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2008.02.16

In less than a year, analog television will cease to exist in the US. Other parts of the world will phase it out at their own rhythm, but it won’t be long before digital television becomes the only type of television signal being broadcast. The most common form of digital television – HDTV – brings a drastic improvement in image quality over traditional television.

With that in mind, I started to transition after the reception of a Sharp Aquos 42″ LCD 1080p HTDV in early January. Although there are models supporting intermediate resolutions, the idea was to make the full transition in one step to something capable of the highest HDTV resolution (1080p).

Not being a frequent television watcher (about 1-2 hours/week), I could not really justify getting cable or satellite, so I always relied on over-the-air television. After all, each year of cable subscription equals at least a medium quality lens, a camera or a plane ticket to a close by destination. Over-the-air TV, on the other hand is free. With HDTV, free just got much better. Not only better quality but there are also far more channels available too. That is because certain channels broadcast several digital channels simultaneously. Your mileage may vary but my television counted 35 channels (including 12 analog ones).

The quality and number of digital-television channels you can get over-the-air depends on numerous factors including your location and the antenna you use. I doubt anyone will move just to get better HDTV reception, but there is something to do about the antenna.

For my brand new HDTV, I got to try 5 indoor antennas, each producing different results. I am not sure how these results would translate to other LCD HDTVs, but I expect little difference for other Sharp Aquos LCD televisions. For those wishing for something bigger, Sharp has a 46″ version and a 52″ version. Here are the five models:

This NexxTech antenna was bought specifically because it was said to be optimized for HDTV signals. In practice, it perform extremely poorly. With the amplification off, the signal was very unstable and noisy. As soon as amplification was turned on, the signal was crushed and no channel could be received. Definitely the worst antenna of the bunch.

Nexxtech Antenna
Jensen Antenna

The Jensen antenna was ordered based the recommendation of a salesperson who told me that although he did not carry then, Jensen’s antennas were better than the RCA ones he carried. Turns out the Jensen antenna faired better than the NexxTech one. Without amplification, reception was decent but nothing great. Once again, turning the amplification on crushed digital signals. So much for being HDTV-compatible! On the other hand, amplification help a bit with analog channels. I therefore moved this antenna to an analog TV.

This is the classic rabbit-ears plus loop antenna for analog television. Since I moved the Jensen antenna to an analog-only TV, I tried its antenna on the HDTV. Despite this being the cheapest antenna I owned ($19), the reception of digital channels was good and clearly better than with the Jensen antenna ($52). This antenna was able to tune into more channels than the the previous two.

RCA Passive Antenna
RCA Antenna

The final one I tried on the Sharp Aquos LCD was also previously bought for an analog television. This is an amplified RCA antenna with two non-extending dipoles and a rotating UHF loop. There is a new version with a built-in clock, but I am not sure if there are any differences in signal reception. This antenna turned out to be the best for the reception of both digital and analog channels. While I got the same number of channels with the non-amplified RCA one, the reception of analog channels is clearly better and digital channels show less error-artifacts. I recall buying it for $29, a few years ago, before companies starting labeling their antennas for HDTV.

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