Cord Cutting Experiments: Antenna

2019-09-16 23:31 - General

I've been a TiVo user for almost exactly a decade. It's pretty great, but as is it's tied to cable service, because a few years back (and before my most recent (and I'm pretty sure only) upgrade) they split their product line so that the device only supports cable or OTA broadcast, not both. More things are going online only (I'm looking at you, "CBS All Access" locking the new Star Trek behind a $6/mo charge that certainly isn't worth it for one show!) and I'm hearing more and more about "cord cutting". Might it be for me?

My new OTA TV antenna, taped up in the best place I've found so far. The antenna is currently angled off of pure vertical, by resting on a bit of packaging material.

So I got an antenna. Broadcast TV is legitimately free, after all. Free over-the-air TV plus a streaming package or two should be more content than I need, for less than I'm paying now, right?. This is a "Channel Master FLATenna" which is probably just like all the similar "sheet of paper" looking modern digital antennas, but was reviewed well and only costs $10 (plus $10 shipping). I live in Manhattan, so signal coverage should be great, right?

I put it at the very top of my window at first, which was mostly fine, but I couldn't get ABC. I summoned distant memories from my childhood of playing with TV antennas, and started playing with positions. I first tried the wall above the TV because it's an easy location and 90 degrees offset from the window. Then I tried a couple others, including an awkward compound angle hanging across the corner and pointed up, and lots of other similar variations. Blue painters tape and shipping bubbles certainly isn't an awesome permanent solution, but for now it's been useful to be able to move it around for easy experimentation.

Of course with this small indoor antenna, across various locations I can receive more channels than I can get in any one of them. This is the best compromise I've found so far. Here I get all the big national stations (CBS, NBC, FOX, and ABC), plus some more local stations, plus one of the two local PBSes (WLIW yes, WNET no). I spent quite a bit of the weekend popping the antenna into various places, then running scans and checking the signal strength across the dial. Of course the evangelical stations are the only ones that come in super strong regardless of location.

And since we're in the digital broadcast era, each of them come with a couple to several substations. My favorite discovery, which I was previously unaware of, is Quest TV. With shows like Modern Marvels and Factory Made it should be a good stand-in for losing Discovery and Science.

Along the way I've also discovered that my TV has basic PVR functionality built in! It's disabled in the USA (why?) but that can be fixed. It's basic and seems to only work while the TV is on, but it helps evaluate things.

It will require being happy with more SD content, but I can live with that. There appears to be a rather inconsistent handling of 4:3 content, though. Some of it is letterboxed, so should be zoomed. Some is pillar-barred, so should probably be left as is. Some others appear to be anamorphic and require stretching to 16:9. And my Samsung TV at least can't figure this out automatically.

Another pleasantly surprising detail is the availability of program guide data. I've never hooked this TV to the internet. Especially since it sometimes blanks out the video preview, the guide data is clearly coming over the air. I assume there's a standard tied in to digital broadcasting. I'm curious about it but haven't managed to find any clear information about this online yet.

Right now I'm looking at 39 non-junk channels, which is pretty good. What remains is to experiment with some sort of DVR for broadcast TV, and streaming solutions.


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