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How to get HDTV from an Antenna to every outlet in the house

A few months ago I cut the cord on cable TV. I still use the cable company for internet, but I traded the cable television for subscriptions to Netflix, Sling, and Hulu.

For local TV stations I recently installed a HD antenna in the attic and I have the signal running to six outlets in the house from the single antenna. Essentially the HD antenna replaced the cable company feed to the TVs. Crystal clear reception of all the major networks. Nice!

Setup is not overly complicated if you understand that you are sending a single antenna feed into the main feed of the house. Here’s how I did it:

Supplies you’ll need to purchase (see steps for explanation and guidance):

  • HD Antenna
  • Coaxial cable long enough to go from your mount point to the entry point of the cable/satellite feed on the side of the house.
  • Optional: Cable TV power booster / amplifier
  • Optional: HDTV Digital Converter Box

Note: The details of your house will vary slightly. I include in these steps decision points so that you can make sure your installation is working before making a final installation.

  1. Check the distance of your home to nearest HD transmitters. I used http://www.antennapoint.com/. This is important because it will determine if you need an antenna rated for long distances.
  2. While on the site, also note the direction of the HD transmitters from your house because you’ll want to point your antenna in that direction.
  3. Buy a HD Antenna that is designed for mounting in the attic or outside. If you are beyond 50 miles from the nearest transmitters make sure to find an antenna with extended distance strength. If you are less than 50 miles then standard antennas should work as long as you have a good mount point. But research the specs and customer reviews for this point. I purchased this attic mount antenna from GE.  I’m about 25 miles from the station transmitters in my area.antenna
  4. Buy a coaxial cable (This is the same type of cable that runs from the wall to the back of your cable/satellite box) that is long enough to reach from where you intend to mount the antenna to the location where the cable/satellite enters the house. This is usually on the side of the house. I purchased a 100 foot cable because my entry point was in the basement. I probably only needed about 65-70 feet, but I didn’t want to be short and I thought the extra length could be used if I have to move the mount location in the future.
  5. Setup the Antenna on a single TV first to make sure it has the strength for reception and works.  I chose to test on a television in an upstairs bedroom because it was the highest point inside the house.
  6. Choose a location for mounting the antenna. The higher you mount an antenna the better as it will increase the chances of avoiding trees or other objects that could degrade the signal quality. Remember, you’ll want to aim the antenna in the direction of the transmitter stations for best quality.HD-Attic-Antenna-1
  7. Mount the antenna in the attic or outside. If possible run the long coaxial cord you purchased to a single TV as a temporary test of the mount location. Since I was in the attic, I ran the cable through the attic ladder opening to an upstairs TV for the test. This will allow you to adjust the antenna positioning if needed for more optimal reception.
  8. Run the coaxial cable from the antenna to the place where the cable/satellite line enters the house. Depending on your house and mount point, this could be the most difficult step of the process. Since I was in the attic I used a drill bit to make a small hole in the soffit very close to the downspout on the corner of the house. I then pushed the coaxial cable through the soffit hole into the attic so that I could grab it from the inside and secure it. Inside the attic I secured the cable along the wood beams for protection. I then used the downspout to hide the cable from visibility in the front of the house.
  9. Secure the other end of the coaxial cable to the place where the old cable line/satellite line entered the house and terminated.  It will look something like this.CableService Box
  10. There is probably a splitter of some kind as the main feed from the cable company splits to lines running to each outlet. This is the picture of what it may look like. If you use the cable company for your cable modem then you you’ll want to split it out separately from the TV feeds.Cable Splitter
  11. Reference the picture above and replace the feed going to the splitter with the new cable that is connected to your antenna.  The connection from the antenna should go to the splitter that has all the other cables going to the outlets in the house.
  12. Once you have made this connection then go to each TV in the house and make sure the cable line is connected from the outlet to the TV. You will want to go to the menu of your TV set and the antenna section to let it scan for stations.  Enjoy crystal clear HDTV!

 

Optional Items:

  1. Power/signal booster. Depending on the length of your cable coaxial runs and the number of splits at the splitter, you may need a signal booster. If you notice blurring or digital pixilation you can try to strengthen the signal.  I used this Motorola signal booster.  Install the signal booster between the antenna input and the coaxial splitter going to all the outlets in the house.motorola power boosterViewtv AT-163 ATSC
  2. HD converter box. Much like the cable/satellite set top box you can buy a HD converter box for the antenna signal. This device will show you information about the current content on the TV such as name of show. Most of the devices available for purchase also allow you to insert a USB data stick to act as a digital video recorder. I ordered one of these digital TV from ViewTV to go with the main TV in home theater. The other TVs have a direct connection to the back of the TV from the wall outlet.

 

I cut the cord on cable TV

I cut the cord (cable TV).

Yes! Whoo hoo!Cut the Cord2

I’ve been thinking about this since 2009 when I first wrote about online alternatives  and mail order alternatives to TV.  I didn’t cut the cord back then because the alternatives for live TV were not compelling enough to replace live sports and didn’t present a strong enough case to get my family away from TV. Then last year we added a Roku stick to a couple of TVs and Netflix.  This week I added a subscription to Sling TV and validated a HD antenna could pull local TV stations.

Then the final event that I needed happened. My cable TV company sent me a letter that the “promotional pricing” from last year was ending and that my monthly bill would be $55 higher. They were increasing the price of the cable TV, Internet, and charging an additional monthly fee for a HD converter.  (I should note that the HD converter is required to have cable now but they also charge a monthly fee for it above the TV content cost).

The surprising part of all this.

When I called the cable company to cancel the TV service they did not try to retain my business.  I’ve done this in the past to see how they could help lower the overall cable bill. That’s when they put me on the promotional plan. But this week I told them I was ready to cancel because the availability of alternatives had reached a point that I could find content to watch easily and that it didn’t make sense to pay over $100/month for cable TV.

That was it. I’ve been paying this company for cable TV for 25 years. It ended with a 3 minute phone call.

The economics of it.

For basic cable TV and three HD converter boxes I would be paying about $110/month for what they call the basic package. In my current setup with Netflix, Sling, and MLB.tv I have a monthly outlay of about $40/month.

To be fair, I still have a few one-time costs to add because I will purchase a few more Roku boxes and do something to make the HD antenna signal available to more TVs.  But I like those numbers.

The better win.

The way we watch content on TV has changed. With cable TV, I was confined to a screen in a location of my house.  I was limited to watching programmed content that someone else chose for me. I could record a few shows and change the time if I wanted. I paid for hundreds of channels that I never watched.

The new model is streaming the content to a number of devices including PC, tablet, and a traditional television. I choose the stations I want to pay for and for the most part the content I want to see. If I don’t use a service, I can cancel at any time.  Additionally, much of the content I watch is streamed commercial free.  I can flex add and delete services as needed or as my viewing habits change. CBS and HBO are two examples of content providers offering monthly subscriptions. Expect to see more of that from other providers.

A great example of this new flexibility happened just this week. I am writing this post from a hotel room while on a business trip. I haven’t turned on the TV in my room. Instead, I was able to stream a baseball game for my team through mlb.tv to my computer. I could not watch that game from the TV in my room because it’s not local market. Then I was able watch a movie that I chose on my tablet.

We’ll see how this progresses over the next few months. But I bet, I’m not going back to traditional cable TV.

Onward and upward!

Roku Streaming Stick

I had a television content problem.

Charter Communications went to a digital only network a few months ago and started requiring set top digital converters to unscramble program content. I’m not bashing Charter in this post for their decision, but when they did this, the two small TVs in my basement became unusable. I have a wall mounted TV in a workout room another one in a game room. Both have a cable coax drop next to them. But I don’t use them enough to warrant paying $20/month for two set top boxes and they don’t have a place to mount a set top box unless I created a stand or somehow mounted them on the back of the TV.

In a perfect world, I would not have cable TV service at all. I previously wrote about my obsession with dropping cable TV and cable TV online alternatives. But I also don’t want to create a family revolt. For right now, it simply is what it is.

HD Antenna Trials.

I tried a couple of different HD antennas for local programming and because I could mount the antenna behind the TV. I’m about 35 miles away from many of the major network broadcast antennas. The antennas provided limited success. The problem is that both of my TVs are in a basement and not near a window. Even with a power booster, the reception was spotty at best.

Enter Roku Streaming Stick.

My next thought was to buy a Chromecast HDMI stick to put in the TVs and then simulcast from a tablet near the TV. That would work for some content and provide an alternative to cable. As fate would have it though, when my wife was shopping at a local retailer they didn’t carry Chromecast. They had a Roku streaming stick and after some preliminary research we decided to give it a try.Roku_Streaming_Stick-20

The Roku streaming model was a closer fit for what I wanted. In the Roku system the device streams content directly to the connected screen and not as a simulcast. Since my display device is a wall mounted TV, I didn’t want to have to bring a tablet with me to view the content.

Roku Experience.

The installation of the Roku was simple. Plug the stick into a HDMI slot and the AC adapter to wall for power. Then change the source on the TV to HDMI and follow the onscreen setup. The process asks questions about language and wifi connectivity. Once configured an installation key is displayed on the screen with a URL and you simply go to a website to register the device.

After installation, the Roku menu presents applications much like a phone or tablet. There is a base set of applications or you can add more through the on screen Roku menu or via a computer hooked to your account.

Roku solved my television content problem.

It streams Netflix. It streams news channels with clips of recent news. It streams ESPN with live sports. It streams live music through Pandora. Let’s just say it has options. There are over 1000 app channels. Some of the channels do require separate subscriptions (like Netflix), but the Roku service is a one-time fee for the price of the stick. There is no recurring fee for the roku service. This is the type of solution I was looking for on those basement TVs that don’t get used everyday.

Oh and it still fits within my dreams to dump cable TV service. One day I’ll get there!