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Monday, August 25, 2008

Master of Channels I am NOT

This weekend I took the plunge into the world of TV antennas, and I am still gasping for breath. . .and reception. This is a picture of my setup.

Sandy and I decided to stop subscribing to Charter Cable earlier this year, and as our DirecTV service was set to expire as well, we canceled that too.

Instead, I came up with a two prong approach for replacing what is on TV currently. For the kids, I got a Roku Netflix player so they can watch cartoons and other shows on demand from the Internet. Works great.

For Sandy and I, I decided to go with the same setup my friend Alex has, which is a Channel Master 4228 Unidirectional High Gain Antenna, a Channel Master 7778 pre-amp, and a Channel Master 9521A rotor.

Because my chimney is too big for a chimney mount, and I didn't want to spring for some kind of fancy free standing guy-wire apparatus, I decided that the best approach would be to install an antenna mast on the side of my garage, and run the coax around the garage and inside the house.

The installation of the parts was tricker than I thought, but not in the way you would think.

  • Digging a 2 foot hole and mixing concrete -- easy.
  • Putting together a 100+ pound 1 1/2" diameter stainless steel pole without proper size wrenches -- hard.
  • Installing the rotor on top of the pole -- easy.
  • Running the 75' long rotor wire -- hard.
    • Could not run it through my garage roof as the roof does not connect directly into the house roof. Had to run the wire around the side of the house tucked into siding. My 75 feet ran out right below my bedroom window so I had to purchase additional wire and splice it on.
  • Attaching the pre-amp to the pole and running the coax line from the pre-amp inside the house -- easy.
  • Attaching the antenna to the pole -- hard.
    • The 1 1/2" pole did not fit the mounting brackets. Neither did the 1 1/4' pole I got after returning the first. Ended up hammering my brackets out a bit to allow easier installation. No where on the antenna instructions did it say what size pole they recommended.
  • Getting the rotor to work once everything was put together -- hard. It will occasionally rotate for me. But not really on demand. At first I got no signals on my TV.
I ended up bring up a small TV with an extension cord on top of the roof and plugging it directly into the antenna. I promptly brought in stations from Eau Claire and many others as I manually rotated the antenna and its pole. So I know that the antenna works. That made me feel good.

Here is how I think I should troubleshoot the problem:
  1. Make new coax cables with a better cable maker. The Philips "HDTV Ready" on I bought it a piece of CRAP. Some of the coax cables I built with it simply fell apart.
  2. Bring both the preamp and the rotor control and the TV up on the roof for my testing. That way I can test with a short cable run and make sure that the cables are not the problem.
I am sure that when this is done I will be a happy camper, but until then, this project has become a real pain in the butt, and I feel bad that Sandy can't watch her stories. I thought this would be. . .easier.

Postscript. . . .watching TV up on my roof where it was very dark and cool and nice was really an interesting experience. I felt closer to the TV signals..almost like I was cheating. Standing up and rotating the mast and getting an entirely new set of channels was very surreal. It made me think that I might like to keep a little TV up there just so I can watch whenever I want. Just me and my tinfoil hat.