Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Average Joe Approved" Resources for OTA DTV

So where can someone turn to for good advice on an OTA setup?

If my previous posts (dare I say “rants”?) about the Public Service Announcements and retail world left you feeling a bit discouraged, don’t worry – there are in fact some good resources out there for a person looking for an over-the-air setup. In this posting I’ll give you some resources on where you can go for honest, straight-forward information and guidance for the digital transition.

Forget about the teenager at Future Shop who thinks you can get TSN over an antenna. The website tells you exactly what free digital signals come to your door. Knowing what channels are available in your area can allow you to make an informed decision about your setup and what equipment you require. The best part is that unlike, it recognizes Canadian broadcasters, addresses and postal codes.

There are essentially two majorly useful tools on the radar plot and the coverage map. Both tools list the available channels in your area rate the ease of reception by colour codes with green being the easiest (i.e. indoor antenna) with red and grey being the most difficult (outdoor mast-mounted antenna).

For each tool, you simply enter in your postal code, city or co-ordinates (attained easily from Google Maps) and at the click of button a personalized report appears. You can also play with the antenna height to see if it improves the channels you can bring in. The radar plot is excellent for showing you where the signals are coming from, which is critical for knowing if your antenna setup needs to capture signals from multiple or single directions. The coverage map shows any “dead zones” where signal reception will be difficult due to terrain features, which may explain why certain stations will be more difficult to receive than others.

This particular radar plot (above) shows that signals are coming from primarily two different directions and some are fairly distant (red zone). This information is crucial to having the right antenna setup.
This coverage map (above) shows a very large purple/blue "shadow" caused by a mountain in the way of a DTV transmitter. This predicts reception problems for people in the area.

In the end, consulting this website should be the first step before dabbling with your OTA experience or buying an antenna. It's an easy (and free) way to become a DTV reception "expert" for your household. OTA Forum

While other websites such as AVSForum and HighDefForum have good over-the-air DTV resources,’s OTA Section is easily the best out there as is the one place that has it all.

If you are interested in adding an over-the-air setup to your home, want to check the broadcast status of local stations, want to know which antenna you need (or even build your own) and what other products are out there such as tuners for your computer, PVRs and other accessories – this is the place for you. The forum has everything you need whether you are a beginner or what to talk about pro subjects such as antenna design or DXing (for the rest of us that is the art of grabbing long range stations due to atmospheric conditions). The threads are well organized, moderated and the conversations are informative and mature (no FLAMING DA n00bz !!!1!!11!! to be found here). The best part for people feeling left with online “US Digital Transition Envy” is that this forum is 100% devoted to Canadian content; almost every major Canadian city is covered.

Average Joe says the OTA forum on is the best you can find online.

So where to start in this encyclopaedia for free TV? My first recommendation is to become a member to have access to all the major content and photos. As with all online forums please follow Average Joe’s three internet forum commandments:

- Thou shall READ THE FORUM RULES before posting thy first message
- Thou shall use the search feature before asking a redundant question
- Thou shall honour the subject heading and not diverge the topic of thy thread

Your first stop should be to read the new member welcome post in the main forum; here you will have access to a lot of good information and what I believe is the best antenna comparison charts available to Canadians (hmmm none of the indoor Future Shop models seem to have made the list?).

The new member welcome post is a good starter for OTA DTV information and should be used as a guide to get the most out of forum.

After that, I would suggest checking out your local reception result thread in the subforum. These are posts from other OTA users in your areas and will give you an indication of what channels you should be able to get. Also, if a particular antenna interests you, run a search in your local reception thread for the antenna name or model to see what people in your area are picking up with it.

Don't worry Canada, has you covered with personalized OTA reception threads for most Canadian cities.

If you have an OTA setup already, I suggest you check out the local station status threads if a station you normally receive well is acting up. This thread will tell you if others are having the same issues as you and can save you the hassle of uselessly checking your cables and equipment when the problem is really at the broadcast end.

If you feel like delving deeper in the OTA DTV world, check out the threads on what Canadians are choosing as OTA receivers and PVRs, and other threads about which stores / installers are recommended. If you’re more of a DIY kind of person, there are plenty of threads about building your own antenna and what tools or materials will allow you to make your own custom OTA setup while saving a few bucks.

Antenna Installers and Retailers

If you want help on selecting OTA products, personalized service to answer specific questions or want someone to install an antenna for you, you won’t find it at the big box electronics store. The best service Average Joe found was at the smaller and specialized stores, namely:

- Professional antenna installers
- Authorized retailers of big name antenna manufacturers (search for distributers of Channel Master or Winegard)
- Some satellite (Free-To-Air) retailers
- Smaller electronic component stores

Antenna installers are few and far between these days, especially in the city. If you are having trouble finding one (or there is a lack of selection) in your urban area, check for those in the surrounding countryside as antenna installations are more popular in rural areas. Before committing to a purchase, be sure to have the company send a representative to check your house for any potential issues (obstructions that could block reception) and you should make sure there are no restrictions in your area (check your city or condo by-laws). Also, the installer should know what setup is best for you and your neighbourhood, be sure to ask what channels the recommended setup can bring in before agreeing to its installation. If anything, print out your TVFool report (as mentioned above) and discuss with the installer beforehand to better understand their reasoning behind their recommendations as well as the justification for more expensive equipment such as a long-range antenna, rotor and such. If something doesn’t seem to make sense or if your installer is having difficulty explaining your expected reception, go elsewhere to make your purchase.

Local authorized antenna manufacturer retailers can help answer specific questions and even let you know which models are the most popular sellers, giving you a good idea on what other people are buying and installing in your area. When in the store, look and avoid products with opened or taped-up packaging – chances are they were returned by an unsatisfied customer.

Some of the best service, prices and selection your Average Joe found was from the small fish – the FTA / electronic component retailers (i.e. the guys who sell RG-6 satellite cable in rolls, amplifier, co-axial connectors, etc). One store visited even had an OTA TV set up with different receivers / converter boxes for customers to play with and try out in order to compare program guides, picture quality and user interfaces. Service is usually more personalized at a small store as well. One thing to keep your eyes open for though is a store stocked with only knock-off antennas. If you think things are looking fishy, put off making a purchase, take down the model and brand names and do research on forums such as DigitalHome to see if the equipment is legit.


With that being said, the digital transition will soon be upon us! Your Average Joe will still be here to review and recommend various OTA items and equipment over the coming months. Hope you have all enjoyed the build up to the big transition day - keep the comments coming and keep reading! Have a great digital transition everyone, after months of plotting and scheming those rabbit ears may finally get their revenge!