Do I need a new antenna to get digital TV?

This is archived content from Digital TV Facts. For up-to-date information on the digital TV transition, see the federal government’s site, www.DTV2009.gov.

An antenna used for watching analog TV over the air can also be used for digital TV, including HDTV. Viewers in some areas, however, will find that a better antenna—a rooftop one, perhaps—is needed to ensure reliable digital TV reception.

First, a word about how digital TV reception differs from analog: Essentially, you either get a perfect digital signal for a particular channel, or nothing at all. It’s what’s known as a “cliff effect.” You will either find yourself at the very peak of reception capability or—less happily—in the deepest ditch.

Digital reception is unlike the familiar world of analog, in which a partial signal above a certain threshold may be viewable (or at last hearable), albeit with static or other flaws. If your digital reception is erratic, it will be difficult to tolerate, because at varying intervals the picture and sound will disappear entirely. You may not want to watch Dateline if Stone Phillips gets replaced every few seconds by a blank, blue screen (though I actually prefer it that way). If you live in an area where reception is marginal, a bargain-priced indoor antenna may not cut it anymore. Even viewers who live in urban areas close to broadcast transmitters may encounter interference caused by neighboring buildings, hills, trees or other obstructions.

To view all television stations in your area, you may need an antenna for both VHF (channels 2 through 13) and UHF (channels 14 and up) bands. With the switch to digital in 2009, many stations will move to new channels and, in some cases, switch bands.

Your antenna should point toward the TV station’s broadcast tower. If you encounter reception problems because local stations’ transmitters are located in different directions, consider installing a rotor (sometimes called a rotator) that can reorient the outdoor antenna according to which channel you are viewing.

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