Fix Digital TV Signal Problems

When it comes to the transition to digital broadcasts of television programming, the elephant in the room has been the fact that many people who can receive analog transmissions just fine may not get digital transmissions. As I’ve discussed here many times, a weak analog signal produces a snowy image, but a weak digital signal results in a blank screen. The problem is that not enough people are aware of this, or what they can do about it.

The FCC has addressed this issue with some new online resources. Some might say that it’s a little bit late for this information — especially if the original transition date of yesterday had been upheld – but we’ll be generous and file this under the Better Late than Never category.

Go to http://www.dtv.gov/fixreception.html. There, you’ll find two publications (available as Web pages or PDF downloads) that discuss how to fix reception problems. Some of the tips are excellent, such as the fact that you can move a rabbit-ear antenna just inches and it can make a huge difference in your reception. I live in an area of moderate to weak signals, so I tried playing with some rabbit ears that I have connected to a secondary TV set. They work okay for analog reception, but when I tried them with a converter box, I only got two stations and the signal was too weak to watch because the picture kept breaking up.

I tried moving the antenna about two feet away, and scanned again. This time I got a dozen stations, and most of them were strong enough to watch. I set the converter box control to show the signal strength, and then I tried tweaking the settings. The result was a noticeable improvement. So it’s worth spending some time making adjustments to the location and angle of your antenna. Remember that the change in the signal strength meter is not instantaneous, so make a small change, then wait a few seconds to see if it is better or worse before you make the next small change.

The other major improvement is that the FCC has added a site that predicts your signal strength based on the FCC database of information about the broadcast stations and terrain: http://www.fcc.gov/mb/engineering/maps/. Enter your address, and it will show your location on a Google map, and a list the stations you should be able to receive in order of signal strength. It’s not perfect, because it’s based on theoretical calculations, but it’s a good start. And like www.antennaweb.org, it gives you the compass heading from your location to the transmitter, which can help you aim a directional antenna. (Some antennas are omni-directional, which means they work in all directions, so you don’t need to aim them.)

This new information would have been good to have a year ago, but now that we have it, we may be able to find a way to make that elephant in the room a little smaller.