Low(er)-tech in the 21st Century

This weekend, I used a lower-tech solution to my TV reception problem. I had been using a pair of rabbit ears (with balls of aluminum foil on the ends) for the TV upstairs. They provided a workable picture on a couple of channels, but CBS and the UHF channels were horrible. That’s where I started on my quest.

We tried out one of those amplified set-top antennas. The kind you buy at Wal-Mart for $30. Believe it or not, the rabbit ear antenna beat out the amplified rabbit ear antenna. Ok — back to the store. Next up, another pair of rabbit ear antennas. This one looked a bit better — on the box. Performance wise, it was no better.

At that point, I started thinking of putting up a real antenna. You know, the ones you see on top of trailer homes and farmhouses. Except, where I’m at, you don’t see much of either one of those. Plus, I really didn’t like the idea of climbing up on the roof.

Fast-forward to Friday night — I’m over at a friends house, and he has setup his PC and a projector as his TV. He has an HDTV tuner card, and an amazing picture. I asked him what cable company he had, and he said that he didn’t. He had installed an antenna in his attic. Attic? I hadn’t given that too much serious thought. I mean, it couldn’t be that much better than the rabbit ears in the bedroom, right? Well, I had to find out.

The next day, I went to Radio Shack. But, before I had success, I had to experience failure just one more time. I asked the sales person for a good antenna for mounting in the attic. He pointed to a indoor/outdoor amplified antenna (HDTV Ready too!). It was just $50. Ok, sign me up. I took it home, connected it right up to the TV as a test, and it was worse than the rabbit ears (this was starting to become a trend). Well, I thought, maybe it was because I was still in the house — let me try this from outside. After about 15 minutes of having my wife wave the antenna around from the top of a step ladder, I gave up on this antenna.

Disappointed, but not yet discouraged, I went back to the web. I needed one of those big antennas. The really big ones. But where could I get one? I remember as a kid seeing them for sale at Radio Shack, but I had asked, and they had given me the best they had. Or did they? Actually, what they had given me was the easiest option for them to sell me. Had they given me what I actually wanted, it would’ve been more work for them. And, if I didn’t succeed with the installation, I might’ve actually returned it — which is more work for them. But, unless I knew what to ask them for, they weren’t going to sell it to me.

Thankfully, their website doesn’t withhold useful information like their salespeople. I quickly searched www.radioshack.com and found this:

antenna

80″ Boom, 32 elements. VHF, UHF, and FM. HDTV ready. No amplification needed.

And where could I purchase this? According to the website, it was in-stock at the very same Radio Shack I had been to just hours before. Nice. Armed with a catalog number (15-2152, for those who are curious), I made my way back to the store. “I’ll take one of these please”, I told the salesperson (the same salesperson who had sold me the other antenna). After a few minutes, he came out of the back with a huge box (80″ boom length requires at least an 80″ long box 🙂 ), and a big look of surprise. As he was ringing me up, I saw that another customer was in looking for an antenna — the other salesperson was recommending the indoor/outdoor amplified antenna that I had mistakenly purchased earlier in the day. I think I saw that customer eyeing my purchase and secretly wondering if he should really be buying that antenna. Maybe he’ll be back to trade his purchase in as well.

Anyway, now that I have this antenna, the setup was relatively easy. My attic isn’t the most friendly space to work in, but it happened to be enough to work with. I’ve got the antenna propped up on the floor, which isn’t ideal, but for now works. I plan to buy some kind of stand that I can use to actually hold up the antenna and aim it in the right direction, but for now, I have a picture that’s way better than any set of rabbit ears. And, as a bonus, I’ve hooked it into the coax that’s already running through the house, so all of the TVs can have a good signal as well.

I would highly recommend going with a full-size antenna over the set-top antennas any day. You probably don’t need to go out on the roof — if you have an attic space that’s available. Skip the frustration, and go with the real thing.

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