OTA Setup


In my attempts to be a "Cord-cutter", I've experimented and built a few OTA antennas in picking up VHF/UHF TV signals from the major broadcasters.  The advantages here are:
  2. Broadcasters transmitting in Digital, so picture is very clear
  3. Most broadcasters are transmitting their signals in glorious HD, either at 720p or 1080i
  4. I need to re-iterate, NO HUGE MONTHLY CABLE/SAT FEEs
Now OTA may not be for everyone.  For starts, you are only limited to the major broadcasting networks, meaning specialty subscription channels are a no go.  This would deter alot of sports freaks that must have their ESPN/TSN/Sportsnet, or any flavor in between.  Also gone are the HBO/Showcase/Bravo type channels.  But if your only watching a select few channels, most times you can either stream them right from the channels website, or download them via torrents, or even use third party streaming via Netflix, or Hulu.

The success of picking up OTA signals depends on alot of variables, which include the type of antenna used, the broadcasters signal (power rating, distance, transmitting antenna height), even weather can play a major role.  So there is alot of considerations that must be determined prior to actually cutting the cord and removing cable or satellite.

For me, I don't watch alot of TV anyways.  I'm content with Hockey Night in Canada on CBC, and I'm starting to enjoy PBS and TVO more and more.  Also our local station comes in good and strong for picking up the local news and weather.  My wife enjoys most of the reality type shows, which almost all are on one of the major broadcasting networks, which we can get OTA.  She misses the time-sharing (watching a show later on a West coast broadcast).  There's a slew of children's programming for my youngest child as in CBC Kids, PBS Kids, and TVO Kids.  The only one who is at a disadvantage is my oldest.  She would watch the older kid's programming on YTV and the sort...but hey, I've introduced her to Netflix, and torrents, so she's realizing that we can get programming to tie her over as well thru other means, if she can't find something from OTA.

My goal in the beginning was to attempt to get anything, and to install an antenna in the attic.  I didn't think the wife would enjoy an antenna outdoors (to which she has actually indicated that it wouldn't bother her as much as I had thought).  If the attic install didn't work out, I would then take the setup outside.

There is a wonderful site called TVFool.com, where you just type in your address, and it will report the OTA stations that you should be able to pickup with the appropriate setup.  My TVFool report is shown below:

Here is the TVFool.com readout:

Note: LOCAL OTA RECEPTION as of 5/07/12):

If all works out, I should be able to pickup 24 channels (along with 6 or more sub-channels) after the transition.  Most of all in HD...and for FREE!

How to read those charts above?  In theory, anything in the green should be able to be had via a simple TV top indoor antenna.  Anything in yellow will require an antenna that is positioned higher, say in the attic, or outdoors.  Anything in the red usually requires an outdoor setup.  Usually at minimum a tripod on the roof, or tower.  The channels in the grey are extremely hard/almost impossible to get, unless you have the height, the proper antenna, the weather on your side, and a little bit of luck.

In all practicality, though, one can achieve some pretty outstanding results, with something like an attic install, if a proper antenna is used, and a little bit of thought and design is put in...and still, a whole lot of luck.  I've been successful at getting WNYO pretty consistently, and that is way down in the red with a -3.2dB NM figure.  I have successfully been able to get even ION (WPXJ RF23) with a -9.3dB NM.  That is really impressive for an attic install.  By far my most impressive snag was one night, I received WWTI from Watertown, NY state.  Watertown is over 300km away, so that was a pretty impressive catch.

The problem with attic installs is that a signal has to go through building materials which can degrade the signal quite a bit.  Some say as high as 20dB loss or more is not uncommon.  An attic install takes a tremendous amount of time to find the adequate spots to maximize the signal that you can get, and then a whole lot of tweaking thereafter to achieve that little bit more.  I think one of the main successes to my attic install contributes to the type of antenna used, and the fact that I have only 1 layer of shingles for the signal to penetrate.  Homes with multiple layers of shingles would most likely prove more susceptible to extreme signal loss. 

Looking at my TVFool report, I had three primary targets that I wanted to try and pickup stations.  These are described below.

My first target was an attempt to receive Buffalo stations:
WNYO-TV - MyNetworkTV
WNGS - Buffalo Local
WKBW-TV - ABC Buffalo Local
WGRZ - NBC Buffalo affiliate
WIVB-TV - CBS Buffalo affiliate
WNED-TV - PBS Buffalo affiliate
WNLO-TV - CW23 Buffalo
WUTV - FOX Buffalo affiliate

The antenna's mounting location and direction are shown in the map below:

Some of the above channels are not on axis with this direction so it will be hit and miss.  Also in this direction I'm hoping to pick up local CHCH-DT, and CKXT-TV off the Hamilton tower.  If CHCH channel comes in too strong (either their digital or analog counterpart on RF11), it could knock out some of the weaker Buffalo channels, something that I may have to address.  If this proves to be a good test and I'm able to get a few channels, then I will look at building a dual-bay Gray-Hoverman to aid in a stronger signal.

UPDATE: I actually attempted a DBGH build, but gave up after first tests, since it behaved more poorly than expected in my test location.

A second antenna will be used for the Canadian target and pointed towards the CN Tower in Toronto.  It will be used to pick-up these following digital channels:
CIII-TV - Global
CBLT-DT - CBC (English)
CBLFT-DT - CBC (French)

Again, the mounting location will be in the attic, so I know that some of the above channels will not come through, mainly the CTV, CityTV and maybe Global (I'm going to work hard at getting Global though).

UPDATE: Since the above statement, I've come to the conclusion that CFMT, CIII, CITY, and CKXT won't be valid channels until the August 2011 Canadian Digital Transition.  At that point, all channels will be adjusted in their transmitting frequencies to lower UHF segments, and upping their ERP power outputs. 

  Here is a map from www.antennamap.com that show the direction of this antenna.

The third target location that I would also like to experiment with pointing the antenna in the direction shown below:

In this direction will give me the following:
WJET-TV - ABC Erie affiliate
WFXP - FOX Erie affiliate
WQLN - PBS Erie affiliate
WICU-TV - NBC Erie affiliate
WSEE-TV - CBS Erie affiliate

Though these most likely will require something like a DBGH, CM4228, or a 91XG antenna, since my house is in the deep-fringe zone for Erie broadcasts (deep purple/gray in the TVFool report).

UPDATE: After much experimentation, I have pretty much given up on the third target.  To many variables are against me in getting any signals from Erie.  I would most likely have to move the antenna outside and higher up to get them.  Even then, I don't think I would be getting them 24/7.

Here is an image of my house superimposed over the TVFool report, to further aid in aiming the antennas:

During my experimentation, I have constructed varying types of DIY antennas, based on the great works of individuals over at digitalhome.ca.  The build of each type is listed:

I have a four antenna setup (antenna farm) in my attic. Two SBGH for UHF, and two Loop antenna for VHF. Each SBGH is paired with a VHF-Loop. Each pair is connected to a Channel Master 7777 preamp (using both VHF and UHF inputs).  The outputs of each preamp flows down ~60' of coax to their respective power-inserters. The output of the inserters are combined through a Holland's splitter/combiner and directly coupled to the input of a Channel Master 3414 distribution amp.  Two of the distro-amps outputs go direct to a bedroom TV (longest run at around 80'+) and my HTPC (only run using RG-59 - buried in walls, was already there when house was purchased...not by choice). The other two outputs are each split with Holland's splitters to another 3 TV's and my MediaPVR.

The setup is shown below (updated: 01/31/12 - updated for the additional TV connections)

Even though I have an attic install, this is what I've been able to achieve:

OTA Channel List

Overall, I'm very pleased in what I was able to get with my rig.  I've been able to get almost every channel that others with outdoor systems have been able to get.  Even the channels that do give me grief, like ION and MyTV, are difficult for other too.  So over all I'm not moving my setup outdoors.  There's no reason to.  Also it will only get better as the Canadian transition to digital is to occur August 2011.  So even some of the Canadian stations shown above that are giving me hassles, come this August, are moving around on the RF scale and upping their ERP (power) output, so it will make getting them a heck of alot easier...increasing the wealth of the OTA setup.

I also would say currently the system has paid itself off.  The tuner cards for the computers, cable, materials for the assortment of antennas, cost of pre-amp and distribution amp, I would have to put a price tag around $400 dollars.  Compare that to cable/sat monthly bill, I've paid for the system in 4 months, and I've been running OTA for about a year now.

I'm a happy Cord Cutter.

*UPDATE AUGUST 31st, 2011*
The days not over but here is the latest news.

A couple of weeks ago CHCH transitioned from their temporary RF18 spot to their old analog RF11.  That signal hasn't given me any issues and is coming in very well.

Last week, CIII (Global) out of Toronto and Paris transitioned to their RF41 and RF6 allotment respectively.  RF41 was Global's analog frequency out of Toronto, and that was shut down for the digital signal.  It is not clear if they are transmitting at full power yet since their temporary signal at RF65 is still running too.  That should be shut down before midnight tonight, so we shall see what happens there.

RF6 out of Paris is a station that I cannot pickup.  Their analog signal was very snowy so to not pickup the digital was not unexpected.  It would have been nice to snag that extra signal though.

On August 23rd, CFTO and CKCO both tested their post-transition signals on RF9 and RF13 respectively.  I was able to get both of them very well that night.  Last night/early this morning, they did the official transition.  CFTO converted from RF40 to RF9, shutting down their analog signal.  CKCO did a flash cut of their analog signal on RF13 to digital.  As of this morning, CFTO was barely coming in steady with the TV barely able to lock on it.  CKCO is a complete no-show, which is very disappointing after the promise shown during the test night.

On August 16th, TVO did a flashcut of their major transmitters.  Two of these, RF19 out of Toronto, and RF28 out of London were both successfully received at my location.  RF19 was to be expected since their analog signal came in so clear.  RF28 is an added bonus, as the analog signal I used to get was extremely snowy and poor.  I was not expecting this channel, but I'm very pleased to actually get it.

I haven't seen or heard anything on CityTV, OMNI1/2 or CTS.  Also I thought SunTV on RF15 was shutdown, but it has made a dubious appearance this morning.  Not sure how long that one will last.

Will update here more when I'm able to receive them.


So a few things have changed since I last left a message here.  SunTV on RF15 is now gone.  They went total subscription TV.  CHCH on VHF11 has now submitted an application to move to the vacant RF15 that resides on the same tower.  RTV that resided on RF33 (NBC's second subchannel) has left the OTA scene.  Universal sports in the new year will leave as well, which was NBC's other sub.  Global on RF41 now appears to have a subchannel which is re-broadcasting it's HD content in SD.  This is the first Canadian channel to do this.  I've been able to solidify CFTO and CKCO (RF9 and 13 respectively) using a different antenna design.  My setup now consists of two Grey-Hoverman antennas for UHF, and two Loop Antennas for VHF.  One set consisting of a Grey-Hoverman and Loop are pointed towards the CN Tower for a majority of the Canadian content.  The other Hoverman and Loop are pointed towards Buffalo for the US content and the lonely Canadian CKCO station towards London in the opposite direction of the Buffalo antenna.  See pictures below of my antenna setup.

 Here are the two Toronto facing antennas - The loop in the left corner and the Hoverman

  Here is the other antenna setup - The Buffalo facing Hoverman and the London facing loop for CKCO

*UPDATE JULY 5th, 2012

Full overview of channel listings, including TSReader screen captures and html reports (still adding) can be found here