7.31.2011

Cutting the Cord, Part III: Signal Acquired!

We received our KWorld USB tuner stick, which comes with a little-bitty ATSC antenna. We happen to already have 50' of coax cable lying around (we seem to have only 18" patch cords and one unreasonably long 50' cable). So, when the tuner stick arrived, I immediately tried it out.

First I installed the stick and accompanying software on my computer. Everything went smoothly, but the antenna was unable to detect any signals. This was not surprising. Our computer room (and TV-viewing family room) is located on the lowest level of our split-level house, and therefore is half underground. Antenna height was approximately 3-feet off the ground. Woefully inadequate to reach the broadcast towers 30-50 miles away. (According to AntennaPoint, we have 14 UHF transmitters within 60 miles of us, ranging from 130 to 770kW, covering CBS, 2 NBCs, 2 PBSes, FOX, Telemundo, Univision, Ion, MyTV, ETV, The CW Network, and "Independent." So, all the major networks except ABC ... which we can stream through Huku. Another 20 miles adds 5 more stations, but that seems unlikely, despite the antenna's claims.)

As I saw how the install would work and that was really my main objective, I uninstalled it. When Joe got home we installed it again, but this time on the DVR-PC, which is where we plan to keep it. We ran the 50' of cable out the window and up a ladder, where Joe held it up on the highest point of the roof (approximately 28' above the ground). The auto-search channel scan picked up one signal from Wildwood (WMGM, NBC-40, 205kW) and one from Philadelphia (WCAU, NBC-10, 320kW). But the stick would only actually tune in the Wildwood station. The image was periodically steady and then very jerky, but I think that's a processor or RAM problem.

Looks pretty impressive, no?
Since achieved a signal with the rinky-dink antenna (I haven't been able to find information regarding its gain), we decided the over-the-air option has real possibilities. After browsing around and reading reviews, we ordered the Antennas Direct DB8 model from Best Buy. It was cheaper through Amazon, but we decided it's worth the extra bucks to have our local bricks and mortar Best Buy available to us for questions, servicing, and easy return, if need be. We're very optimistic about the stations we'll be able to receive with this bad boy. Reviewers in Maryland report receiving Philly stations quite clearly.

We plan to mount the antenna in the attic, and should it receive the stations we expect it to, we may also opt to purchase the HD HomeRun tuner, and return the USB stick. This would act as a tuner up in the attic, closing the lengthy gap between the antenna and tuner. Then we'd run network cable from the tuner down to the computer. The device is compatible with the SageTV software we're already using for DVR purposes, so ... sweet. Sounds like a plan, but we'll see.

Should we receive a CBS station clearly, this would eliminate one of the biggest gaps served by our Playon subscription. We'd still have a few holes in our current viewing habits to do without, or fill, but Playon wasn't going to help much with those options anyway (Food Network, Discovery channel, AMC, Nick).

Stay tuned ... the big antenna is due to arrive any day now.

--End--

2 comments:

Kristin said...

Glad you got something.

The rinky-dink antenna would be lucky to have a positive gain. Judging by mine, its about 10" long which is roughly a half wavelength at UHF. At best this would be in +2dBi range, but I think it's wired to one end only, so I'd guess about half that, or about -1dBu.
Combine that with 50' of cheap TV coax and you could easily be down another 6dB at least.

The antenna you listed shows a 15.8 dB max gain. I'm guessing its worse at other angles, but with a minimum amount of cable to the tuner you should be in good shape.

I note that it is specifically a UHF antenna, are any of your stations of interest in the VHF band? These will have significantly less gain. OTOH, they tend to carry a lot further, so you'll probably be ok.

Keep us posted!

Heidi said...

Thanks for the info (I accidentally deleted your "This is really Chris" comment). We're planning to aim the antenna Philadelphia-ward and if we pick up anything along the edges as well, bonus. Only ABC is in the VHF band, which is why I didn't list in among our available stations. Again, if we can get it over-the-air, rather than through Hulu, bonus.

Like I said, we're going to start out with the 50' of cable and mounting the antenna in the attic. After that we know the tuner in the attic option will undoubtedly improve things. And, of course, we could always mount the antenna on the roof to further improve reception.