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  An Amplified Antenna for HDTV

Dateline, Vancouver, June 2017

Are those amplified antennas any better than plain rabit ears? Here is what I told my sister.

Amplified Antennas for HDTV

Sometime last year, my sister was getting bad reception on her TV with an antenna and asked if one of those amplified antennas would work any better. I went through the same headache about ten years ago, when HD TV's first came out. The quick answer to her question is that they don't work, but it took me a while to figure out why.

It was 2009 and this was my first HD TV. I seemed to live in a dead zone and picture quality was hideous. On every station the picture would fade in and out on a minute or two cycle. The only station was was watchable for more than a few minutes was PBS.

Over the course of the next two weeks, I bought, tried, and returned ten different TV antennas. They were different combinations of amplified or directional, and none were any better than the plain old rabbit ears. I spent hours, on every night those two weeks, moving the antenna back and forth, left wall, right wall, high & low, upright & sideways, but nothing worked. On each station, the image would block up, then freeze up, then the screen would go black.

Some of these had huge amplification. The biggest was 50db, which is 100,000 X amplification, and it made no difference. They all went back to the store and I was left wondering how that was possible. 100,000X has to be doing something, but it just wasn't.

I hobbled by with one of the amplified antennas for a few months, and it gave me a half dozen useable stations. But then all stations began degrading over the next few months and the situation was worse than ever. Even the PBS station just disappeared one day, and when I e-mailed and asked what they did to their transmitter, they said they didn't do anything. So I threw the TV out in the garage, and that's where it sat for the next month. It was all a big scam as far as I was concerned.

Sometime later, I tried it again with a directional antenna that had small amplification, and it gave me a usable signal on a half-dozen stations. It was still a big scam, but I had a couple of decient stations.

So then a few years later I gave that TV to a friend, who also didn't have cable. He connected his DVD player to the TV, and the antenna to the DVD, and the reception was beautiful on every station. (He used the DVD remote to change channels) It was unbelieveable.

And then it all made sense. The amplified antenna amplifies everything, including electrical noise, so any TV station that was buried in noise is still buried in noise. But the DVD player only amplifies the one station that you want, and not any other stations nor the electrical noise, and then the TV amplifies that station a little more.

So the bottom line is, the amplified antennas aren't worth the cost. If you don't want cable, then just try the rabbit ears and DVD first. Don't spend the money unless that doesn't work.