Frequently asked questions about cable and broadcast TV
Q: Don't I need to have cable, satellite, or other subscription service to get Hi-Def TV?
A: No. In 2009, all TV transmissions switched from analog to digital, meaning that many TV stations started broadcasting in hi-def. If you can receive these signals, you can watch hi-def TV for free.
Q: Do I need a special box to get broadcast TV?
A: If you have an older TV, you'll need a digital receiver box to get digital broadcast signals. If you have a newer TV purchased in 2006 or later, you won't need any special box.
Q: How do I know if I can receive broadcast TV signals?
A: If you live in a major metropolitan area or in a city with local TV stations, you'll probably be able to get broadcast TV. Enter your zip code in the Station Finder on the front page of this site. It will tell you how many stations you should expect to receive in your area.
Q: Do I need a special antenna?
A: No, an indoor "rabbit ear" antenna will work for most people who live in heavily populated areas. You can use the exact same antenna that people used to use before cable came along. You might have one of these in your garage somewhere. For more channels, I suggest a modern antenna like the Mohu Leaf. If you live in a remote area, you can go with an amplified antenna or an outdoor antenna for increased range.
Q: How much work is it to set up the antenna?
A: It does take some tweaking, just like the old days of analog broadcast TV. You'll have to do a little experimenting to find the best location in your home. If you get obsessive about it, you can spend days and days tweaking to bring in every last channel. To get more channels, you might need a powered antenna or an outdoor antenna. Read more about antennas here.
Q: Can I use one antenna with multiple TVs?
A: Yes, but you will probably need to get a powered antenna or buy a separate signal amplifier for an unpowered antenna.
Q: Can I use my satellite dish to receive free broadcast TV signals?
A: Unfortunately, no. The satellite dish is not the correct shape, and has special electronics that make it not usable for receiving free broadcast TV. However, you can still use the coax wiring from the dish to your TV if you want to install a broadcast TV antenna where your dish was. That would save the step of running new cable from your roof to your TV.
Q: How about Verizon FIOS?
A: Verizon's package starts at $99/month for tv, phone, and Internet. This is supiciously close to my cable/Internet bill of $103/month. In my case, it wasn't cheap enough to interest me. I don't have a land line phone, and I don't like paying for services I don't use.
Q: How about satellite?
A: Sure, it's cheaper than cable initially. The Dish Network starts at $24.99/month (plus taxes no doubt) for the first 12 months, but you need to sign up for a 2-year contract with early termination penalties, and the cost goes up after that to almost the same cost as cable TV. Plus, there is a $99 set up fee. So, maybe this is better than cable, but I still prefer FREE solutions. Plus, many people are not allowed to place the dish on thier buildings, apartment complexes, condos, etc.
Q: How about FREE satellite TV?
A: Yes, there is such a thing. And I'm not talking about using a pirate satellite receiver to get pay satellite TV for free - that is illegal and I don't endorse that. What I'm talking about is FTA ("Free To Air") Satellite TV. Using a 30" dish with receiver, you can get the networks plus a whole lot of foreign, ethnic, religious, and educational programming. However, the setup is not trivial - it requires mounting the dish outside, pointing it at precise coordinates (which you have to calculate based on your location), then running coax into your home to a receiver. Due to the cost of the equipment and the complex setup, I don't recommend this option for you unless you enjoy this sort of work and want to make it your hobby. You can read more about it on this link. The ftalist is another good resource.
Q: How can broadcast TV give better picture quality than cable?
A: This is hard to believe. How can a signal that goes through the air be better than one that goes through a cable? How can something that is free be better than something that we pay for??
The answer is that the cable company tries to cram as many channels as possible on that cable that goes to your house by compressing the the data. In the compression process, picture quality is sacrificed.
But wait, you say, my TV says that I am getting 1080i resolution from my cable service, the best resolution possible! Just because the picture is 1080i doesn't mean the quality is good. When the cable company compresses it, a 1080i picture can look pretty bad, much worse than a good 720p picture.
If you look at that same station on broadcast digital TV, the difference will be apparent, and in some cases, breathtaking..
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