into building a multiple TV tuner solution a few years back using MythTV, but decided not to since I wouldn't have any way to access the higher encrypted channels with pay cable. I too am getting fed up with cable costs and may entertain this again...