What's your experiences with digital TV?

A few weeks ago, I helped my mother set up her digital converter box. Like me, my mom doesn’t have cable and relies on over the air signals. I was suprised how poor the quality was. The picture often was stuck on a pixelated image, making the image almost unviewable. Even when it operated clearly the picture didn’t seem any clearer than the analog signal. Plus the new subchannels were mostly just reairings of news and weather. For those of you who have converter boxes, do you run into these problems? Will they improve as we get closer to the Feb. switchover? Could the box be a problem?

I don’t think anecdotal evidence is going to be much use to you, using OTA signals as you are. A huge number of factors will enter into your experience, any one of which will be more important than anything anyone can relate about their own situation.

Having said that, my neighbour has reasonable reception watching digital and HD channels OTA. I’m too addicted to the channels I get via cable to consider uglying up my house with an antenna.

The signal quality depends where you live and how strong the signal is, just like with analogue TV.

Some of the Set Top Boxes have stronger amplifiers in them, but you want want to head down to your local electronics store and get a Signal Amplifier- they’re not that expensive- and see if that improves the picture for you. They usually plug into the power point and then you run the antenna cable from the wall socket into the amplifier, then run another antenna cable from the amplifier into your digital set top box, boosting the signal and improving the picture.

I’m located 5 miles NW of Sears Tower in Chicago and I get 16 analog channels most very clear with rabbit ears and a loop on my TV. With my converter box I only get THREE TV channels and two are always pixilated. With my other TV which has a built in digital tuner I get NO digital channels with the rabbit ears and loop. I even tried a silver sensor antenna no luck at all getting digital. Looks like after Feb 2009 I will have to get cable or give up TV

The thing to remember is that MOST but not all digital TV stations are on UHF. The channels still map to their orignal numbers. For instance WGN-TV is on Channel 9 so a VHF antenna or rabbit ears will pick it up fine. But WGN-DT (it’s digital partner) is on channel 19. So you need a UHF antenna or silver sensor antenna. WGN-DT will map to channel 9 even though it’s actually on channel 19.

Digital TV is good but it’s the antenna. Since digital signals are basically all or nothing, you either get it or you don’t. On fringe areas you pick up just enough to get the pixilation. So you need a bigger antenna. Digital signals are also subject to things like rain and buildings, which would explain my problems living in a building dense city like Chicago.

So if you’re picture isn’t clear you need a bigger (outdoor is preferred) antenna to get the picture.

Sorry, but that is not correct. An amplifier does not improve the signal. It make the bad signal stronger, but not better. It is as if you were trying to tune in a radio station, but had a lot of static. An amplifier is like turning up the volume of the radio. Now it’s LOUD static.

What you need is a TV antenna that looks like a TV antenna. A plain old “rabbit ears” with no amplification will work just fine as long as you rotate the antenna so the open part of the is pointed towards the stations. If you are too far away to get any stations you really should consider a rooftop antenna.

Oh, and never buy any antennas from Terk. They are overpriced junk.

I spent two years in Electronics Retail selling signal boosters to people for exactly the problem the OP is describing, and I can tell you that they do work, depending what the signal is like to begin with and where you live.

Then again, Australia is using a different system (DVB-T) to the one in the US… but at any rate, signal boosters here will help improve a bad, pixellating image in many, many cases. Other times, there’s not a lot you can do about it except get used to not having decent TV reception, or get satellite dish.

They don’t help if you already have a well-designed receiver with a sensitive front-end. How many television receivers are that good? That’s hard to say. DTV reception is dependent on the signal-to-noise ratio.

They can help if they are attached to an antenna that is feeding a lossy feed line, like a long run of 72-ohm coax.

Besides low signal strength, multipath is the other major factor that can cause problems with ATSC reception.

The FCC’s computer models were based upon the assumption that the receiver was fed by an external antenna on a 30’ mast.

We’ve been receiving over the air digital HDTV for about three years. The hardest part was finding the best antena location. We assumed that the best place for the antenna would be as high on the roof as we could get it alligned so the weakest signal was coming thru a gap in the trees. That wasn’t so.

My wife spent *days[I with the antenna, a ladder and a hundred feet of cable wandering around the yard…the very best signal was with the antenna on a kitchen chair in the middle of the driveway, lol. She finally found a spot in the front yard where we could sink a 4’ pole to mount a rotor on.
Even there, moving the antenna a couple of inches up or down the mast makes a difference between a great picture and nothing.
We live “out in the country” in hilly terrain, so your experience may be different, but for us it wasn’t just plug and play.

I have a question about those converter boxes that you can buy with a coupon from the government. What kind of outputs do they have? I just bought a 20" widescreen monitor which has S-video and composite inputs, but no component or coaxial input. (No tuner.) I was wondering if I could get one of those boxes and use the monitor as a TV. (And also whether I might get high-def signals over the air, or just regular def.)

All of the boxes that I’ve seen have composite video outputs. All HD signals are downconverted to SD. You should be able to use your monitor with a converter box.

All the converter boxes I’ve seen have both the three RCA jacks (composite plus audio) and coax outputs. The ones eligible for the coupons receive the Hi def signals, but output standard def. Comparing, the picture was definitely better than the same picture I got with standard def cable TV (Comcast).

My beef is that with the old analog signals you could move the antenna around playing hotter-colder with the signal quality until you found the right orientation. With digital it’s all or nothing: you either luck into the right position, or you’re stuck in pixel land.

Boosting a bad signal just gives you more bad signal. Every success I’ve had with getting ATSC DTV in marginal conditions has been by either using a better antenna design, raising the antenna or improving the positioning of the antenna. I’ll match your two years of electronics retailing with 20 years as the chief technician for a six store chain. You sold boosters because boosters were what you had to sell. I installed antennas because that is what works. Physics can’t be cheated.