Antennas and Reception Issues

If an analog television currently receives over-the-air analog TV signals, it will have an existing antenna connected by some type of connector cable to the television.  The antenna will have to be connected to the new converter box.  Under a basic installation, the antenna will use its existing connector cable to plug into the back of the converter box.  The new cable that comes with the converter box will then connect the converter box to the television.  Use the composite A/V cable for better picture and sound (if the back of the television has red-white-yellow RCA jacks); otherwise, use the round RF coaxial cable.  A converter box will not be able to receive television signals unless it is connected to an antenna.

VHF/UHF Antenna:  To receive all digital broadcast signals, the antenna must be able to receive both VHF (Channels 2-13) and UHF (Channels 14-83) signals.  A simple rabbit ears antenna – with only two poles for the VHF signals, but no loop or other shape in the middle for the UHF signals – will receive some, but not all, of the digital signals after the DTV Transition date.  A simple rabbit ears with only two poles and no middle shape should be replaced.  A VHF/UHF antenna typically starts at under $20.  Try the existing antenna if it has both VHF and UHF capabilities, prior to purchasing a new one.  Note: to receive digital signals, it is not necessary for the antenna to be labeled as an “HDTV antenna,” but it must be both VHF and UHF. 

Reception Problems:  Over-the-air reception depends on having an antenna of adequate quality that is placed correctly.  Moving the antenna nearer to a window may  improve reception.  Placing it higher in the dwelling and “aiming” it in various directions can make a difference.  Reception of signals is also affected by nearby trees, hills, tall buildings, weather, and aircraft.  See also more information at Channel Selection Trouble-Shooting Guide.

Amplified Antennas:  If reception problems persist, or if some local digital channels’ broadcasts are “missing” once the converter box is installed (in most cases, at least 20 channels and sub-channels will be available), an amplified antenna may improve signal quality.  Indoor amplified antennas are available starting at $35.  Be certain to read the directions and adjust the “gain” control, if the antenna comes with one. 

Roof-Top or Attic Antennas.    A properly grounded antenna will significantly improve signal quality, provided there are no major obstructions (such as trees).  Older rooftop antennas are generally capable of receiving both VHF and UHF signals.  Try an existing older antenna first; if it doesn’t work well, try a newer one that is capable of receiving both VHF and UHF signals.  Antennas should be aimed in the correct direction towards broadcast stations (in Fairfax County, aim the antenna towards northwest Washington, DC).  See or to find the exact correct direction for your residence.  If a rooftop antenna still does not receive sufficient channels, consider installing an in-line amplifier (starting at $35 in specialty electronics stores) between the converter box and where the RF coaxial cable exits the wall.


More information about the digital television transition is available on the following topics:


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