HDTV, OTA, DIY, and lots of copper

Lately I’ve been very interested in getting rid of cable TV. It’s an unneeded expense, since I do most of my TV watching via Netflix, Crackle and Amazon Video. However, I do still want to watch the local news, ABC, CBS & FOX. I also have small children, so PBS is a big deal in my house. So I have to have cable for that, right? Contrary to what Time Warner, ComCast or your local cable company would like you to think, it turns out that you don’t really need them.

Local television stations still broadcast their signals over the airwaves (OTA, or over the air), just like in olden times. And by using a properly tuned antenna, then you can pull in those signals for FREE! It turns out that cable companies actually compress their signal in order to save bandwidth, so your HD stations aren’t HD by the time you watch them. Using an antenna, on the other hand, you’re receiving the full uncompressed signal, so HD is truly HD.

Another misconception is that you need an “HD” antenna to be able to receive these new digital HD signals.  That’s a bunch of marketing horse hocky.  A signal is a signal is a signal…  Any antenna will do the job, provided you’re close enough to a transmitter, and it’s pointed in the right direction, and there aren’t giant mountains or concrete buildings in the way.  If you look around, you’ll find some really good antennas available for a decent price.  ChannelMaster and Antennas Direct are some of the well respected names in the industry.  But, anybody can go out and buy an antenna.  I’m a geek, and I don’t need no stinking store bought antenna!  I’ll build one myself!  OK, at this point my wife is looking at me like I’m a complete lunatic.  “You can’t ‘build’ an antenna.”, she says.  “That’s not even possible.  Is that possible?”  Of course it’s possible.  You can smooth out some tin foil and attach it to the TV, and that’s an antenna.  But there are some resources out there on the intertubes that make it possible (not easy, but possible) to build a really high quality, high gain antenna that will blow your mind.

First things first.  We need to find out what signals are available, and how we need to orient our antenna.  There are two really good resources, tvfool, and antennaweb.  TVFool.com and antennaweb.org are both excellent sites that show you what television signals are available based on your address.  Personally, I think antennaweb is a bit easier to use, but tvfool seems to offer more detailed information.  You can try them both at:

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So, according to these reports, I should be able to receive somewhere around 14 stations (not including the digital subchannels, i.e. 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, etc…), including all of the standard broadcasts, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, etc…  Now, rabbit ears aren’t going to cut it, so let’s do a quick browse around the internet and see what we can find.  There are quite a few hobby antenna sites out there, mostly catering to the Ham radio crowd (those guys are hardcore).  After digging through a few antenna design forums, I found these two designs that look promising:

The Stealth Hawk

The Grey Hoverman

Since this post is starting to get really long, I’m going to go ahead and stop for now.  Next time, I’ll detail my experience building these two antenna designs.