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Mary Robinson is all about real-world information on the switch to digital television signals. The success of the DTV switch will depend on regular folks understanding new technology and getting it running in their homes. Ms. Robinson is weighing in on those nitty-gritty details, sharing her enthusiasm for TV-signal technology with those who are less technically inclined. She’s developed an expertise through years of hands-on experimentation, pulling in signals from the rooftop of her Texas home. Now she’s a resource for consumers struggling with the digital switch. We discovered Mary right here on TVWeek.com, where she reliably dispensed information in the comments section of this story, First Digital TV Converter Box Wins Government Approval about the digital switch. Let’s keep the conversation rolling!

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The Wonders of a Battery-Powered Converter Box

October 20, 2008 4:21 PM

I finally got around to checking out the Winegard digital to analog converter box that I ordered a couple of weeks ago that can be operated by the external 9 volt "D" cell battery pack. The converter box also includes an adaptor to power the box on household current for times when the battery pack is not needed. I found the converter box is very user friendly. The operation manual is clear and concise, and the menu in the onscreen display is almost self-explanatory—very simple to use and operate. After doing an initial channel search, more channels can be easily added with the channel add-on feature.

I set up the box first with a pair of un-amplified rabbit ears with fixed position telescoping VHF elements in a "V" configuration and a simple loop UHF antenna. This is the simplest antenna that I own. I was able to get two digital stations that way. One was our local CBS affiliate, KFDM, broadcasting on UHF channel 21 (virtual channel 6.1). The other was the TBN station, KITU, on channel 33 (virtual channel 34.1). So there was only one channel, KFDM, that would have news, weather and radar in case of a tropical storm or hurricane. But one is better than none.

I conducted a channel search at tvfool.com and used an antenna height of 8 feet as the standard for the indoor antenna. I found that KFDM had a signal strength of -47.6 dBs and KITU had a signal strength of -30.3 dBs. KBMT, broadcasting on channel 50 (virtual channel 12.1) had a signal strength somewhere in between, but I could not lock it in. I live in an older house that has asbestos siding and shiplap walls inside and out, with a shiplap ceiling, so there is considerable signal loss inside the house.

I then tried an indoor amplified antenna and was able to get our local ABC station, KBMT, broadcasting on channel 50 (virtual channel 12.1). But an amplified antenna is of no use when the electricity is out. Or is it? The amplified indoor antenna uses an AC adaptor to power the antenna at 12 volts DC. So my question was what if I could power the indoor antenna from a battery pack?

I found, online, an 8 cell "D" battery pack that stacks the voltage up to 12 volts. My next project is to attach the correct barrel plug to the 12-volt battery pack to see whether it will power the amplified antenna. My goal is to have a self-contained setup with battery-powered amplified antenna, battery-powered Winegard converter box and battery-powered television. The AC adaptor for the converter box is rated at 9 volts DC and 1 amp of current. The adaptor for the indoor antenna is rated at 12 volts DC at 200 milliamps, so I believe that the 12-volt battery pack for the antenna will run it longer that the 18 hours claimed for the battery pack on the Winegard converter box. That will be a blog for another day. As they say, please stay tuned ...

As of right now, we have no digital channels locally that are broadcasting on VHF, but KBMT is slated to revert to the analog channel 12, 30 to 45 days after the transition and has a maximization application pending to go to 160, 000 watts effective radiated power (ERP). KFDM at this time is broadcasting 50,000 watts ERP but has a maximization application pending to go to 280,000 watts ERP. KBTV broadcasting on channel 40 (virtual channel 4.1) is transmitting a micro signal of 1,280 watts ERP and has a maximization application pending to go to 1,000,000 watts ERP, so I am hoping that these increases in power will eliminate the need for the battery-powered indoor antenna. But I still want to know if it will work if I need it.

I have also become aware of another Web site that is a good source of information with reviews of converter boxes. I am including a link to this site for your convenience.

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Comments (17)

Anonymous:

"I live in an older house that has asbestos siding and shiplap walls inside and out, with a shiplap ceiling, so there is considerable signal loss inside the house. " I thank you for sharing this barrier with others. Many nowdays see the DTV PSA's and think it's going to automaticly work for everyone.

"So my question was what if I could power the indoor antenna from a battery pack?" Simply splice the required battery power to the opposite end of the adapter tip. You obviously will have to go out and get a cheap "multi volt" power pack, for 3 dollars... and cut off the "wall plug" to achieve this... but YES, IT CAN BE DONE!
Just make sure your polarity is correct, or it won't work... meaning which wire goes positive and which wire goes negative.

As for the reviews page.. the exact page to click on a box's model is actually here....

http://dtvconverterboxes.blogspot.com/2008/07/analog-to-digital-converter-box-review.html

Simply click on a model

EmmGee-Ohio:

Somehow I'm Anonymous again...

I looked up the TIVAX STB-8, here's what I found:

"Today we are back again with a review of a brand new TV converter box. This digital TV converter is an updated version of the Tivax STB-T9 digital converter box. The new version is the Tivax STB-T8 and it has been updated to include analog pass-through."
The set top box got an "A+", which confirms my various postings on the Tivax STB-8.

However, in the above site, I posted... one thing lacks rating... reception/sensitivity. That appears to be rather high... either a 4 or 5 out of 5. If I can get Lansing's "ABC3" and "CW5", without pointing the antenna towards Lansing, MI (northwest of me, 73 miles). I also can regularly get and maintain WADL - "Detroit's Urban Station", Mt. Clemens, MI (north of Detroit, 70 miles or so away from me). I also have gotten WEWS 5.1, which is about 110 miles east.

NO OTHER TUNER IS AS GOOD AS THIS ONE, THAT I OWN. I AM VERY IMPRESSED WITH THIS ONE.

I know the site is of a college kid, but I wonder what a TV engineer would say as well. This tuner is definitely a Generation 5.

Also note that this tuner helps get my fringe stations, but does not improve local, as in Toledo, DTV stations in coming in and being maintatined. There are obsticles (walls, other apartments, needing the antenna inside, contrary to 1996 through 2001 telecom acts), the angle of the DTV stations, signal bounce off of traffic on Arlington Ave., and a few minute powered stations).


ScotsmansKilt:

The 2 DTV converters I own (and every other one I considered) have an external "wall wart" power supply that converts 110 volts AC into whatever DC voltage the box required. How hard can it be for every DTV converter manufacturer to sell a battery adaptor pack that will plug into the same DC jack on the unit? I'm tempted to buy the parts at Radio Shack to make my own from scratch.

mary... the cat lady:

Actually, my Zenith DTA box has a regular AC power cord pemenantly attached to the box. I am sure it must have an internal power supply to run the box. I have had it for a few months now, and it was one of the first boxes on the market, so that might explain that.
I have a friend who has an adaptor that has quit functioning that has the correct sized barrel connector for the antenna and I am going to pick it up from her in a few days. And yes, I am aware to keep the polarity straight. There is usually a diagram stamped somewhere on the device itself and on the adaptor that shows whether the OD of the barrel is positive or negative.
And also, I realized that the distribution amp that I have in the bedroom is also powered by an AC adaptor (12 v), so I plan to make a battery pack to power it as well.
The antenna adaptor is rated for 200 milliamps, the disribution amp for 100 milliamps, and the converter box for 1 amp.
My 12 volt battery packs were shipped today, so I should get them later this week. I should have the antenna operating by the weekend, when I will post more about it.
Being able to operate the antenna with a battery pack also will enable those that camp who bring a battery powered television with them still be able to use them together with a DTA box.
I plan on using "D" cell batteries to power everything so I may go broke buying them. It takes 8 of them to add up to 12 volts, so it will take 8 of them for the antenna and the distribution amp, and 6 of them for the Winegard DTA box. plus whatever it takes for the 5.5" battery powered television. So that is 22 "D" cell batteries, not counting the television...

mary... the at lady:

Hi ScottsmansKilt,
As I stated above, the Winegard battery operated DTA box AC adaptor is rated for 1 amp. Although I have not put it to the test, the data for the box states that it should run for 18 hours on 6 "D" cell batteries. I was wondering if you would give a report on the current rating for the boxes you have so that we could get an idea as to what voltage the box operates on and how the power consumption stacks up for the boxes you have as opposed to the Winegard box. I would like anyone else to give a report also, if you would. The amperage will determine as to how long the box should operate. If the power consumption is similar, then you can expect similar running times.

EmmGee-Ohio:

Here's a hint... use a brand new 9 volt battery (as in a smoke detector battery) taped to the Wingard box.

See if you can find 2 lantern batteried to piggyback for the 12 volts, since they are usually in 6 volts.

I think that this will make things less clumsy and take less room.

Yes, they so have 12 volt batteries, but they are about $20+.

Weigh the costs and see what options you have. Batteries are cheaper in certain stores, such as discount stores..and other stores around the holidays.

Also, you can power things through your car's battery. Either the positive and negative poles or through the ciggy lighter. This may be an option BEFORE TESTING to make sure connections are correct. I suggest the ciggy lighter, since its fairly easy to find a power cord for the lighters... then splice to the tv and antenna.

mary... the at lady:

Hi EmmGee,
I don't think the 9 volt square battery would give enogh current to operate the antenna. I believe it would drain too fast. I could be wrong, however. In actuallity, it would be easy to do because the battery pack that is made for the converter box uses a "9v" type of snap connecter to go from the battery pack to the DTA converter
I already have a rather large supply of "D" cell batteries on hand that I bought for hurricane season, the "D" cell battery holders are already on the way, and I have enough confidence to make the proper connections. The idea of the lantern batteries is something to keep in mind, and I thank you for forwarding that.
I used to set up a battery powered television in the back seat for my daughter when we go down to Florida to visit. We usually drove all night, and there was not much to see anyway. We used a clip on antenna that mounted to the rain gutters on the outside of the car, and I powered the TV from a 12v extension cord that I made by splicing a 9 foot piece of electrical extension cord with the ends cut off bewteen the part that plugged into the cigarette lighter and the end that plugged into the TV. I would make her a list of stations from Lake Charles, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, New Orleans in Louisiana, Biloxi in Mississippi, and etc. all the way down to Orlando.
I wish I still had the car antenna, I would try the converter box out in the car with an inverter and the AC adaptor to power the converter box. It would be an interesting experiment to see how good a signal could be kept while driving.

EmmGee-Ohio:

Hello again Mary :)

If you aren't getting a true directional signal, I tend to think that signals will cancel out, due to multipath issues of bridges, houses, even electric poles.... and also the loss of directionality. We all know 8-vsb signals are very directional and roads aren't always in 1 direction. Plus, you are also driving passed metal cars. That tends to be one of my local DTV issues for WTOL, WTVG, WNWO, WLMB, WUPW and WGTE... all of Toledo, Ohio. As you may have seen on youtube, all are 13 miles or less away.

Heavy traffic flow.... better watch Detroit's DTV channels. The traffic comes from the line of sight, or as near to it as can be, from my apartment's angle. Otherwise signals come through walls of 2 other apartments.

with this in mind, I'm not so sure you'd get a good signal for long. Knowing how NTSC signals work, those were better in coming and going, drifting in and out, etc. With DTV, you must lock in...which is the chore, while on the road and moving. Winding highways may not show much in directionality... so be prepared for it in case I am right.

I know I am not a fan of this place... but go to radio shack... they often have antennas that are magnetic. There is definitely a magnetic TV antenna... But the one I have came with my portable "MUSTEK" DVD/TV set. The antenna is small, but seems to pick up signals 45 miles away, analog.

The other option is to spend the 15.99 at "Mustek"

http://www.mustekdirect.com/buymustekdirect/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=117

The antenna is for the PL510T, and can be adapted for Regular TV's. It's worth a shot!

mary... the cat lady:

Hey EmmGee,
I know that the signal wouldn't lock in for very long, but I would like to see what it looks like in real life. Just to know, ya know? I think it would be an interesting experiment.
I just might look into getting the antenna you mentioned. In my mind, you can never have too many antennas, right? :)
Radio Shack products, as you weill know, leave a lot to be desired. But when you need an adaptor to go from one thing to another, they can usually come through for you.
I embrace the transition to digital for all of the things that come with it... but I will definitely miss analog.

EmmGee-Ohjio:

Mary:

We will all miss it. Its not like analog, where DXing is easier. Now you have to find out when the troposphere is acting accordingly to get some stations, you used to get in analog 100% of the time.

I have had great experiences getting KOTA-TV, from the black hills, and FOX 33 Cadellac, MI; WB49 and Fox 23 Buffalo, NY; WKYT 27 and thier ABC 36 (the old horse logo), Lexington, Ky; and Fox 41 Louisville.. along with many other other stations, including WROC, Rochester, NY; WTOV (doppler 9000) Steubenville, Ohio; WB33 Dallas, TX; and many more. This antenna that I currently have is the largest and most powerful one I had...so I was not purposely DXing, but passively DXing. Note all of these above stations were in received in Toledo, Ohio, using a 20 DB gain amplified antenna indoor antenna. That same antenna doesn't get as much, as long. The new antenna was purchased earlier this year, so DXing with it was not possible.

Even though there are more station layers (multicast layers), there is really fewer option, as most carry WX, news, or different aspected shows on the other layers (as in 16x9 versus 4x3). Yes, I'm sure there probably will be more choices, but the programming differences aren't there, if you miss a show, and want to view it later. PBS digital stations appear to be the only exception to this rule.

Yes we all will miss NTSC. Some for other reasons than above.

EmmGee-Ohio:

Mary:

Are you still doing the articles? Are you on your trip? Are you taken ill? Did you get chopped like quite a few media persons did, due to economy?

Its been a month now, since the last installment.

Will the next president try to push back the DTV deadline? I know McCain wanted to make it as quick as possible, per his speeches on the topic. Also, with the FCC possibly being changed, you have to wonder what it means for DTV.

Any Luck on your battery box and battery operated antenna? Did you get the Mustek antenna? Did traffic interfere?

Hope to see more soon. If you are not doing the articles, your reports/blog will be missed. I sincerely hop it's only a temporary thing, like internet issues or vacation/travel.

mary... the cat lady:

Hi EmmGee,
The article mill is going to be fired up again soon. All is well here. I have just been, as we say down here, "bowed up". I have been logging on and answering questions that have come up, but that is all I have had time for. There will be good news on a couple of project fronts and I will write more in just a couple of days. Thanks for inquiring and noticing my absence. Thanks for asking.

mary... the cat lady:

The experiments were a success. I have been able to operate the indoor amplified antenna and the distribution amp with the battery packs that I ordered off of the internet. I contacted the Ray-O-Vac battery company and inquired as how long I could expect 8 D-cell alkaline batteries (12 volts) to last at 200 miliamps, which is the noted current on the A/C adaptor that came with the antenna. The information that I received indicated that the batteries should last for 50 hours at that current. The distribution amp has a current of 100 miliamps. So, I figure that if I use the battery packs and the battery powered TV conservatively, I should be able to get enough news and updates over a period of 2-3 days if I were to need to. That would give me enough time to get to where I could go and get my generator if I were to need to. I may have to change the batteries in the TV and the converter box once under this scenario. The batteries in the converter box as was stated in the main article according to Winegard whould last 18 hours. This, to me, makes for a very viable solution to delimma of the loss of analog emergency televisions. A lot of inconvenience, but a viable solution none the less.
As a side note, I have searched the internet for analog battery powereed televisions to no avail. I went to the Canadian Wal-Mart site to see if I could find one there, and was not able to. I have a friend of mine at work who makes trips down to Mexico every so often to visit his wife's family. He graciously agreed to look for one on his next trip down. I would hate to have gone to all this trouble of setting up this system just to have it go kaput because my 8 year old battery powered TV goes on the blink, and I can not get another one.
But this system does work, and is very functional. Once the transition is over, and all my local stations are operating at their maximum power, I should have no trouble receiving them with the amplified indoor antenna... I hope, anyway.
I may set up a dedicated antenna either on my mast outside, or maybe in the attic where it should be somewhat protected from at least catagory one hurricane force winds.(Any catagory hurricane higher than that, and I am out of here) I am not much of a fan for placing antennas in the attic, but I know this can sometimes be the best compromise. And this may be one such case.

Joe Diamold:

Hey All,
Just wanted to let you all know that there is a way to get 12 volt digital tv in your motorhome with out using a 12 volt converter box.

If you have a new digital 12 volt tv, it's done! Most also have a built-in DVD player, many connection options, wall mount options and only draw about 60 Watts. That's only 5 Amps! WOW!

mary... the cat lady:

Thanks for forwarding the info Joe. We appreciate it! Are these available at RV suppliers or where?

davo:

Re: Battery Powered Digital TV Converter. I looked all over for a digital tv antenna. I found a battery operated digital TV converter kit that is available at http://www.batterysavers.com/Battery_Operated_Digital_TV_Converter.htm . It seems easy to set up and easy to use. Has anyone ever had any experience with this before? I'm buying one tonight to try it out. Please post if anyone ever used this kit before.

mary... the cat lady:

Hey davo,
I have seen this on the net, but what I did was assemble mine piece by piece.
I would appreciate it if you would give us a review of the set after you get it and report as to the quality of the set and if it would serve your emergency TV needs.
Out of curiosity, I would like to know what area of the country you live in. Are you in hurricane territory?

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