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HDTV/DTV Reception Basics
Date Modified: 2011-05-25

Tech Tip:
Welcome to the Winegard Company HDTV/DTV Reception Basics Guide. Here you will find easy to understand information on how television signal is broadcast and viewed in your home for free, what equipment is required, troubleshooting and terminology. 

Can I Really Receive High Definition Television For Free?
Yes! Television signals are broadcast and received in a similar manner to your radio. You could pay a monthly fee and get satellite radio, or you could listen to the many great local stations available for free in your area.

 

I Grew Up With only 3 Channels!

Broadcast television networks have grown significantly in the past decade and with the on-set of digital technology are now broadcasting multiple channel options. From 1956-1986 there were a total of 3 national networks (ABC, CBS and NBC). Today, more than 20 nationwide broadcasting networks exist including PBS, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, MyNetworkTV and The CW. Many networks now offer multiple channels such as PBS which broadcasts PBS YOU, PBS KIDS, PBS KIDS Sprout, PBS WORLD and PBS-HD.  Some of which aren’t even available on pay TV! 

Which networks are available in my area?

Find out here! - (TitanTV)

 

What Else Has Changed?

Besides an exponential increase in the number of channels available, the picture quality of free over the air television is now the Gold Standard of digital television.  Some networks are also broadcast in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound.

 

How do I Receive Free HDTV/DTV Programming?

Receiving Free DTV and HDTV programming consists of 3 basic elements.

  1. The transmitter that sends the DTV signal. (The Television Network)
  2. The antenna that picks up the DTV signal. (Your Antenna)
  3. The tuner to display the signal on your display. (Your TV or Converter Box)

The Transmitter

Your local broadcast TV stations have powerful transmitters high on towers, usually located in a central area, outputting a DTV signal.  These TV towers serve a market within a specific area or “footprint”. If you are in the “footprint” of the broadcast tower, you should be able to receive the signal from that tower with the proper antenna.

 

Broadcast frequencies are broken up into the following categories:

  1. VHF (Very High Frequency): 54 Mhz – 216 Mhz, Channels 2 – 13
  2. UHF (Ultra High Frequency): 470 Mhz – 698 Mhz, Channels 14 – 69
  3. 698 Mhz – 806 Mhz: Formerly used for television and will now be freed up for future 4G services like W-Max. Pay satellite services, cell phone providers and other such companies use these frequencies.

 

With this huge amount of bandwidth, over the air digital television has plenty of room to provide a less compressed HDTV signal.  What this means is if you’re watching a football game or any HDTV program you will get a sharper, more colorful, better quality image than the same game on the same channel with satellite or cable. 

The large amount of bandwidth also allows users of free over the air DTV to receive expanded programming.  Basically, there are more channels available because you can fit 6 DTV channels where one analog channel use to be.

 

 

The Antenna

The piece of equipment that captures the signal from the transmitter and sends it to your television or converter box is the antenna.  The antenna is the most important link in your DTV system.  The proximity in which you live to the broadcast towers, the terrain in between and the frequencies (channels) the TV stations are transmitting on determine the type of antenna needed to capture the DTV signal. The signal DTV stations are broadcast on is line of sight. So, the flatter the terrain and the fewer obstacles between the transmitter and the antenna the better.   

 

Generally, the closer you live to a transmitter, the smaller the antenna you need.  As you move father from the transmitter, there is less available signal and you need a larger antenna to capture as much signal as possible. 

In some cases, trees, buildings or other obstacles degrade signal quality in your area.  A larger antenna may be needed to receive the low amount of signal. Since TV stations are transmitting digital stations on both VHF and UHF in 98% of the US, you will need a VHF/UHF combination antenna to receive all available channels in your area.  Make sure the antenna receives both UHF and VHF or you are coupling a VHF antenna to a UHF antenna where needed. 

Which antenna is right for you? Find out here! (AntennaWeb)

The Tuner

The final part of your Free DTV and HDTV system is your tuner. Most televisions produced after 2004 have a built-in digital tuner that will take the signal from your antenna and display it on your television. Televisions without a digital tuner will need a digital converter box to decode the digital signal from the antenna.

 

If you are using a converter box you will receive a DVD quality digital picture.  You will need an HDTV to display true High Definition on screen.  HDTV’s automatically display High Definition programming when it is available without any setting changes.




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