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What If I Don’t Have A Satellite?

Posted by Brandon On October - 31 - 2011

January 1st, 2011 was a pretty important day in this tailgater’s life.  It was the day that I accomplished 2 different feats in one day.  Not only was it the 1st day that I was able to say that I tailgated with my wife, we were married the November before, but also the 1st time I had live television at my tailgate.  We were  in Raleigh for a Carolina Hurricanes game, and the plan was to watch the NHL Winter Classic during the tailgate.  When I prepped for that tailgate I was surprised to learn that there was a bit of a void of information on watching TV at tailgate when I looked for ideas here.

Allow me to clarify for just a second.  We have plenty of info on how to have AC power at a tailgate, as well as products for receiving a satellite signal in my parking space.  The problem with the idea of satellite TV is that you need a satellite subscription for it to work.  Since I’m a cable subscriber this wasn’t a practical solution.  I knew that I could use an antenna to pick up the game, but with all the confusion surrounding the DTV switch in 2009, I was pretty stumped on where to begin.  My trials and tribulations were the inspiration for this article.

Let’s begin with a quick review of the DTV conversion and what it meant for over the air TV via antenna. The switch to DTV, or digital television, was made official 6/12/09.  On that date stations no longer sent out analog signals. Analog signals were the ones that gave you those static filled broadcasts that left you constantly readjusting the rabbit ears, or at least making your least favorite friend hold them just right so you got some semblance of a picture.  The arrival of DTV basically meant you got all or nothing. While that seems like a bad trade off, DTV made up for it in superior picture and sound quality, as well as expanded programming.  It meant the arrival of FREE HD!

Now not all DTV is in HD, but most of your network broadcasts are.  The networks I’m referring to are local ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX stations.  Not only do most of those offer news and the popular sitcoms, they also give us sports. I’m talking sports like NFL, NCAA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR and for you golf fiends out there PGA. Again, most of those in high definition. Even those that aren’t in HD are still going to look better than your run of the mill analog signal. Not a bad deal for being free is it? I’ll do you one better.  I mentioned that most DTV stations offer expanded programming.  What I was referring to is the capability of one station’s signal to carry a few channels.  That is another benefit to the technology.

Whatever you think of the federal government is your own thing, but I will give them credit for providing some pretty useful information on the DTV conversion and its impact to you.  If everyone will click this link, http://transition.fcc.gov/mb/engineering/maps/, and enter the address information of their favorite tailgating locale you’ll see a listing of what channels are available in that area.  For example a search for the RBC center in Raleigh gave me 10 stations with strong signal strength. Remember that those 10 stations may have 2 or 3 channels each, so we’ve actually got a lot of TV available.  If you are among the unlucky few who got nothing, try it again, and if it’s still nothing then you’re excused if you want to be.  Alas, it’s not a perfect system for everyone.

If you’re still here, let’s assume you’ve found a few viable stations for your viewing pleasure.  All you need now is a DTV-ready TV, a power source, and an antenna.

But Brandon, how do I know if I have a DTV ready TV?  The quick answer is if you bought it after March 2007 you probably do.  If you’re not positive you can look up your TV online and see if it is equipped with an ATSC tuner. If its got one, your set is good to go.  If not you can buy a converter box, but just remember that a converter box isn’t going to make your TV show HD pictures unless it is an HDTV.  Also remember that a converter box is another thing that will need to be plugged in.

Coincidentally I didn’t use a conventional TV for my tailgate.  I instead bought a TV tuner for my laptop computer.  This is a device which basically turns your PC into a TV.  Again just make sure that there is an ATSC tuner built into the TV tuner you purchase if that’s the route you want to go.

Because it’s obvious that we’d need some sort of power source for any of this to function, I won’t go into too much detail.  Just search our site for generators and you can go from there.  Instead I’ll focus more on the antenna.

Now the antenna is really the key to making this all work.  Remember when I said that DTV was basically all or nothing?  Well if we have a poor antenna we will end up with more “nothing” than  “all.”  Naturally you can go drop serious cash on a so called “HD” antenna, but the truth is that there are more affordable, i.e. do it yourself, options that will do the same thing  just as well.  To save some time I’ll refer to our good friend Google for this.  Search for “DIY DTV antenna” and you’ll probably get everything you ever wanted.  To show some love for the other bloggers out there I’ll give this guy a link:

http://gritzmacher.net/2009/05/dtv-antenna-project/

The video embedded in the middle of that post is for a homemade DB4 style antenna and should suit most of you who have a lot of UHF broadcasts in your area. It may not be the prettiest thing out there, but it’s the style I built for my tailgate, and it worked like a charm. Who cares how it looks anyway? Tailgating wouldn’t be the same without some blue collar ingenuity.

Before anyone starts flaming me for not mentioning it, DTV signals come in 2 flavors, UHF and VHF.  All of the DTV antenna stuff gets a little more complicated when we start talking UHF and VHF antennas but I’m willing to bet that the design in the link above would work for the lion’s share of you. 

So if you’re like me and want a “free” option for TV at your tailgate consider keeping it simple and just going with an antenna and TV.  I know this method has worked, and continues to work, for me and my tailgates so I would say it’s worth a shot.  Of course there is more to be learned about the subject, but my aim was to give my fellow tailgaters a good jumping off point.  Whatever route you go, I hope that it makes your tailgate stand out as much as it should.

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