tv antenna



Digital content for the informed consumer
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    Since June of 2009, U.S. TV viewers have had the option to receive channels from local broadcasting stations via a more efficient digital format.  This digital format replaced the previous analog transmission method and also added the enhanced capability of receiving the signal in high-definition resolution.

    Even though a single digital channel utilizes less bandwidth of the frequency spectrum than an analog channel, broadcasters were allowed to keep their original overall allocation of bandwidth.  Over-the-air broadcasters are now able to include multiple digital channels on bandwidth previously utilized by a single analog channel.  Best of all, this wide bandwidth maintained by each individual station is capable of broadcasting the station's primary signal in high-definition resolution alongside the additional standard-definition channels.

    This over-the-air HD signal has often been described in many user reviews as noticeably better than that of cable or satellite, which is likely due to the ability of the over-the-air broadcaster to transmit the bit-heavy HD signal with minimum compression.  As with cable and satellite, the actual composition of content delivered from the station is an ongoing mixture of standard-definition and high-definition, depending on whether the content was produced and broadcast in SD or HD.

    Each viewer of television differs somewhat in demand.  Some subscribe to all channels available, while others choose minimal viewing.   Most are likely to fall somewhere in between.  There are many viewers who could probably be content with a robust and reliable over-the-air system, especially considering the ongoing monthly cost of zero dollars.  Even if the viewer already receives network programming via cable or satellite, there may be some additional local channels transmitted and received exclusively over the air.

    There are companies in all medium to large cities that are licensed by the FCC to broadcast free TV channels.  The most common broadcast signals are those originating from the larger networks, such as ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and PBS.  Most markets are likely to have broadcasting affiliates for a couple of other networks, as well as possibly a second PBS station.  The additional one or two standard-definition channels added alongside each primary HD channel for each station are likely to also provide the viewer with content such as local weather, retro programming, and recorded sports.  The PBS affiliate may add the family-friendly IQ channel and/or the CREATE channel on the station's subchannels.

    Most of the media streaming players are available at a surprisingly low cost.  The player itself is a one-time purchase and facilitates the wired or wireless transmission of video content from a modem/router to the larger screen of a television.  Although several companies offer content subscriptions for under $10 monthly,  there is a rapidly expanding amount of free streaming content.   C-SPAN  provides realtime streaming for its three channels.  NasaTV  also provides realtime streaming for its three channels as well as a fourth stream from the International Space Station. Yesterday's news may have diminished value, but information in the broader context can prove useful whether viewed a day or a week later than the original releases, such as options from ABC News.

    The availability of useful current content is well illustrated by the TV stations in several major markets that stream most or all of their local news programs.  The news content is identical to the over-the-air broadcast signal, and may vary only in the advertisements.  A link on their homepage will either appear at the precise starting time of the newscast, or the link will display continuously, with some other content streaming outside of the precise times for the live news programs.   Live news programming can total several hours per day for a typical station.

    Whenever viewing content on your laptop, desktop, or TV,  remember to click the full-screen option if so desired.  The full-screen option will appear near the bottom of the video as soon as the initial streaming has stabilized.   Once you are in full-screen mode, return to the original page dimensions by tapping the escape key, usually at the top left of your keyboard.  Another option is to hover the mouse near the bottom portion of the full screen, which will display an option to return to the original display size.

    The reasons for installing an over-the-air antenna vary.  Some viewers simply insist on a-la-carte selection in regard to digital content, and are somewhat dismayed with the prospect of paying for extraneous channels.   A viewer anticipating an upcoming change of residence might wish to avoid a term contract, and the possible misunderstanding that can arise when lifestyle changes don't completely coincide and comply with the clearly defined terms of a legal contract.  Other viewers are simply unable to justify a recurring expense for TV, especially if they recognize the greater value of transferring the funds to a tax-deferred savings account instead.  Many older televisions with analog tuners are still around and simply need a converter box in order to convert the free digital signals into a usable analog format.

    In addition to the video content itself, stations also transmit an ongoing program guide within the digital stream.  Most digital TV receivers display EPG information for at least the current program being viewed, and many receivers are capable of listing upcoming programs for the current channel.  More advanced recievers can scan all available local channels and compile a comprehensive EPG for the viewer. Ongoing production of EPG content by the stations is mandated by the FCC, and the guide is usually produced for the remainder of any particular day.

    DVR use is not limited to cable subscribers with TiVo, or satellite subscribers with proprietary digital video recorders.  There is a hard-drive recorder ideally suited for over-the-air signals, with pause and replay capability.  Although most viewers likely prefer the time-shifting capabilities of a DVR, there is also the option of using a DVD recorder.

    The ideal over-the-air installation should meet the expectations of the viewer, providing the most channels available, with ongoing signal-strength levels consistent enough to ensure uninterrupted viewing.   A useful channel locator is available to gauge signal strengths from all available stations broadcasting into your area.  All you need to enter is your zip code.
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