OTA: What You Should Know First!

This summer, I learned a lot from setting up my “Over-The-Air” (OTA) antenna at my home in Orangeville, Ontario. Check out my prior postings under the category labelled “OTA”.

Like many things in life, I discovered all the important “tricks” after I had struggled with the setup of my system. It would have been nice if I had known that information prior to starting my setup! Oh well, live and learn…

Below are some useful tips before you buy an OTA antenna:

1.Check out the estimated Broadcast Reception Coverage for your area. If you live in North America, you can go to the “TV Fool” website [ http://tvfool.com/ ]. This site contains a tool that displays station broadcast coverage strengths (both analog and digital) relative to your location.

Here is a direct link to that resource:
[ http://tvfool.com/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=29 ]

NOTE: If you live in Canada, just enter your postal code in the zip code area (do NOT fill in any other information such as street address, city, province, etc…).

2. There are many resources over the Internet that provide information relating to OTA antennas. Do your homework ahead of time.

Here is a link to a webpage comparing various OTA antennas:
[ http://www.hdtvantennalabs.com/hdtv-antenna-guide.php ]

When you have completed your homework regarding OTA, go to a retailer and ask a lot of questions. It doesn’t hurt to get different opinions from several independent sources…

3. An OTA retailer once mentioned to me, “Start with a lower-cost solution, and then start adding more hardware as you go along to solve the problem(s).”

When I first set up my newer OTA system, I noticed that I could pick-up WGRZ-3 in Buffalo which is RTN (Retro Television Network). Jackpot! I first discovered RTN when I tried out my FTA satellite system at my cottage in the summer of 2008. Unfortunately, this station is a long distance from my home, and the reception is “intermitant” at best. The signal seem to be best at night, when the atmospheric conditions are better. Unfortunately, that is when RTN plays “infomercials!”. D’oh!

BUT there are solutions. For example, you can purchase a device called a preamp that attaches to the OTA antenna. No extra wires are required with this preamp device (other than the RG6 cable) to boost “fringe” TV signals. A lot of the signal is lost in transfer as it travels down the RG6 cable to your TV. A preamp boosts the signal from the source.

Here is a link to a webpage for reference: [ http://www.crutchfield.com/S-fGfzbZZ95rv/p_6597777/Channel-Master-7777.html?c=16&avf=N&tab=review ].

The last two tips apply to Mythtv users. I’m a big believer in Mythtv – the program is free, and runs on the Linux OS, which is free. OK, I’m biased here, but I’m sold on the Linux operating system. I have used MS Windows for years, but I prefer to work in the Linux environment. Linux is not just a “command line interface” that people assume…

I have been around IT (industry and/or college systems) for nearly 25 years, and I’ve seen how dependable those UNIX/LINUX systems are – period! I’m sure there is a Windows version of Mythtv, but I get a “chuckle” when I see people access my blog by performing a netsearch with the wording “Mythtv – windows vista”. Listen, if there is a free windows version of Mythtv – go for it! As for myself, I would prefer that my Mythtv backend system run on a server 24/7, so I will use a free OS that excels in a server capacity! Just my $0.02 …

4. When using Mythtv, you can subscribe to schedulesdirect.org to automatically download and use a 14 day programming guide (cable, OTA, Satellite, etc..) so you can select programs to record in advance. I have seen at least one net search leading to my blog with the phrase:

“I can’t view the programming guide info for OTA stations!”

The answer is simple yet subtle. I discovered the solution by mistake, and then “played a hunch”. When viewing OTA stations, the TV station format is number, followed by a dash, then followed by a number. In this way, broadcasters can broadcast several different stations. For example WGRZ in Buffalo has 2-1 (regular station), 2-2 (Sports), 2-3 (RTN) or WNED in Buffalo has 17-1 (Regular station in Standard Definition SD), 17-2 (Regular station in High Definition HD), 17-3 (New station called “Think Bright”). The problem here, is that (when using Mythtv on my system) the default separator is an underscore “_” and not a dash “-“. The schedulesdirect.org system uses a dash! Therefore, the solution is to go into your settings and change the default separator from an underscore “_” to a dash “-“. That will likely solve that problem…

5. Another common question posed by Canadian (GTA) Mythtv users is:

How can I get Canadian stations to be included in the programming guide when subscribing to schedulesdirect.org?

I’m guessing that since Canada will not “officially” switch from analog to digital until end of August 2011, schedulesdirect.org doesn’t need to provide Digital OTA information. But many stations in Canada do have digital signals! There may be other solutions here, but what worked for me is to use a zip code in the U.S. (apparently a town called “Youngstown”) that contains this information. So I have to use a U.S. zipcopde to view my own country’s station listings (*go figure*). Here is the zip code that I have used for antenna settings in my schedulesdirect.org account:


6. Have I purchased the best video capture card (i.e. tuner card)?

I didn’t learn about this tip until a few weeks ago… and I’m still trying to get a straight answer. I have heard that some tuner cards are more sensitive than others to pick up OTA signals. I have a Hauppauge HVR 1600 dual tuner card and seem to be happy with it, but I have heard there are better cards (for example, the pcHDTVTM Hi Definition Television Card). I am still checking into this, and seeing if there is a comparison method to help choose between tuner cards… please stay tuned…

Many people are complimenting me about the great content on my blog. As a teacher, I believe great content generates a “better product” and therefore more visitors. But since I’m a believer in “open source”, I will never charge for this blog “product”. As of January 2009, my blog has had over 33,000 visits…

I have an endless stream of topics I will post (especially in regards to Linux and open source software applications). Why am I always *harping* about open source? Because you can save a lot of money by using open source software instead of propriety software…

Here is a link to a Ubuntu WIKI to help new users: http://zenit.senecac.on.ca/wiki/index.php/Ubuntu_Guide

This WIKI will be a “Work in Process” for a while… but you might find it very useful…

It’s not just for techies anymore … A lot of non-Linux users laugh when I tell them I have an operating system that lets me search for and install thousands of free, legal and powerful applications by clicking a few buttons. Then I show them. Then they stop laughing… >;)

Keep the faith,
Murray (the “preacher”) Saul


~ by Murray Saul on October 1, 2009.

11 Responses to “OTA: What You Should Know First!”

  1. So you’re the “preacher teacher” as opposed to the “creature teacher”? 🙂

    • Probably both. My wife is a teacher as well. But why am I saying this to you Stu (or should I say “Cooter”). She always refers to “Meet the teacher night” as “Meet the creature night”…


  2. Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  3. Hi Murray!
    I also live in Orangeville and I have just started to play with OTA signals myself. I have a FTA Sonicview 800hd unit hooked up to my OTA system and I am able to record on a hard drive connected to it.

    My question is, do you know if you can have a preamp and a distribution amp on the same line, or would this even help.
    I currently have a distribution amp only and it helps a lot to pull in channels, approximately 17 with 4 bay attic mounted antenna.
    I am subscribed to Starchoice but like the option of recording one show on FTA unit and watching something else at same time.



    • I’m not certain because I haven’t done both on the same line.
      I’m hoping to buy a preamp for my OTA antenna sometime this spring (not going up on the roof right now)…

      I’m not certain what a “distribution amp” is unless it is that small device to connect over 100 ft RG6 cables together…
      If that is the case, that doesn’t help reception, but could make things worse.

      In one of my previous posts, I have a link to preamp for OTA antennas, although you should be able to get one anywhere…
      Were you able to pull-in Retro Television Network with a good dependable signal throughout the entire day with a preamp?
      How high is your OTA antenna?


  4. I get Retro channel some time only, the antenna I have is a cheap 4 bay from Factory Direct and it is mounted in the attic.

    I am able to get Global, CBC,ABC,CHCH,CW23,PBS,Omni 1 & 2,City TV,Fox 29 and the Think channel, depending on the weather I will pull in a couple other Buffalo channels but not dependable.

    The amp I use is mounted inside near my TV and is for long runs of cable, that is why I was thinking about a pre amp but don’t want to spend the money if it wont make any difference.

    For $50 spent on antenna and amp, I am pleased with what I get but human nature makes me want more!


    • I am lead to believe that you will get better reception if antenna is mounted OUTSIDE on roof (on tvfool.com website, it displays categories of 1. Indoor antenna, 2. In Roof antenna, and 3. Outside antenna). I believe that preamp will improve the reception since most of the signal is lost when traveling down the cable… The preamp should make a difference…

      Yes, as the techies always say about end-users: “There is always *just one more thing* ….” 😉


  5. dont know much about all this tech talk but a local dold me a
    homemade antenna thet works wonderful. cost $15.00 and i had to
    use rg 6 lead in but it works great. sj

    • Are you in a major city?
      Unfortunately, I’m hundreds of miles away from the station, so I’m using a large antenna….


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