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Guide to TV antenna installation

TV antenna digital reception in rural areas

Steps to obtain over the air antenna reception in rural areas.

What we'll really being talking about is high performance TV reception or TV reception in weak signal areas. It doesn't matter what causes the signals to be weak the fact is, they're weak and you want the best antenna performance you can get. The signals may be weak due to hills, heavy forestry, or distance to the transmitters. It doesn't mater what causes the signals to be weak the remedy is the same. Quality products, the correct products installed properly equals best performance.

Step 1. Selecting the proper antenna for rural TV antenna reception.

I've been in the antenna reception business for three decades. In the past fifteen years a parade of imported "best antennas" have hit the market. Boasting exaggerated reception ranges of 150 miles 200 miles. Flat antennas you just stick in your window and they work like magic. Don't let yourself be fooled by all of the hoopla. Yes, there's been some advancement that has allowed antennas to be smaller and perform a little better. Yes, these smaller antennas may work in strong signal areas. The fact still remains the same and always will. A well designed larger antenna will outperform a well designed smaller antenna for TV reception in rural weak signal areas every time. 

It all starts with the antenna and ends at the TV and includes everything in between. That brings us to the matter of ignoring all the hype and selecting the right antenna to meet our needs. Assuming your location is rural and you're located in a weak signal area there's one thing we know for certain. A larger properly designed antenna will always outperform a smaller well designed antenna.

Over 90% of the U.S. has both VHF and UHF TV stations broadcasting digital HD signals. There are fewer VHF channels but they are there just the same and need to be received by the antenna or you'll miss out on one or two, of the major broadcast networks.

Most of the antennas designed today skimp on VHF performance. Why, because to receive VHF signal requires the antenna to be much bigger. The designers know you want the antenna to be as small as possible. Who doesn't? But what good is a small antenna if it doesn't receive all of the channels?

My antenna recommendation for rural TV reception areas is the HD Stacker antenna. I designed the HD Stacker antenna to meet the needs of those who live in rural reception areas. The entire upper boom of the antenna is dedicated to high performance reception of VHF signals. The lower boom is designed for high performance UHF reception. Inch for inch, no antenna comes close to the performance of the HD Stacker.

HD Stacker antenna designed for rural TV reception.

Step 2. Selecting the proper signal amplification for rural TV reception.

Once the proper antenna is selected for rural TV reception the next step in the process is signal amplification. Proper signal amplification is more important than most people realize. The first thing to understand is this. Signal amplifiers do not make the antenna work better. Proper signal amplification cause the reception to be better but the performance of the antenna remains the same. The function of signal amplification is to boost the signal the antenna is producing enough to compensate for any signal loss created by getting the signal from the antenna to the TV(s). This includes the length of coax cable between the antenna and TV(s) and signal splitters.

Here are a few things that everyone should be aware of when it comes to signal amplification.

  1. You can't amplify a signal into existence that the antenna is not receiving.
  2. Too much signal amplification can be just as bad for reception as not enough.
  3. Signal amplifiers are not created equal. 

There are two specifications you should look at when selecting a signal amplifier.

  1. The amount of signal amplification produced by the amplifier.
  2. The amount of "noise" added to the signal during the amplification process.

The amount of signal amplification a signal amplifier produces is referred to as "signal gain". The gain of the amplifier is measured in decibles (dB). The higher the gain number the more amplification the amplifier produces.

The "noise" figure is also measure in decibles (dB). the lower the "noise" figure is the better. For TV reception in rural areas the amount of "noise" produced by the amplifier becomes a critical factor.

Below are my recommendations for signal amplification for rural TV reception in weak signal areas.

When supplying 1 TV or 2 TVs using a 2 way signal splitter I recommend the LNA 200 preamplifier. This preamplifier produces 18 dB of signal gain with an ultra low 1 dB noise level. Signal splitter cause signal loss. The more times the splitter divides the signal the greater the signal loss becomes. This is not a bad thing as long as proper signal amplification is in use. Remenber the amplifiers function is to get the signal from the antenna to the TV(s) without loosing signal strength while adding minimal noise to the signal.

Proper signal amplification is pretty simple. In the example above there is a 2 way signal splitter inline. The 2 way splitter causes a 3.5 dB signal loss when inserted inline. It doesn't matter if the second port of the splitter is connected to anything, or it the TV is on or off, the signal loss still occurs. It's called "insertion loss".

Now consider the coax cable from the antenna to the TV. Using a quality solid copper RG 6 coax cable a 100 foot length of coax cable will cause as much as 6 dB of signal loss. More if an inferior coax cable is in use.

A rule of thumb for best performance is the best performance is obtained when the signal amplification in use is 5 dB to 10 dB greater than the loss that occurs between the antenna and TV(s).

Lets add up the signal loss from the example above.

100 feet of RG 6 solid copper coax cable 6 dB. Figure 1 dB of signal loss per 16 feet.

One 2 way signal splitter 3.5 dB.

Total 9.5 dB of signal loss between the antenna and TV.

The LNA 200 preamplifier provides 18 dB of gain resulting in a plus 8.5 dB. That's perfect for the best possible TV reception in rural areas.

When supplying 3 to as many as 8 TVs in rural reception areas in addition to the LNA 200 preamplifier I recommend the LNA 100 ultra low noise signal distribution amplifier. This unit provides 20 dB of signal gain with only 1 dB of noise. The LNA 100 installs inline just before the signal splitter on the antenna side of the splitter.

Winegrad LNA 200 preamplifier. Best option for TV reception in rural weak signal areas

Winegard LNA 100 TV antenna signal booster. Ideal for reception in rural weak signal areas

LNA 200 mast mounted preamplifier

LNA 100 signal distribution amplifier

Step 3. Do I need a antenna rotor when located in a rural reception area?

First, The recommended HD Stacker antenna is a directional antenna. This means the antenna must be aimed properly at the TV transmitter location (tower) for best results. Omnidirectional and multi-directional antennas will never perform as well in rural reception areas.

To determine if a rotor is is needed I recommend a visit to the FCC website. Type in your address and hit go. When the available channels appear click on the call sign of each channel to see in which direction the tower is located for that particular channels. As a rule of thumb in rural TV reception areas if the towers you want to receive are greater than 10 degree apart you likely will need a rotor for best results. This isn't true in stronger reception areas. Many times the towers can be 60 to 80 degrees apart in strong signal areas.

Step 4. A few more pointers that will insure the best possible TV reception in rural areas.

Never daisy chain signal splitters. In other words, don't run from one signal splitter to another and so on. It is best to have one signal distribution center in your home where all cables come together with one signal splitter.

In rural TV reception areas antennas installed above the roof line will work much better than those installed in the attic.

Good luck, be safe and if you have any questions about TV reception in rural areas please feel free to contact us.