Cutting the Cord, Part V: Attic Fail

Yesterday we once again tested our antenna reception. This time we used various combinations of bring on the roof, in the attic, with a close-to-the-antenna tuner (FYI: I hadn't read the specs on this device and was extremely surprised at its diminutive size!), with and without pre-amplification, and we have some interested, but slightly frustrating results.

The major frustration is that attic-mounting the antenna is simply a no-go. I'd read that antennas lose 40-50% of their gain when they're moved from the roof to the attic and that our aluminum siding was going to be a major attenuator, but I also know that in my childhood, my parents' attic-mounted antenna in an aluminum-sided house was able to pick up stations from London, Ontario, 88 miles away (CKCO-13 currently broadcasts from a height of 291 meters, at 325 kW.). So, I remained optimistic about our chances picking up the Philadelphia stations.

Gratuitous Table of Philadelphia Broadcast Stations:

Height (meters)
Distance (miles)
*According to Wikipedia; however, our experience leads me to believe AntennaPoint.com and otherantenna-finding websites, which list roughly 270 kW.

Gratuitous map placed here mostly for Chris.
Side note: there are a lot of websites that can help with the over-the-air process. The three I've used the most are AntennaWeb.com, AntennaPoint.com and more recently, TVFool.com. TV Fool, especially, easily creates some great maps that can help you determine the size and placement of your antenna. For example, in the extremely colorful map, we are located at the red pin, and WTXF, FOX-29 of Philadelphia is located at the green dot at the center of the rainbow bullseye. This station is of particular interest to us, as they will be broadcasting nine of the sixteen Eagles regular season games. For those keeping score at home, the second-most-important station we want to receive over-the-air is KYW, the Philadelphia CBS affiliate (two Eagles games, but also primetime programming which won't be available through Hulu).

According to TVFool, interpret the map as follows:
  • White is extremely strong.  Beware of signal overload on amps.
  • Red-yellow-green are all quite strong. You can expect reasonable coverage with an indoor antenna.
  • Cyan is where it's advisable to move the antenna up to the second floor or attic.
  • Blue is where it's probably necessary to install a good antenna on the roof.
  • Purple is quite weak and you really have to work at it for any chance of reception.
Anyway, enough hypotheticals ... it's time for some actual results.We started out using the antenna in the attic, aimed at what we thought was due north (more on that in a bit), with the tuner. We received a measly 5 channels when we scanned, and all but a few wouldn't even really tune in when we tried to view them. Despite Chris's comment (as Kristin) on my last Cutting the Cord post, we decided to try the pre-amp along with it. After all, we had the thing, why not give it a go, right? It turns out it helps a bit, but not nearly as much as with the addition of the tuner. We received 7 stations.

    Back out to the roof. We had to disassemble the antenna to get it out of there, and then reassemble it for roof mounting. And we were in a hurry as there was a storm coming (Had I been on my computer yesterday, I'd have captured a shot of the radar map, but I didn't. And, for what it's worth, it's apparently difficult to find yesterday's weather maps online.). FYI, sticking a broom handle on the back on an antenna provides you with a nice pole with which to aim and transport your antenna array. And, it also provides a great temporary mount -- just drop the pole into the tile insert at the top of your gas-water-heater chimney vent.

    We aimed the antenna due north (we thought) and attached the tuner: 25 (!!!) channels, but still no FOX-29.
    We double-checked Google Maps and adjusted our aim: 36 channels (including FOX!)
    We added in the pre-amp: 41 channels


    However, out of six possible bars, the Fox station wavered between three (when it came through clearly) and two (when it began to pixelate occasionally or get choppy). This isn't ideal. Joe is concerned about the quality of future feeds, while I remain optimistic that the weather wasn't ideal between here and Philly and that we should consider this a good result. We were both surprised at the difference that aiming makes even over such a distance, even with a "multidirectional" antenna.

    We're also both hoping that some of the hiccuping and choppiness is due not to the actual quality of the antenna reception, but rather to the antiquity of the computer displaying the feed. (2.0 GHz and minimal RAM ain't what it used to be.) Due to a well-timed Woot this week, I've ordered a new computer for myself, and my computer (3.0GHz and plentiful RAM) will become the new DVR. That's the final piece of this puzzle. At that point, we'll test everything one more time, before working on permanently mounting an antenna to our roof (pointing the right direction this time). Then we'll unwrap and program our nifty remote control and our new over-the-air to DVR, combined with Hulu and Netflix on the Xbox system will be fully functional.


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