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How Do HD Antennas Work?

Despite the growing options for digital entertainment, the average adult in America still spends more than four hours watching television daily. 

TV isn't going away, but the way Americans watch it is.

Many people have chosen to enhance their viewing by not just paying for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, but by completing cutting their cable cords and installing an HD antenna. 

This leads to two questions: 

  1. How do HD Antennas work? 
  2. How well do HD Antennas work? 

Read on for detailed answers to both questions. 

How an Antenna Works 

To understand how HD Antennas work, you need to first understand how antennas work in general. 

Antennas act much like a big hand in the sky that reaches out and grabs words, sounds, and pictures. They catch radio waves and then transform them into electrical signals which then move into a television or a radio and then turn into the moving pictures or sounds we see and hear. 

You may hear about the terms transmitter and antenna. Antennas grab the information. Transmitters send it. 

So in the world of television, television stations send out the information (transmit), and antennas reach up and grab it. 

How Do HD Antennas Work?

HD Antennas come in all shapes and sizes, from those that you anchor to your roof with bolts to those that fit sleekly behind your television and remind you of a plastic sheet of paper. 

They all have one thing in common, though: in short form, an HD Antenna is an electronic device attached to your television that receives electromagnetic signals. 

So sometimes those antennas are connected with a long cable that snakes from your television to the antenna on the roof (or at a higher point). 

Other times you attach the antenna directly to the back of your television. You may not even know it's there until, of course, you began watching tv. 

All HD antennas receive television broadcasts in the form of electromagnetic signals. In particular, transmitters send HD signals along the Ultra High Frequency, otherwise known as the UHF band. 

The whole amazing process of television starts with a television studio. The studio creates a show, then broadcasts the programming and uses their equipment to convert audio and video broadcasts into electromagnetic signals. 

Then your antenna receives the signal and converts it back into audio and video information. 

Because the transmitter pushes the signal through the air, you do not need feet of cable snaking through the walls of your house. You typically just need that single cable that goes from your television to your antenna. 

The whole project truly is a little magical if you think about it. 

Do HD Antennas Work?

Now that you understand how antennas work, and HD antennas in particular, you may wonder if they actually do work. After all, if HD antennas are so great, why does cable even still exist. 

Read on to learn more about the availability, cost, quality, and installation of an HD antenna. 

Availability

Before you examine the factors involved with an HD antenna, you need to know if you even qualify as a good candidate for an HD antenna. 

Much of what makes an HD antenna work well has to do with location. Where you live and want television matters the most. 

Do not lose heart quite yet. Be aware that almost 90 percent of American households can receive up to 5 channels using just an HD antenna. You may be among the 90 percent.

When you install the antenna, you will want to place it in the most optimal place for the reception. Pay close attention to the installation instructions and read our own installation guide below. 

What Will You See?

Cable companies boast of offering hundreds of channels to their subscribers. A typical subscriber is paying a good deal of their paycheck to have access to more channels than they could possibly ever watch.

And yet, oddly, the cable subscriber will not typically have access to arguably the most important channels: local ones.

Those local channels share important information such as local news, weather updates, and closures in case of bad weather, not to mention all of the drama, sitcoms, and action television shows on network tv and the cooking, home care, craft, and educational shows on PBS. 

If you grew up in the days before people were willing to pay $100 for cable television, you'll remember life with tv as being life with the "big three." You had three network stations. 

Newsflash: it's not 1975 anymore. 

More Than the Big Three

When you use an HD antenna, you receive local channels you often do not receive through cable. 

Many people do not realize what they're missing by paying Comcast $100 a month. 

Not only do you often receive the big three channels and Fox and PBS, but channels now have subchannels. 

You'll find channels such as 13.2 or 7.3. 

In fact, many of the subchannels exist because baby boomers were tired of paying obnoxious fees for something (cable) they weren't even using. 

Subchannels such as MeTV and Cozi TV run syndicated shows from the 1950s through the 1980s to please an audience that was tired of paying money for channels that didn't meet their viewing desires. 

Local affiliates must have contracts with a cable company for the cable company to carry their channel. 

So with cable, you can know what's going on around the world (thanks, CNN), but you may not see the news in your own backyard. 

An HD antenna brings your local nightly news and broadcasting back into your living room and pleasant channels with nostalgic television as well. 

Scan your channels to know what you get once you're hooked up. You may find yourself with five channels or even close to 100 channels is some areas of the United States. 

Picture Quality

Those of you who grew up in the 80s or even beyond remember the days of snow on your television screen, when you squinted to see your favorite channel. 

So your dad would get up from his easy chair, grab some tin foil, attach it to the rabbit ears, maybe say a few curse words, and then wiggle the ears until everyone could stop squinting. 

An HD antenna has no snow. 

Because of the digital nature of HDTV, you either have a channel or you do not. So you do not need to wonder if you can manipulate the antenna just enough to see a picture, and you do not have to sacrifice a child's playtime by having him touch the antenna and act like its extension to make it work. 

For an HD antenna to work, you only need an HDTV or a converter box (if you have an analog tv).

Believe it or not, the HD antennas provide better picture quality than provided by cable companies. 

When a television company sends information through a cable, that cable television companies use, the information is compressed. It's sent directly into your home via a coaxial cable. 

Basically, the cable company must remove digital data to squeeze multiple channels over a cable, so they lose some of the data, and this results in compromised picture quality. 

HDTV allows the information to move freely through the air. It doesn't have to compress data into a cable. The antenna pulls the signal from local affiliates that broadcast the signal from their stations. 

The end result is a better picture, and thus a better viewing experience. 

The series finale of MASH will look even better than you saw it in 1983. 

So sure, you do not have 206 channels to flip through. But you have fewer channels with crisp, clear pictures. 

Gray's Anatomy never looked more dramatic. 

Cost

So how much will this cost you?

You can have wonderful television that keeps your home free of the clutter of cables, and you can also have a beautiful, crisp picture and viewing experience. But in the end, the final decision comes down to cost.

To have the HDTV antenna experience, you need only the HD antenna and an HD TV.

You need to make a one-time purchase. There are no hidden fees or monthly statements. You have no bill to pay.

No wonder some cable cutters jokingly call their television viewing experience "peasant tv."

When you have cable, you're paying for the possibility of 100s of channels. But the truth is, you do not watch hundreds of channels. 

According to the Nielsen Ratings, Americans really only watch 9.6 percent of the channels they have. 

Advertisers pay for broadcast networks to exist. You do not. Cable companies charge a boatload of money because they depend on you, their consumer, to pay for the service. 

So when you cut cable and begin to use an HD antenna, you're not paying for that advertising anymore. 

Installation

How hard is it to install an HD antenna? Not hard.

The key to success with HD television using the HD antenna has to do with location, as mentioned earlier.

You want your antenna to rest in a line of sight from the broadcast tower to your antenna. This means you need to locate the closest broadcast towers. Sometimes the closest tower isn't the most convenient, though. 

Find one that allows for the clearest path with no buildings or big trees. A signal does not know how to go around objects, and it cannot go through them. It will just bounce off of them. 

Additionally, keep in mind the curvature of the earth limits the distance to about 60-75 miles for a solid signal. 

So, what's your current location? This will determine how many channels you can receive.

Once you install your HD antenna, you can have your television scan your channels to see what you can receive. 

Do not despair, though, if you're residing in the middle of an urban dwelling surrounded by buildings. Just know that you'll need to work a little harder to make your HD antenna work for you. After all, if you don't see the sun regularly, neither will your signal. 

You can find some great ideas typically in the antenna manufacturer instructions. They should give you ideas on where the antenna will work best. 

And while you may not pull in fifteen channels, you should be able to get some channels. Most of the time the company selling you the antenna wants you to be happy and will offer a money-back refund policy like this one

HD Antenna Varieties

You can tell who has the most up-to-date HD antenna by looking at their hardware.

The most commonly seen are the bat wings--the obnoxious eyesores on the top of your house that tip over, or worse yet, act as projectiles in the midst of wind storms. 

The newer and sleeker versions go right in your house behind your tv. 

Regardless of their size and discreetness, all HD antennas connect the same way: directly to the HDTV or decoder box using an RG-6 coax cable. The antenna screws right into the TV or the decoder box. 

Additionally, if you have multiple televisions, you do not need multiple antennas. Under the right guidance, you can split a connection to meet the needs for multiple televisions. 

What If I Don't Want to Give up Cable?

We live in a wonderful world of choice for the most part. If you love your cable and cannot do without your daily Sports Center fix, but you'd still like to watch the local Friday night football highlights, do not despair. You can have your cake and eat it too.

Even with cable attached to your television, you can hook an HD antenna up. What's the advantage, you ask? 

Remember what you do not get with cable: local television shows. So you can still watch Lidia's Italy on PBS and then flip back over to cable to see Giada work her magic with Italian ingredients. 

If you've got money coming out of your ears and can't handle not seeing the ending of the Game of Thrones, by all means, keep the cable. 

Just know you can find your local weather alerts through the HD antenna. 

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If you're interested in cutting the cable altogether or just hooking up an HD antenna to your own television at home, you should be able to answer the question "How do HD antennas work" with both the technical specs and the quality specs. 

They work. Ask the millions of people who use an HD antenna for their viewing pleasure. 

Take some time to peruse our site and do some shopping for an HD antenna today.