The transition to digital broadcasting in the U.S. was completed in 2009. And with it came an explosion of free channels in crystal clear high definition and digital formats. Yet three years later, only a tiny fraction of the country’s 104 million tv households get their television fixes over-the-air.
As more content is consumed online and cable/satellite bills continue to rise, the desire to cut the cord is greater than ever. The combination of online services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and YouTube with broadcast networks providing live news and sports would seemingly satisfy the needs of a large number of consumers. Unfortunately, a lot of the technical barriers that led to the development of cable tv (originally known as community antenna television or CATV) continue to exist and have even worsened for some locations.
The government and the consumer electronics industry really dropped the ball when they distributed free or deeply discounted digital tuners several years ago, because the tuner represents only one-half of the equation. All tv’s sold since 2009 come with a digital tuner, but without the right antenna, that tuner is useless.
Getting a quality over the air digital signal requires a reasonable proximity to the station’s transmission towers, a clear line of sight and a relatively short cable length from the antenna to the tuner.
And, sadly, it’s up to the consumer to figure this all out for himself. Many younger viewers are probably unaware that antennas offer an alternative to cable and satellite reception. And the industry that sees subscription revenues fattening its bottom line probably wants to keep it that way.
But for those who are willing to make the effort and get educated, the result in many major cities is dozens of free channels offering a wide variety of high quality content.
Selecting the right antenna for your location isn’t easy. Big box stores carry only a couple of models and they’re usually only useful for capturing nearby signals.
That’s where Antennas Direct comes in. Established in 2004, the Internet retailer provides a wide variety of antennas suited to just about any location and their website offers a huge amount of information and links to address most installation concerns.
But buyer beware: even the best antenna won’t detect a signal where none is available. Before buying your antenna, plug in your address into the government’s digital tv reception map. This tool will offer clear advice of what is and isn’t visible from your location.
With this information in hand, head over to Antennas Direct and select from the wide variety of models offered there.
StuffWeLike tested the ClearStream™ 2 Complete Long-Range VHF/UHF Digital TV (DTV) Antenna Combo Pack, which includes a ClearStream™ 2-V antenna, 30 feet of cable, and a CJ-mount. The pack retails for $149.99 and promises a range of 50+ miles.
Although the website promotes the antenna as being suitable for both indoor and outdoor use, its utilitarian design and 35.5-inch width won’t win any popularity contests with spouses. For indoor use, Antennas Direct sells a variety of more aesthetically pleasing options like the Micron-R series.
Assembly of the antenna is simple, although you’ll need to be handy with a drill to affix the antenna’s mast to your house. We would have liked the antenna to come with a stand to facilitate aiming and tuning before committing to a permanent installation location.
We tried the antenna at two different locations in Los Angeles and got two polar opposite results. The first was a high-rise with a balcony facing directly towards the region’s transmission towers on Mount Wilson. As expected, the signal was nearly perfect for all the channels offered in the area.
However, the second location we tested was a house located adjacent to a hillside that obstructs the transmission towers. We were unable to receive any signal there. A visit to the reception map mentioned above confirmed that zero reception can be expected from this location.
So, to sum it up, if it’s possible to receive a signal from your location, you can be reasonably confident that the Clearstream 2 from Antennas Direct will see it. But save yourself a lot of wasted effort and check out your address first!
Antenna Direct also offers a $99.99 Tivo Premiere, which works excellently with its antennas. For $14.99 per month, Tivo offers a 14-day program guide that allows you to record up to 45 hours of HD programming.
The Tivo Premiere also allows you to access Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, Blockbuster On Demand and other online services.
The Tivo Premiere has an Ethernet port. If you need to access the web wirelessly, a Wireless G or N usb adapter is sold separately.
Setup of the Tivo can be time consuming. It took over 30 minutes to download its program guide data, but once completed, the combination of over-the-air broadcast and Internet streaming content is hard to beat.
We’re not ready to live with ESPN and other cable networks yet, but this combination is definitely a step in the right direction. At approximately $40 per month (Tivo service + Internet subscription services), it’s definitely cheaper than cable or satellite tv.