By Russell Walsh
Recently there has been a bit of a reverse revolution going on in the North American TV industry. People are dropping cable television by the tens of thousands. The old TV antenna industry is seeing dramatic sales increases. Why? Because the cost of basic cablevision service today is expensive. Current rates are far beyond the $11/mo. rates I charged back in the 80's when I owned Pioneer Cablevision in the Fraser Valley. Today, basic service with Shaw costs about $40/mo. plus taxes. A basic TV package costs about $45/mo. Then, factor in the third tax – income tax, or the one you have to pay in order to earn the money in the first place. So, in order to pay $40/mo. for cable the average person would need to earn about $58 to pay for one months basic cable. That's about $700 a year! But, did you know that you can have basic TV service for FREE? I've been operating my free TV system in Bradner since 1980. For 35 years, saving me about $25,000 in cable bills!
When TV stations changed from analog to digital a few years ago several things happened. First, they stopped broadcasting in the old 'low band' channels 2 – 6. The old 'high band' channels 7 – 13, continued on, but there is no high band TV broadcasting in the Vancouver BC area. USA stations however continued using the channel 7 – 13 spectrum. KCTS-9, KSTW-11 and KCPQ-13 are available in the Lower Mainland, on the 'high VHF band' channels 7 - 13.
Secondly, the conversion of the modulation system which changed from analog to digital. Digital is way more efficient and transmitters don't need to be as powerful as the old analog ones in order to produce far superior picture quality. So, a channel that previously carried just one analog channel can now be used to carry three digital channels.
In the old analog days, a signal to noise ratio of at least -5 dB (negative 5 dB) was required in order to produce a watchable picture. As the S/N ratio dropped the picture became worse and worse until at about -15 dB, the picture was so lousy that while watching a hockey game you couldn't follow the puck! Not so with digital. Digital TV produces a spectacular picture all the way down to about -18 dB. Which means it meets the 'digital cliff'. At the cliff, the picture goes from spectacular to nothing at all, maybe with a few pixillations and freeze ups as it reaches the cliff edge.
Thanks to the digitization of TV service, you can now get spectacular reception using antennas that are a fraction of the size of those used in the old analog days. All TV broadcasting in the Vancouver area is on the UHF band – now channels 14 – 55 and the antennas are much smaller than before.
So what channels are available 'over the air' in the Bradner area? Well, there's a set of tools available on-line that allow anyone in North America to not only check to see what channels are available right at their address, but you can also use the same tool to actually see the signals!
The tool for checking free over the air TV reception can be found at tvfool.com. There are many things this site can do and you should play around a bit. It's like exploring. Prospecting. To search, click the 'Start MAPS' button at the right side of the screen.
Enter your address in the 'Find TV Signals' input fields at the bottom of the page. Then click the 'Map This' box below the address section. You'll see a map pop up with a red pin indicating your search location. Scroll down the screen and you'll see a list of all the channels available for your address. The channel is always color coded. Green indicates signals that are very easy to pick up. Pink ones require an outdoor antenna. The grey ones will require a good outdoor antenna and a good preamplifier. The right hand column shows the S/N ratios. You can get flawless reception with numbers down to about -18 dB. The LOS (Line of Sight), 1Edge (the signal passed over a single ridge) and 2Edge (signal skipped, or refracted, over two hills)n ames refer to the terrain between your location and the transmitter.
The central Bradner BC area is capable of getting about 23 FREE, over the air channels. Virtually all the networks, plus some independents. However, many of these channels carry multiple channels in their digital transmissions. KVOS, for example, has three channels embedded in its signal, and they show up on your TV as 12.1, 12.2 and 12.3. Likewise for KCTS, KBCB and a PBS station from the Seattle area. So in fact, the total number of channels is more like 34.
Also on tvfool.com, you will notice that there are buttons down the left hand side of the listings. Clicking any one of these buttons will overlay on the map the actual TV signal for the selected channel. A broad view will be seen first, with the transmitter location, power and other data. The actual TV signal radiating out from the transmitter will be seen. Tip - close the white transmitter information dialog box by hitting the 'X' in the upper right hand corner of the box which makes it disappear, making the map easier to use. Move the map around and zoom in on your desired Bradner location. The plus '+' and '-' minus controls to zoom the map are in the upper left hand corner of the map just below the yellow, little man figurine. The result shows that KCPQ has good signal in the Bradner area from about 58th Avenue Northward. But take a look around! See the fabulous signals on KCPQ in the Aldergove and Abbotsford area. When taking a final zoom into Bradner, using KCPQ as a test shows that the signal is actually covers the entire area quite well. The database assumes a receiving antenna of just 10' ft. above the ground. Raise the height of the antenna and the signal will improve considerably.
Antenna and Preamplifier Sources
Antennas are one of the most critical elements in the reception of television, there are huge performance differences between different antennas.
One of the best performers is antenna I on the graph which is the Winegard PR-8800. You can use the antenna selection tool for yourself by going to hdtvprimer.com. Two of the best UHF antennas are the XG91 and the Winegard PR8800. The antenna site also has a test page showing the results for high band VHF antennas. Ignore the left side graph because the low band, channels 2 – 6 no longer exist. The best antenna for channels 7 – 13 is the one marked BB, or the Channel Master 3671B. A good pre-amplifer is a must in order to receive distant TV channels, and one of the best performers is the Winegard LNA-200.
A good local source of antenna, preamplifiers, and masts is SMI Industrial Electronics, on 64th Avenue across from NCIX in Langley, BC. Alternatively, Amazon has pretty much everything needed.
A peaking meter is an essential tool if you hope to squeeze the best performance out of an antenna. You need to point the antenna in the right direction. Use a digital peaking meter. Pay a refundable deposit and borrow the meter from me.
One may be inclined to think that by dropping Cable TV and moving to an over the air system you'll be compromising reception quality. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. Over the air channels are broadcast using the 8VSB (8 vestigal sideband) format. Cablevision on the other hand uses the QUAM system (Quadrature Modulation). QUAM compresses the signals drastically. Sure, they might be 'digital', but their original high definition has been compromised, and if you want high definition back, that's an upcharge! With over the air you get full, uncompressed signals exactly as they were broadcast. Visitors at our Bradner homestead comment at our over air reception, “I get that channel but it doesn't look anything like the quality on your TV...” This is because we use this over air system, so we get the full signal - without compression.
Bradner Community News
News at your fingertips!
Brought to you by...
The Barker Belongs to Bradner...
The Barker Belongs to Bradner...
The Barker Belongs to Bradner...