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Expert Viewpoint: HD Antennas

Aug 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Kent Martin

Rabbit ears are back for the digital generation.


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How to Choose an HD Antenna

Antennas today come in an increasingly wide variety 
of shapes and sizes. Antennas Direct makes this antenna disguised as a picture frame, which captures signals from up to 15 miles away and holds one 8”x10” photo.

Antennas today come in an increasingly wide variety of shapes and sizes. Antennas Direct makes this antenna disguised as a picture frame, which captures signals from up to 15 miles away and holds one 8”x10” photo.

At Fry's Electronics in Manhattan Beach, Calif., the fact that an old technology is new again isn't lost on one salesman.

“High-definition antennas are really growing in popularity,” he says, referencing the major reason behind the boom in HDTV antennas: next year's nationwide conversion to digital signals. “Oh definitely,” the salesman, who preferred not to be identified, says. “People are preparing themselves for the change, and an HD antenna makes a lot of sense to them.”

Yes, this is the TV antenna we're talking about — rabbit ears. Sometimes it consists of a coat hanger that has been bent and shaped to pull down whatever over-the-air signals are available. It's the same technology that has remained, until recently, virtually unchanged over the last 50 years. One manufacturer flatly declares that the TV antennas sold today at electronics shops nationwide are technologically the same as antennas our grandparents purchased for their old black-and-white sets in the 1950s. Simply put, the technological design that was used by families decades ago to watch first-run episodes of I Love Lucy and Your Show of Shows is used today to watch CSI and Law & Order.

But all of this is changing. While the industry is focusing intently on bringing high-definition TV signals into homes across the country, not even the lowly rabbit ears have escaped evolution.

The advent of high-definition TV and the pending government-mandated conversion of broadcast signals from analog to digital in February 2009 have been accompanied by the usual technological accessories to enable viewers to receive the digital signals. The government is providing $40 coupons for converter boxes to help viewers make the change to HD. Electronics manufacturers are rolling out a wide array of gadgets designed to enhance the HD viewing experience.

And then there's the antenna. The growth in popularity of the lowly antenna as an HD receiver has been somewhat of a surprise. Part of this comes from the fact that until recent advances in the design of the antenna, this technology has been viewed as more low-tech than high-tech.

In fact, there are those who believe the antenna can actually bring in high-definition signals better than either cable or satellite. The advantage is found in the antenna structure itself. Whereas cable and satellite transmissions must be compressed in order to be sent from the original transmitter to the receiver, an HD antenna simply grabs the over-the-air signal and hauls it into a TV set, absent the compression. The result is a clean, crisp picture straight from the transmitter. Furthermore, the HD antenna can be mounted outside or inside, depending on the model.



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