Ever since the transition to digital television, most consumers have had more choices in free over-the-air broadcasting. This guide provides information on TV antennas and tips for obtaining good quality reception of digital broadcasts.
Scanning for DTV Channels
Before making any changes to your current antenna or antenna system, you should perform a channel scan to see if your antenna receives the digital signals being broadcast in your area.
To run a channel scan, find the "set-up" or "menu" button on your remote control, then select the option that allows you to search for available digital broadcast channels. Once the scan is complete, you should be receiving all available digital channels in your area. In many cases, this is all you need to do to watch DTV broadcasts. You should rescan periodically to check whether additional digital channels have become available.
If you have any difficulty completing the channel scan, consult the owner's manual of your digital-to-analog converter box or DTV for detailed instructions.
Periodic rescanning until July 2020 due to changes in the TV band
The FCC recently auctioned spectrum that had been licensed to broadcast television stations operating on UHF TV Channels 38-51. The results of the auction (completed in April 2017) is currently affecting the availability of TV stations on these channels as they transition to other channels.
The FCC has established a time period to help smooth the transition of TV stations to other available channels. Specifically, the FCC allows some TV stations to continue operations on their channels until as late as July 2020, but some parts of the country have already transitioned (the first phase ended November 2018), and when the transition occurs depends on where you live.
You should rescan periodically to be sure your TV has the current channel lineup for your area.
More information on the FCC's scheduled transition can be found at: fcc.gov/TVrescan
Antennas for Receiving DTV
To receive DTV signals from all stations in the area, your antenna needs to be able to receive both VHF channels (channels 2-13) and UHF channels (channels 14-51, soon to be channels 14-36 after completion of this transition). Some antennas only provide good reception of VHF or UHF channels, but not both. For example, indoor "rabbit ears" usually need to be augmented with an additional "wire loop" or "bowtie" antenna (see images below) in order to pick up signals on UHF channels. Many of the antennas being sold as "HDTV Antennas" perform best at receiving UHF signals, but perform less well receiving VHF channels. Check with retail consultants and consumer websites to make sure that any antenna you choose provides good reception of both VHF and UHF channels.
Even if you use a digital-to-analog converter box, you will still need to use an antenna to receive DTV signals. Digital-to-analog converter boxes do not contain additional antennas or signal amplification.
Antennas for Different Conditions
The antennas shown below will work for the indicated signal strength in most instances, but may not work in all cases. The type of antenna needed at a specific location may vary depending on geographic location, the height at which the antenna is used and other local factors such as nearby buildings, trees, terrain or home construction. Generally, outdoor antennas will get better reception than indoor antennas and are strongly recommended for the most reliable reception.
- Antennas typically need to be oriented or "aimed" to get the best signal from the desired station. DTV reception can often be improved just by changing the location of your current antenna, even as little as a few inches. For example, moving it away from other objects or placing it higher or lower can often improve reception. Be sure to move the antenna slowly to allow time for the signal received by the digital TV tuner to be displayed.
- While adjusting your antenna, it may be helpful to access the "signal strength meter" on your digital-to-analog converter box or DTV, if it has one, to determine whether your adjustments are improving the signals' strength. The signal strength meter is usually accessed through the menu feature on your remote control; consult the owner's manual of your device for detailed instructions on how to access it.
- Remember to do another channel scan after you have adjusted your antenna. For outdoor antennas, a rotor that re-orients the antenna can improve performance, particularly when trying to receive stations that transmit from different locations.
- If you are near a station's broadcast tower, reception of that station, as well as other stations, can be impeded by strong signal "overload." If you suspect this to be the case, you may want to remove any signal amplifiers you may have or try to install an "attenuator" to reduce the amount of signal coming to your converter box or DTV.
- If you are not receiving certain DTV stations, this does not necessarily mean there is a problem with your antenna or receiver. Check with the TV station to find out whether they are planning changes that will improve reception. To check available signals where you live, use the FCC's DTV reception maps.