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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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Digital Transition Answers



Your Christmas Present: Help With Your Digital Set-Up

December 8, 2008 9:12 AM

The season of gift-giving is coming, and no doubt many of you will be receiving equipment for the reception of digital broadcast signals in the form of converter boxes, digital recorders, standard-definition televisions with digital tuners or, for the lucky ones, HDTVs.

Many of you will hook them up to antennas you already possess, or those "digital antennas" that are sitting on the shelves of the big-box stores. After dinner on Christmas you'll fire them up and get a whole plethora of channels that you didn't even know were out there. Others will do a digital channel scan and get one or two digital channels where you normally get six or seven analog channels. Others will do a scan and get the dreaded "no digital channels found." What to do now?

You get on the computer and call on your friendly Mary ... the Cat Lady. That is what you do. And rest assured, I will help you determine what it will take to get all the channels you can get. Or possibly determine that it is a lost cause. Either way, we will try to work it out together.

But it will take some help from you. In the past, I have had posters write in and state that they can't get channel 9 or maybe channel 17, and they want to know what the problem is. That won't help me help you very much. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of stations on channel 9 or 17 across the country.

I will help if I can, but I need a bit more information from you.

I need the answers to the following questions:

1. What are the call signs of the stations you get on analog that you want to get on digital? You know, those four-letter (for full-power stations) IDs that you hear all the time, like KXXX or WXXX (a few are three letters, such as WGN). Low-power stations sometimes use a combination of five letters and numbers, like K62XX or W02AA.

2. What kind of reception did you get on analog? Use a scale of 1 to 10, with a 1 being barely watchable to a 10 being the best: a clear and crisp picture with no imperfection whatsoever.

3. What kind of antenna are you using? Table top? Is it an outdoor antenna? In the attic? Amplified or not? If you do not know, just give me a description of it as best you can.

4. In what city are the stations located?

5. How far are you from that city?

6. In what direction are you from that city? Or, are you in the city or a suburb of it?

7. What is the terrain like in your area? Is it flat? Hilly? Mountainous? Are you up high or down in a valley?

8. Are there a lot of trees where you are?

9. About how long is the coaxial cable run from the antenna to the television?

10. Are you using a splitter to get the antenna signal to more than one receiver, such as a second TV or a VCR?

The more information you can give me, the clearer the picture will be for me try to figure out how best to proceed with trying to get the digital channels.

Those of you in apartment complexes or condos with management associations are at a particular disadvantage. You have the legal right to erect outdoor antennas, although with some restrictions, but a lot of the time you have to jump through hoops to get an OK to do so.

I wish everyone all the luck in getting the stations you desire, but if you have a problem, just post and I will work with you to see if we can resolve the reception problems.

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Comments (6)

EmmGee-Ohio:

Tried posting on 12-09-08, but got "Got an error: Bad ObjectDriver config: Connection error: Host 'app20.ash.epub.net' is blocked because of many connection errors; unblock with 'mysqladmin flush-hosts'" ( http://www.tvweek.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tvw-comments.cgi)


Hello again Mary... There's yet more info they should provide:

11) are they in an apartment or a condo? Reason 1, for other apartment walls, which become obstacles. Reason 2, if they are to put an antenna outside...meaning size and where. There are still potential restrictions on both, with the laws.

12) What kind of a box are they attempting to use? As an electronics person, I know the old Panasonics worked best for radio (1980's), and no other radios compared with signal sensitivity. Same goes for brands and models of DTV converters and HDTV tuners. In my situation, Zenith and Magnavox didn't cut it, where Tivax's STB-T8 does, successfully. So, short form, not all boxes are sensitive enough or filter multipath. Some may even get a "hand me down" converter, which doesn't work so well, even though it was the best set top box at that time.

13) What antenna model are they using and where?
Rabbit ears won't work in an apartment, trying to get a 40 mile away signal. So, an outdoor antenna might be better.

14) Are you facing the stations towers and in an apartment? If so, this is a special circumstance. Your stations won't really be clear if you are not facing the "line of site", or able to face the same direction as the tower.

15, What about bridges and traffic? Personal experience shows here. I have this issue along with "line of sight." Bouncing signal will blank out the picture and sound. This is called "multipath". Severe multipath cancels signals out. The box gets confused and stops doing its job. Metal is a great reflector of DTV signals, such as bridges are great for blocking it.

The more info given, the better to diagnose and educate the user of the problem.

I know "antennaweb.org" does not take these into consideration, but some planning before you get your box, may help too. It also can assist why you do not currently get DTV and maintain its station signals.


Remember, DTV countdown (the informational DTV show) does not point any antenna issues out, so the public is not aware of the whole spectrum of DTV and how to get and keep it.

EmmGee-Ohio:

Note after the fact:

"DTV countdown: Are you ready?" is a 30 minute show showing what DTV is and how to hook up a box. It is a syndicated commercial show, consisting of only 19 minutes of info. It could have been more complete if local spots were not allowed to be inserted.

Due to spot allotments, some info had to be cut/skipped. This allotted space could have shown DTV barriers and what might happen, what a newer converter could change, general antenna types, etc.

It was general propaganda for DTV positives, not telling both sides (both positive and negative) of the DTV story.

mary... the cat lady:

Hi Emm-Gee,
Tell both sides of the story? Are you kidding me?
Houston is having their "test" today. 5 minutes at three different times. Houston is one of the largest metropolitan with one of the highest concentrations of OTA only viewers. About 25% of the Houston metro area gets TV OTA only. It is going to be interesting to see what kind of results come from this, even if it is an inadequate test. It should give an idea anyway of how well prepared the area is.

EmmGee-Ohio:

I'm sure I'll hear about it first from WTVG "13abc, Toledo"... via same logo'ed sister station "13abc, Houston"... or KTRK. If it's on KTRK, it will be on WTVG. This is not a joke either. That's how I know both are the same logo and name.

A lot of issues will arise with the fact that many of those "digital antennas" they buy at the store will not work for VHF signals. To make things worse they may get all their channels right now but when they get all settled down thinking they are ok for the transition...then bang! The day of the transition they loose a couple channels due to some of their stations had went to a VHF frequency. It's really going to be interesting to see what happens on the "big day"!

mary... the cat lady:

Hey O A,
How right you are. I know of one case already where the temp channel was a VHF low band channel, but whent he UHF final DTV channel became available, and the station moved to the UHF, bam, no more reception. It is going to happen both ways... not to mention just losing reception altogether because of the distance from the transmitters.
Lots of people were able to watch a somewhat less than perfect television signal on analog, and will get absolutely nothing with digital.

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