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Shhhh, be vewry verwy quiet, I hunting HDTV!

by April 29, 2007
Elmer Fudd

Elmer Fudd

According to an article in the Associated Press (AP), there is an increasing trend of consumers hooking up their multi thousand dollar HDTV’s with $50 rabbit ear (or as Elmer Fudd refers to as “wabbit ear”) antennas much like grandpa used back in the day.

Why would anyone do this in an age of the digital revolution where we have Satellite, Cable and Fiber services that all broadcast in HDTV?  Well truth be told, many local TV channels that broadcast in HD over-the-air, offer superior picture quality over the often-compressed signals sent by cable and satellite TV companies.  And the best part? Over-the-air HD is free.

"Eighty-year-old technology is being redesigned and rejiggered to deliver the best picture quality," said Richard Schneider, president of Antennas Direct. "It's an interesting irony."

According to the AP, a few years ago, Schneider started an assembly line in his garage and sold antennas out of the trunk of his car. Now his Eureka, Mo.-based company has seven employees and did $1.4 million in sales last year. He expects revenue to double in 2007.

"People thought I was nuts. They were laughing at me when I told them I was starting an antenna company," Schneider said.

Rabbit AntennaSuffice it to say. before cable and satellite existed, people relied on ordinary antennas to receive analog signals from local TV stations' broadcasting towers. Stations still send out these analog signals in addition to transmitting the HD digital signals as well. (Congress has ordered broadcasters to shut off old-style analog TV broadcasts by Feb. 17, 2009.)

Consumers who can get a digital signal from an antenna will get an excellent picture, said Steve Wilson, principal analyst for consumer electronics at ABI Research.

One major difference with a digital over-the-air signal is it doesn't get snowy and fuzzy like the old analog signal. Instead, the picture will turn into tiny blocks and go black.

"You either get it or you don't," said Dale Cripps, founder and co-publisher of HDTV Magazine. "Some people can receive it with rabbit ears, it depends where you are."

Schneider recommends indoor antennas only for customers within 25 miles of a station's broadcast tower. An outdoor antenna will grab a signal from up to 70 miles away as long as no mountains are in the way, he said.

The Consumer Electronics Association has a Web site http://www.antennaweb.org/  that tells how far an address is from towers and recommends what type of antenna to use.

"When you're using an antenna to get an HD signal you will be able to receive true broadcast-quality HD," said Megan Pollock, spokeswoman for the group. "Some of the cable and satellite companies may choose to compress the HD signal."

Unfortunately, compression involves removing some data from the digital signal. This is done so that the providers will have enough room to send hundreds of other channels through the same cable line or satellite transmission.  Depending on the source content, and amount of compression utilized, the deleterious effects will either be unnoticeable or unwatchable compared to a free air HD signal.  I particularly noticed last night while viewing a Dreamtheater concert on the HD music channel from my local cable provider that at times the picture looked stunning, that was until a dark scene was present and you can see noise artifacts giving a very grainy picture on my Samsung 1080p DPL RPTV and my 720p Plasma.  From a purists standpoint, had this been broadcasted locally, I am sure the graininess caused by too much compression would have been replaced with a pristine image throughout the program.

Aside from folks using antennas to pick up local channels in HD because of the potentially stunning picture quality, some also choose this route because they don’t want to pay their satellite provider an extra fee for local broadcast channels.

A downside in just using an antenna is that only local channels are available, meaning no ESPN, TNT, CNN or Discovery Channel. Some consumers partner an antenna with cable or satellite service to get a complete HD solution.

Many people aren't aware that they can get HD over the airwaves, Wilson said. He estimates there are 10 million households with HDTVs and that fewer than 2 million of them use antennas. Including homes with analog sets, 15 million of the 110 million households in the United States use antennas.

Terk AntennaHD antenna prices range from $20 to $150 for indoor and outdoor versions. The many models of available indoor antennas look more like a fleet of Federation starships than the rabbit ears of old. Brand names include Terk, Philips, Audiovox, Jensen and Magnavox.

Savvy consumers looking to save a buck can MacGyver their own antenna using simple household elements such as cardboard and tinfoil. DIY’ers rejoice, check out this site:

Build your own HD antenna

So its time to get the old wabbit ears back out and have Elmer help you hunt down the local HD channels.


About the author:
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Gene manages this organization, establishes relations with manufacturers and keeps Audioholics a well oiled machine. His goal is to educate about home theater and develop more standards in the industry to eliminate consumer confusion clouded by industry snake oil.

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