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OTT Video Adventures Part 3: Over the Air Channels

(Also read Part 1, and Part 2 of this series)

As one of the final steps before my family embraces new over the top video (OTT) services and cuts the cord on our Comcast Cable TV service, I wanted to verify what over the air (OTA) channels I could get in my area. The more I thought about it and talked to other families who have done the same thing, the more I realized how important having some OTA channels is to keeping some semblance of a “lean-back” TV watching experience.

First I went up to the attic to verify that my old antenna was still hooked up. Yup, there it is. I have read that you might cut your ability to received OTA channels by 50% versus the unsightly rooftop antennas (depending on what kind of roofing materials you have). I also read various sources that talked about the need to buy a new antenna to get OTA. I was hoping that my trusty old-school attic variety would suffice.

Next I went down to try to verify that the cable from my antenna was routing through the root splitter in my basement. This proved a bit more challenging. I have what looks like no less than 3 splitters and an amplifier at the root, an artifact of having had antenna, DirecTV satellite service, and Comcast at different times. I have heard that when installation people install a new service like satellite or cable, they sometimes “accidentally” unplug the coaxial cables from competing services. I am not sure if their motives here are nefarious or if they are just trying to reduce noise and interference on the line. Either way, suffice to say that my utility closet in my basement is an absolute mess of cables. There sure seems to be many spans of cable not connecting to anything. Eventually I gave up trying to figure out what coax was going through which splitter. The best way to see what OTA channels I would get was to try it out.

I first checked the AntennaWeb web site that is supposed to tell you what stations are available in your area. Here is what I got back:


Next, I switched my TVs from “cable” to “antenna”. As expected, I lost almost all my cable channels but still received my local channels of CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and PBS. I also received three local government channels for the town, school, and public interest content. Surprisingly, I also had access to QVC and the Golf Channel. Those last two made me wonder whether there was some “bleed-through” from my cable coax lines somehow. I really would not expect to get the Golf Channel as an OTA channel.

To my disappointment, none of the local channels were received in high definition, which makes me ask if I may indeed need to replace my old attic antenna with one able to receive HD broadcasts. I had thought that “digital was digital” and if my antenna could receive digital OTA channels than it should be able to receive digital HD channels. Some more trouble-shooting here to figure this out. I tried a new channel scan, but perhaps the HD channels are “hiding” at some RF x.y channel that requires the use of a decimal? Stay tuned.

Next up, Kirsten will discuss what content we watch with our Comcast TV service and what we are really hoping we can still get with a combination of OTA and OTT.

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Comment by David Silva on September 1, 2009 at 7:27pm
Brian,

If you are receiving channels only in SD then either
1. your TV is set up wrong (could be set to 480p)
2. You have a separate tv tuner box set to output in standard res
3. You are still hooked up to your Comcast coxial cable.

Now... not all digital is at full HD resolution, you could be finding broadcasts in 480p, which is very common for anything prior to 2001. 480p will generally show up in a 4:3 format rather than a widescreen format (this will give you a reverse letterbox view with the black borders on the side). Now, many TVs will scale 4:3 content to the 16:9 widescreen format- this is a setting in the TV's menu.

To verify that you are receiving a HD signal you should watch a program that you know is recorded in HD and then wait for the commercials since most commercials are not in HD and the screen display will show the 4:3 reverse letterbox during the commercials and then go back to 16:9 for the programming (the tonight show was what I used to use, but now most of the prime time network programming is shot in HD so you have much more options).

I have not heard of the Golf channel being broadcast OTA; however, there are many standard cable channels that are broadcast OTA using secondary channels (e.g. NBC is on 14.1, but the weather channel is on 14.2). This could be why you have the Golf channel, but more likely you are still hooked into your Comcast cable.

I hope this helps.

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