How To Make A Digital TV Antenna

Even in the digital age, it’s still possible to snatch free TV signals out of the air. It helps to live in a centralized location that receives unobstructed signals, and it’s usually necessary to have a powerful antenna connected to your TV.

You can always buy an antenna, or you could take a cue from Popular Mechanics and build one of your own.

Calculating that it takes two hours to complete the project, the March 2011 post guides you through the process. You’ll need pine boards, copper wire, a lazy susan, electrical tape, heat-shrink tubing, wood screws and fender washers, as well as an impedance-matching transformer.

Follow the instructions and you’ll wind up with an ugly contraption that, depending on your workmanship, may possibly net you the best of what broadcast channels have to offer. Or you can just spring for the $20 to $50 it costs to get one built by pros.

Cut the Cable! Build Your Own Digital TV Antenna [Popular Mechanics]

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  1. clippy2.0 says:

    “Follow the instructions and you’ll wind up with an ugly contraption that, depending on your workmanship, may possibly net you the best of what broadcast channels have to offer. Or you can just spring for the $20 to $50 it costs to get one built by pros”

    it’s like they detected our snark!

    • Not Given says:

      Phil is so used to it he’s beating us to it, now.

    • duncanblackthorne says:

      I have one of these on my roof at this very moment, and I get 80-100% signal for all local stations, cost me all of $10 to build, and it saves me about $75 per month for cable TV. But by all means, if you’re more concerned with the aesthetics than the functionality, go right ahead and blow your hard-earned money on an expensive and potentially lower-performance antenna that looks all pretty.

      • layton59 says:

        You built an outdoor antenna for $10. That’s impressive. I tried using a indoor electric powered antenna. It cost $39 at Wal-Mart and Lowes. I am now using a $17 unpowered antenna that I bought at Big Lots. It looks like a black picture frame and It works better that the $39 one. I get 12 or so stations and I live 35-55 miles from the TV stations in Dayton Ohio.

  2. PunditGuy says:

    Don’t start any antenna-related project without it:

    http://www.antennaweb.org/aw/Welcome.aspx

    • Cat says:

      Actually, antennaweb is pretty sucky. It’s only going to show part of what you can get, and hasn’t been updated in… forever.

      Try: http://www.tvfool.com/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=90

      and this:
      http://www.rabbitears.info/search.php

      http://www.dtvusaforum.com/ has lots of helpful and knowledgeable people who can help you out.

      • PunditGuy says:

        Yeah — well, your site is a poopy head!

        I haven’t needed it in years, so it didn’t bug me that it hadn’t been updated in years. YMMV

        • Cat says:

          No offense intended. Antennaweb is a good place to start, but it’s wrong. According to antennaweb, I get ONE channel – the one that I don’t get! It doesn’t list translator or low-power stations.

          Try antennaweb, but if you don’t get anything or very little, don’t be discouraged, try the others. TVfool has some omissions, but http://www.rabbitears.info is updated weekly, I know the site owner – he’s a real wizard!

          • PunditGuy says:

            None taken. I was looking for an excuse to use “poopy head.”

          • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

            antennaweb says i get 50 channels. i “get” 9 in one room and 11 in the other. “get” because only 2 channels come in clearly and reliably. mostly i have pixelated images with green bits.
            tv fool seems more accurate to what i am actually getting. thanks

      • TheBigWhiteWolf says:

        http://dtv.gov is also a good site. Has an integrated google map so you know exactly where to aim your antenna.

    • HighontheHill says:

      I would recommend one trying an antenna of some sort regardless of what any website says about your particular site, consensus of the several sites I tried estimated our potential channels at roughly 6, when in reality we get nearly twenty, most HD, with a rotator on my diy antenna.

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    You can find some very good antennas for not much more than the cost of these materials.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I think the appeal is that the part’s list is made up of stuff most people have floating around their garage.

    • duncanblackthorne says:

      The design of the homebrew antenna is actually fairly high-gain, and if I’m not mistaken you could even double up on the number of element pairs and get even higher gain out of it.

  4. mbd says:

    Any old analog antenna that picked up UHF channels will work fine for digital. The 20 year old antenna on my roof works just fine, and I have one TV that is using an old “rabbit ears’ antenna routed into a cheap digital to ntsc converter set top box.

    • Cat says:

      There are no “digital antennas”. It’s marketing hype.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        The term “digital antenna” is used so frequently, I wonder if some people associate it with an amplified antenna.

        • Cat says:

          Amplified antennas are not really a good thing. It introduces noise, and the cheap amps built into most cheap antennas are particularly noisy. An decent amp is good if you “sometimes” get a signal, or if you are splitting one antenna to 3+ receivers.

          You can’t amplify signal that isn’t there.

          • Yacko says:

            The trick is to amplify early in the chain, just after the antenna, and then send to various distant components. Needed if antenna is in attic or on roof.

          • racermd says:

            More accurately, the problem with amps is that you amplify the noise just as much as you amplify the signal you want. The trick is simply to make sure you have sufficient signal-to-noise ratio to begin with (which, assuming the signals fall within the acceptable range for the antenna input of your device, is all that really matters with a digital transmission, anyway – if you have more signal than noise, the device will pull it out of the stream and display a picture on the TV).

            Keep in mind that it’s possible to over-amplify. It’s like trying to have a conversation with someone in your quiet living room that insists on shouting into a microphone connected to a stadium PA system.

          • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

            They’re pretty handy when it comes to using a splitter, in addition to long coax runs.

    • kc2idf says:

      This is correct, any “analog” antenna will work just as well for digital signals.

      I do, however, need to correct the misconception about UHF, something I need to do every single time discussion of DTV antennas comes up on just about any forum: VHF is still relevant to DTV. In fact, in my area, there were 3 VHF and 5 UHF before, and there are 4 VHF and 4 UHF after, making a UHF-only antenna actuall less appropriate than before.

      Please, before building or buying a TV antenna, make sure the design is the right one for the job in your area!

      • NumberSix says:

        I have 2 on VHF and the rest on UHF and they are about 180 degrees apart. All my VHF are in one driction and the UHF are in almost the exact opposite direction.

      • Cat says:

        Yea, the original plan for digital TV was to leave the VHF, at least the VHF-lo, behind. But, the wireless industry whined “We need more spectrum”, and the top uhf channels (51-69) were auctioned off to wireless carriers, and VHF was kept for TV. VHF-lo, particularly, is poorly suited for TV since there’s a lot of noise in that band, and it requires a HUGE antenna.

        Right now in many areas with overlapping coverage (Rochester, NY for example, gets Buffalo, Syracuse, and several Canadian channels) there are just no more available channels, and channels have been pushed into the undesirable VHF-lo band, and it’s just a mess. But don’t worry, the FCC has a plan to auction off channels 32-51 so everyone can twitter “wirelessly”. Yea!

        That will fix it! Oh, wait… NO. CRAP!

  5. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    Over the holiday, I picked up an amplified omni-direction antenna and installed it in our attic. It doubled the number of channels we received and is way more pleasant to use than our rabbit ears, which require different adjustment for every channel.

    I was planning on mounting it to one of our chimneys but once I got up on the ladder, I noticed a lot of mortar erosion on the windward sides and decided against it. Plus, when we finally get a new roof, I’d like to have the upper portion of the chimneys removed and capped.

  6. APCO25guy says:

    The PopMech article is good if you are in area that needs a high gain directional array for UHF DTV, but it will work poorly on VHF (and some DTV is on VHF) as the elements are not long enough for good VHF reception. Whre I live, I use an old FM wire dipole that came with my stereo receiver, and it works well, as we have two off air DTV stations on VHF (WGTV and WXIA, the NBC affiliate for Atlanta).

    The dipole tacked to the wall does a fine job on VHF as well as the UHF channels, comes in handy on the few times DirecTV has rain fade or I feel like watching the dozens of God Squad sub channels or weather radars not carried on satellite.

    Total cost of antenna if purchased new at RadioShaft (if you can find it in the store) about $4 plus another 3 for a matching transformer. Or just scavenge the old one off your A/V receiver (not like any FM stations in Atlanta are worth a shit) and an old matching transformer off your analog TV/VCR. Total assembly time: less than 5 minutes.

  7. frank64 says:

    I have this one, works much better than a rabbit ears type one I had before. I don’t have to worry about moving the antenna for different stations. I got mine at Walmart, no they didn’t check my receipt. I love not having cable.

    http://www.amazon.com/RCA-ANT1650R-Digital-Amplified-Antenna/dp/B0027FGW3K/ref=sr_1_3?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1326815001&sr=1-3

  8. Cat says:

    Don’t use this thing outside.

    Place a reflector made of wire mesh (hardware cloth) 4 inches behind the bow-tie elements to increase the gain (sensitivity) and front – to – back ratio (directionality).

    To make it better, follow this picture:
    http://i302.photobucket.com/albums/nn88/EscapeVelo/kosmic.jpg

    I make and sell them to supplement my income. And because I hate Comcast. I get 35 channels with it.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      How do you typically handle grounding? Just a ground rod, ground rod bonded to cold water pipe, or ground rod bonded to primary house ground?

      • Cat says:

        Grounding is really a pretty complex subject.

        Here’s a discussion:
        http://www.dtvusaforum.com/dtv-hdtv-reception-antenna-discussion/23185-grounding-antenna.html

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          I was just wondering how most people handle it, in practice.

          I talked to our code inspector and he said it was OK to just run the ground to a dedicated ground rod. This just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, because it would mean the TV would have multiple ground points (at the main panel) via 120 circuit and then to a separate ground rod via coax. At the very least, it seems like that ground rod should also be bonded to the primary house ground directly or to the panel to avoid this.

          • Cat says:

            Yes.

            But face it, if you take a direct hit, your electronics are toast. That said, Dish and DirecTV do a REALLY crappy job of grounding and get away with it, anything is better than nothing, and you will dissipate static buildup with any simple ground.

            • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

              Yup, a direct hit would result in needing to get a new panel and rewiring the house. I was thinking more along the lines of a lightning hit on a nearby tree or a neighboring house.

              My long term goal is to have every receptacle grounded with new romex, on properly loaded circuits. I doubt that will be happening any time soon.

            • mdr says:

              Unless you get REALLY $eriou$, antenna grounding is to drain off the static charge it picks up as the air blows by, not to direct away a lightning strike.

              BUT, grounding helps. By connecting the mast to ground, you’re making it look more like everything else nearby, making the antenna less likely to be hit by lightning.

              I bought a ‘flat’ bow-tie ‘UHF only’ antenna for ~$25. Since the cable run came in at an attic eave vent, and that wall pointed in the direction I wanted, I hung the antenna on the attic wall with ‘picture hangers’ at the screen grid and used the nearby cable to connect it inside the house. There’s even an old amplifier up there, but there’s plenty of signal without using it, even on the VHF channel.

  9. Costner says:

    The Consumerist has now become Instructables?

  10. dork says:

    I agree with PunditGuy: go look at your location in AntennaWeb before doing anything with HDTV antennas (DIY or store-bought).

    In particular, pay attention to what frequency band the stations in your area are broadcast on. Most stations have been moved to UHF frequencies, but not all of them! Some are still on VHF frequencies. This antenna is designed optimally to work on UHF frequencies, it will only pick up VHF if you live close to the broadcast antenna and the signal is strong.

    My area has 2 stations still on high VHF. This means that I had to make 2 antennas, one for VHF and one for UHF, and I had to buy a doohickey to combine my signals. I also live far enough away from the transmitters that I had to put the antennas in the crawlspace of my garage.

    Most store-bought HDTV antennas are UHF only. If you need VHF also, you’ll need to do a bit more research and find an antenna that does well with both.

    • Cat says:

      This antenna is designed optimally to work on UHF frequencies, it will only pick up VHF if you live close to the broadcast antenna and the signal is strong.

      You can tweak this design to get VHF-hi (channels 7-13 rf) better by lengthening the elements to about 10 inches.

      Note that just because a channel says “2” doesn’t mean a thing – it’s a “virtual channel”. The real RF channel could be 2 through 50.

      • Yacko says:

        Not to mention, if the signal is really strong on the VHF ones and the UHF ones are the distant stations, a UHF antenna may bring enough signal for the VHF stations. As mentioned, frequencies for channels 7-13 are only marginally lower than UHF.

    • kc2idf says:

      We actually have one station on VHF low in our area.

  11. ieatcatastrophe says:

    every sunday, for football, i lay a length of speaker wire that’s been stripped and wrapped around coax all over the vertical surfaces in my apartment.

    it cost me about $1 and nabs all the local channels out of the air for the few hours i need them. but it is ugly as hell and it’s a pain moving around my apartment.

  12. Harold Kint says:

    1. This thread is really old news.
    2. This thread illustrates the dead-tree journalist mentatity growing like cancer in the Consumerist. (copy stuff from the news wire == copy stuff from reddit and Fark)

    • Velifer says:

      I don’t know, this really draws the distinction between bloggers and journalists. And I’d claim that many more dead-tree types are acting like bloggers these days and copying stories from the wire. Few if any bloggers are going the other direction and are out actually doing investigation, research, or anything else people would think of under the term “journalism.”

  13. Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

    I see nothing about a stick of gum, tape, a nickel and MacGyver by your side.

  14. cameronl says:

    There’s no such thing as a “digital” antenna! TV antennas are TV antennas, some designs pull in a weaker signal better than others.

    • scoosdad says:

      I used to laugh at headphones or cables advertising that they were “digital ready” when CDs first came out.

      “CDs? What are CDs?” my nephew asked me recently.

    • duncanblackthorne says:

      Sure, it’s a UHF antenna. But if you say that to the average consumer, they will give you a blank look and still ask you for a DTV antenna. It’s just easier to refer to it as a DTV antenna and leave it at that.

  15. rawley69 says:
    • scoosdad says:

      Yup, when you to to Amazon’s home page and search in all categories for “impedance matching transformer”, that Audix audio adapter comes up number one in the search. The correct one isn’t even number two.

      {shaking my head sadly}

  16. TonyK says:

    For 2 hrs of my time, please the other parts and tools, I’d rather buy one than build it.

  17. akronharry says:

    ANyone have a suggestion for an antenna that will receive digital signals from the bottom of a hill?
    I am surrounded by trees at the bottom of a hill and even when I used an antenna for analog signals, I only got the channel that had the 700 Club on it. Hours of pleases there.

    • NumberSix says:

      You may be SOL. You need line of site or a good bounce. If your antenna worked before it probably stopped working when all the broadcasters dropped their power down.

    • Cat says:

      1. A big tower.
      2. A really long, fat cable and an antenna on said hill. And an amplifier.

      (these actually are serious suggestions!)

      Or, as number six says below, you may be SOL.

  18. Ablinkin says:

    Thank you FCC for shoving digital TV down the country’s throat. Now we only get 20 percent of the original analog power output, necessitating bigger and better antenna’s since in your wisdom digital TV will be better for all of us.