In Depth

Column: Blame It on ‘The Boy From Oz’

With Jackman Hosting, Oscars Become Must-See Motivation to Get Antenna for Digital TV

Everyone has a breaking point. Mine is Hugh Jackman, because even though I consider myself among the hardiest of broadband-video converts, I just will not miss the chance to see Hugh Jackman in high definition.

Hugh Jackman

So I’m coming back into the traditional television fold for one night only—the Academy Awards on ABC. What? You think I’m not strong enough, not tough enough, not committed enough to the cable-free cause? I remain a faithful cord-cutter, unencumbered by satellite or cable programming. In fact, I’ll be kicking it old school, watching good old-fashioned over-the-air TV on Feb. 22, the night of the Oscars. The movie fete won’t be carried live online, so I have no other choice but to watch it via broadcast TV.

I conducted some online research to figure out how to receive over-the-air TV in high definition without a cable or satellite box. When you have a hi-def set (mine is a Sony Trinitron), you need to purchase an antenna specifically to receive the digital feeds of broadcast stations.

I called on my favorite hi-def guru, Pete Putman, for antenna tips. He’s the editor of HDTVExpert.com and he pointed me to TVFool.com. The site analyzes your location to determine which broadcast TV signals are available in your area. I learned that I’m about 13 miles from the San Francisco ABC affiliate, KGO-TV, and that means most antennas should do the trick for my home. TVFool also told me that an indoor set-top antenna would be sufficient to pick up all the local channels in San Francisco.

Mr. Putman recommended three antenna options from Radio Shack.

I swung by the local Radio Shack and picked up the $34.99 model (I like Hugh, but hey, there is a recession going on and I don’t need the priciest one).

TV

But when I set up the antenna, I was greeted only with extremely fuzzy reception. I Twittered about my woes and checked alternate sites like antennaweb.org, which also told me that an indoor antenna should be all I need. My tech friends on Twitter said indoor antennas stink like rotten fruit and only an outdoor antenna could do the job.

So I called Radio Shack back so see if it carried outdoor antennas. The sales associate told me I could spend $20 million on an outdoor antenna and I still wouldn’t get good reception, because of a little topographical issue called a lot of hills. As in hills that are smack dab between my house and the TV towers in San Francisco.

Before I gave up, I asked my husband to test the antenna. Within 20 seconds KGO and all the other local stations were piping quite nicely into our home. Turns out I missed the step where you actually have to program the channels into the remote control.

To be fair, though, the local stations are just a tiny bit snowy. And guess why? Because my lovely hi-def TV set isn’t capable of receiving over-the-air stations in hi-def, according to the specs in the manual.

So I could buy a hi-def tuner for $150 or $200. Or I could just call my sister-in-law and go watch the Boy From Oz at her house, where she has real TV.