OTA Antenna and HD ATSC Broadcast Information
Many people are interested in Over-The-Air (OTA) antennas and signals, especially
with the rise of high definition (HD) television screens. There are presently
two types of OTA signals: digital standard-definition
signals and digital high-definition signals. Analog signals are also available in Canada. Following is an explanation of
what each is, why you'd want them, and how to find out if you can get them.
All, of course, in relation to TiVo and other DVRs.
- Digital, high-definition (HD): This is the highest quality
signal broadcast from antennas, and it's also generally higher than the compressed
signals from satellite providers DirecTV, Dish Network, and cable companies. Local stations broadcast these
ATSC signals in every major metropolitan areas and many smaller ones in the US. They
sometimes carry more than one stream of HD signal allowing for more programming
options. It is these channels that DirecTV is adding to its new satellite
and broadcasting in the MPEG4 format. But the DirecTV, Dish Network, and cable rebroadcasts
of these channels are down-rezzed so that the HD image loses much of its clarity
and sharpness. In many cases the differences are enormous. For that reason,
even if you have DirecTV, Dish Network, or cable equipment that can get these locals,
you'll be better off with an antenna pulling these stations in from the local
towers. Also, getting the signal this way is much more impervious to weather
conditions especially rain-fade.
- Digital, standard-definition (SD): Digital SD broadcasts
are part of the transition to ATSC digital television and are often overlooked.
They generally provide the same picture as the discontinued analog version, but at a much
higher quality, and with a better chance of clear tuning. Basically, though,
there is very little that can deal with these signals that doesn't also do
HD, so there's not too much to do with it.
- Analog, standard-definition: Generally called NTSC, this
is the old-fashioned and original television broadcast. This has been discontinued as of June 2009 in the US, but still exists in Canada. We do have two units that can still receive and record this signal - the Humax DVD TiVo.
Equipment: To record these high quality HD signals,
the current unit is the TiVo
Premiere. This DVR will also record from cable, with CableCARDs,
and can stream video from a number of online sources. (Keep in mind
that the TiVo Premiere Elite does NOT work with an off-air antenna.)
Additionally, DirecTV customers with a HR20 DVRs can record HD
antenna signals. For users with HR21, HR22, HR23, HR24 and HR34
units, an AM21 (antenna module)
can connect to those DVRs for reception of HD antenna signals, fully
integrated into the program guide.
As mentioned, a standalone TiVo, or a TiVo with
a DVD burner can tune the old-fashioned analog OTA signals.
Other older units can record these HD signals:
DIRECTV HR10-250: The first TiVo to record
HD, including OTA HD stations. This unit has four tuners from three inputs:
two for satellite signals from a 3 LNB (elliptical) or 5 LNB (AT9) dish; and
one input for OTA HD signals (one external port is split internally to two tuners
since this is a one-way communication conduit). The unit can tune all current
OTA signals - both HD and SD. The HR10-250 can record any two programs at once
from any of the four tuners. NOTE: This TiVo is pretty outdated at this point. DirecTV and TiVo have announced that a new HD DVR from both companies will be available in 2011. We don't know whether that unit will support OTA recording.
TiVo HD: This product is a TiVo-brand DVR. It actually has
six tuners, and the ability to record from any two at once. The six tuners are
two of each of these three varieties: two cable (via one or two CableCARDs),
two NTSC tuners, and two ATSC tuners. This is the most flexible TiVo by
far - able to act as a cable box (with the CableCARDs), and receive and record the OTA
HD signals - which are the cream of the crop. The key to any of the above scenarios
is the source of the data. Re-broadcasters, like the satellite companies or
cable providers, essentially try to cram lots of programming down a certain
amount of bandwidth. In the process, they use some type of compression that
inevitably results in the loss of image quality by the time it reaches your
television screen. In the case of SD transmissions, the quality was never great,
and it doesn't suffer a lot by the time you get it. And since satellite and
cable providers digitize the NTSC signals at the source the quality is often
better than a broadcast NTSC signal. But with HD, the reverse is true. The networks
and their local affiliates all have the bandwidth to broadcast very high quality
images. Local stations can broadcast ATSC OTA channels in resolutions up to
1920 × 1080, which makes for a pretty amazing picture, even on a 1080p
screen (the highest quality currently available). Local stations have every
reason to bring you the highest quality signal they can. The problem is that
the re-broadcasters (satellite and cable companies) have the reverse incentive.
They want to squeeze more channels in, generally sacrificing quality. Locals
are ensured their frequency space and don't have this constraint.
Getting HD local broadcasts: An OTA antenna. Since the DirecTV
HR10-250 and the TiVo Series 3 (as well as the non-DVR H10 and H20 and most older DirecTV HD receivers)
can work with OTA signals, use those in place of the DirecTV-rebroadcast feeds.
You'll get better quality, more options, and less vulnerability to weather problems.
To find out how far your local stations' towers are, enter your
zip code at AntennaWeb (all you need
is your zip code, but entering a full address is going to get you more accurate
WeaKnees offers two antennas currently. We offer the Winegard SquareShooter
line - the SS-1000 and SS-2000. The SS-2000 basically takes the SS-1000 and
adds a power amplifier to it to extend its range. For more information about
choosing and installing an OTA antenna, see our TiVo
Blog entry on OTA antennas and TiVos.
| OTA Antennas - The Winegard SquareShooter and directional 91XG
Antenna for receiving over-the-air broadcasts. Will receive signals from yellow, green, light green, red and blue distances (see AntennaWeb
for detail). Includes Amplifier. $139 - FREE