Sunday, May 16, 2010

HTPC Build Part 1 – Constructing and Installing a DIY Antenna

This is the first in a series of posts I’m writing about an HTPC (Home Theatre PC) build that I recently completed.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post on inexpensive home services, I’ve been getting High Definition (HD) TV at home for free via an over-the-air antenna for several months now.  (In most markets in the U.S., since the 2009 digital transition, the major network channels, and often several others, are available 100% legally for free, in HD, via over-the-air broadcast.)  This has been worked great for me, particularly for the price tag ($0/month!), but not perfectly: With my cheap $20 small store-bought antenna positioned next to my TV on the lower level of my home, I could not get the local PBS station, and I had to position the antenna just right to get several other stations (and reposition it whenever anything bumped the antenna).

I set for myself a goal of getting high-quality (strong signal / reliable), hi-def TV into my home, and recording that TV via a DVR (digital video recorder) of some kind, while still maintaining a monthly TV/DVR payment $0.  (If this turned out to be unachievable, I set a fallback plan of getting TV service through one of the satellite TV companies; but even a “cheap” price tag of $25/month ($300/year) was somewhat unpalatable to me compared to a potential payment of $0/year!)

My first step towards this goal was to fix the situation with the reception.  According to the Digital TV reception map at ftc.gov, I should be able to get a strong PBS signal at my location.  My wife and I were very interested in getting PBS due to the good amount of high-quality kids’ programming on that station.

I got several quotes from area companies to install a roof-mounted or in-attic antenna.  All of the quotes came back for north of $500, which was more than I was willing to pay, so I started looking into other antenna solutions.

Poking around online, I came across some interesting plans for a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) antenna on makezine.com.  The plans involved basically assembling a small vertical frame out of wood and a metal pipe, then using pieces from some old wire hangers that are already around the house to form the actual antenna.  When it comes to things other than computers, I’m not exactly a big do-it-yourself guy.  However, these plans seemed simple to do and inexpensive in terms of parts, and there were quite a few very positive comments/reviews on the makezine.com article on the design, so I decided to give it a shot.

Including a trip to the hardware store, the DIY antenna took about $30 in parts and about 4-5 hours of my time to construct.  (I suspect someone used to building this type of thing could have completed the project a lot faster.)  I set the antenna next to my TV and hooked it up, and it worked very nicely!  All of the stations that I already got (including HD signals from the major networks ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX, as well as many other high-def and standard-def channels) came in better than before. 

However, at this point, I didn’t get PBS.  The next step was to try hooking the antenna up on the second floor of my two-story house, since antennas are supposed to work better when they are positioned higher up relative to ground level. 

Most of the rooms in my house are wired for cable; however, all of the cables in the basement were unlabeled.  Going around my house to one cable jack at a time, I used a little ball of aluminum foil to “short out” the end of a short piece of coax cable connected to the jack, and then I was able to use an ohmmeter to identify the corresponding end of the same cable in the basement utility room. 

Having identified and labeled all of the cables in the basement, I used a connector to directly connect my TV-room cable to my master bedroom cable down in the utility room in the basement.  Then I carried the DIY antenna up to the master bedroom, and tried the TV channels again.  Success – I was now able to get PBS, in great-looking HD!

The final step for the antenna was to install it up in the attic.  I extended the coax cable from my master bedroom (since I intentionally do not, and will not, have a TV in there) up into the attic.  Then I carried the antenna up into the attic, and hooked it up.  I positioned the antenna in the attic by having my wife watch TV and report on how the signal was doing, while I talked to her via our home wireless phones, and made adjustments according to her feedback.  Having found a position where all stations came in great, I left the antenna up in the attic, and closed the attic up again. 

End result: Great-looking and reliable high-definition TV, with my TV simply connected to the wall cable jack.  If you’re looking for a fun DIY project with the end result of getting free, totally legal HD network TV plus more stations, I can recommend giving the makezine.com DIY antenna plans a shot!

The next post in this series will cover my purchase of a PC TV tuner, and trying it out with the DVR software included out-of-the-box with Windows 7, called Windows Media Center.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the Tips Jon. It seems that we totally have legal HD network TV plus more stations

    ReplyDelete

Hi spammers! No need to waste your time here; comments are heavily moderated, so if you like, you can save us both a little time and just move on to the next site. :-)

For everyone else: Thanks for visiting! Your comments are more than welcome!