Even if you have cable, here’s why you need an antenna
An antenna is a television’s best friend.
Even if you have cable or satellite service, it’s smart to add an antenna to the mix. Let me sing a song of praise to antennas that will tell you why.
The HDTV picture you get with an antenna is actually better than what cable or satellite can provide (those services compress the signal so they can cram in more channels; there’s much less compression with an over-the-air signal). Unlike cable or satellite, an antenna does not stop working, doesn’t glitch out just when the show you’re watching is getting good. There’s no monthly fee when you use an antenna — once you install it, you’re living in the world of free TV.
Let’s say you have cable or satellite. Why in the world, you may ask, do you need an antenna? After all, you already get 2,134 channels, including one that offers old John Wayne movies dubbed into Arabic.
Here’s why: Most cable and satellite customers have lost service more than once, more than twice, more than the number of fingers on your hand. When that happens, if you have an antenna, you simply switch inputs on your TV to the one where the antenna is connected, and you have a picture.
Today, I’ll talk about antennas from this perspective — aimed at people who want to keep their cable and satellite and use an antenna as a backup. But all this applies to those who are considering dropping that service, as well. And, just to keep us all on the same channel, let’s assume you want to try an antenna and don’t know where to start.
Start here: https://www.antennaweb.org. You’ll be able to enter your home address and find out what kind of antenna you need based on your distance from transmitting sites. It’s a trustworthy site, so you needn’t worry about providing your exact address. But if you do worry anyway — these are paranoid times, so I don’t blame you — you can just enter your ZIP code instead.
Once you have done that, you’ll know if you would need a big outside antenna or if you can — as I do — get by just fine with a rabbit ear antenna that is hidden behind your TV. I live in Atlanta and get more than 20 channels doing just that. Let’s assume you find yourself in that same seaworthy boat — that you can just use rabbit ears. Frankly, if you need a big outdoor antenna, I understand if you chicken out at this point and give up. I know my wife wouldn’t like that very much, although there are other hidden options, including putting a big antenna in an attic.
But we’ll stick with a tiny indoor antenna for the purpose of today’s column. That’s because I think that makes things easy and inexpensive enough to interest anyone.
Have you noticed that I’ve talked about rabbit ears instead of naming some fancy indoor antenna? That’s because most of the indoor antennas that use their advertising to shout about things like “optimized for digital” and “secret technology” are a waste of money. They cost more but deliver no more and sometimes less than the cheapest rabbit ears you can buy.
So if you are lucky enough to be in rabbit ear range, pick up the cheapest indoor antenna you can find from places like Amazon or any merchandiser that carries them. Now connect that to your TV. You’ll need to go to the TV’s settings and use the feature most TVs call “auto tune.” The television will look for all the signals that are in range and adjust your TV to receive them. All this will be done using the input you selected for the antenna. It won’t change settings or mess up your cable or satellite service.
As you tune through the channels it selected, you will almost certainly find some are of no interest to you, and others may be on the extreme range for reception and freeze and flicker. Your TV should give you the ability to remove those channels from the list.
That’s it. No more to do, no bills to pay.
I’ll offer some personal testimony on how nice it can be to have that little antenna. I love college football, especially the University of Georgia. Last year, I was watching a game and, just when the play was making my palms sweat, the cable stopped working. No problem. In such a short time that the next play hadn’t started, I used the remote to switch inputs and was back at the game.
I was able to get into the game with an antenna. You can, too.
Bill Husted writes about technology. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.