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WELCOME TO THE SHOEBOX ANTENNA PAGE!

Make Your Own Antenna for Free (and legal) HDTV

In Vancouver, BC or Anywhere Else

If your TV has an ATSC tuner, the chances are that you can receive digital TV channels over the air! All that most people need is a compact indoor antenna. Even here in Vancouver, where almost everyone (including the guy who sold you your TV) is oblivious to over-the-air broadcasting, we have six digital channels now on-air, with more scheduled to follow. What's more, much of the content on digital channels is in HD.

While it's true that you can get digital channels by upgrading to a digital cable package, you may feel that cable TV is expensive enough already. I find that watching a few shows each week on the digital channels that we can receive over the air (see table at bottom of page) satisfies my need for an HD 'fix' quite well. Watching a well-photographed show in HD is spectacularly good - much, much better than a DVD. In HD, even the advertisements are (somewhat) enjoyable!

On this page I describe a simple but powerful antenna that can be built very easily by anyone who is comfortable using a pair of pliers. But even those who decide not to make their own will find useful information here.

So, without further ado, here's the antenna we will be making  . . . .

"Great guide!  I tried two antennas from Walmart that got me nothing.  Then, I tried the shoebox antenna. This worked a lot better on the analog channels and I get two digital ones, too!" ..... Garry, B.C.

"Your info about making a homemade antenna is most appreciated. I'm glad you made a page about it. I get 18 channels, including 4 US networks with your antenna." ..... Yarko, ON.

"Hi, I was just trying your antenna out to see if it would be worth buying a rooftop antenna, but I can't believe how well it works. I'm pulling in all sorts of HD stations, I don't think I'll bother buying one.
So I would just like to thank you for a great idea."
..... Peter, ON.

Don't waste your time with rabbit ears or small loop antennas, as their performance is generally very poor. Also, be advised that some antennas are marketed in a misleading way. In reality there is simply no such thing as a special antenna for digital or HD TV reception!

This is called a Silver Sensor. If you like the sound of free over-the-air HD but you really don't have the time or inclination to build an antenna, something like this would be one of your better choices

The shoebox antenna has a lot going for it :

  • It is very easy to build. Anybody can make it quickly and inexpensively. Why not give it to your kids as a project? If there's a science fair coming up they could even get credit for it!

  • Unbelievable as it may seem, the performance is better than that of many (perhaps most) store-bought indoor TV antennas.

  • It can be placed anywhere - indoors or out - where the signal is found to be strongest.

  • It lets you 'test drive' HD with no commitment and at next to no cost.

  • With a smaller reflector it can be made entirely inside a shoe box. Some people who I've helped get set up for free HD have not even needed a reflector. These people each had a good view of Mt. Seymour from their living room windows and they were able simply to tape the horizontal receiving elements to a window, back of the TV stand or other convenient surface. There's a picture here of the simplest possible case.

If you like to read the small print, click here.

What You Will Need

Summary of parts - see following text for explanation

Equipment

12-14" / 30-35 cm of thick wire or thin rod.

1 co-axial cable; minimum useful length is 6ft / 2m. 12ft is much better and 25ft is great. The cable must have a connector on at least one end. From Lee's Electronics, Radio Shack, other electronics places or hardware stores.

1 piece sheet metal from shoe-box size up to about 12x18" / 30x45cm. From any sheet metal place (look in yellow pages). Or commandeer a cookie sheet or similar.

1 shoe box

Tape

(optional but recommended): F-series socket ... From electronics parts shops like Lee's Electronics on Main St.

(optional): Terminal strip ... From hardware or electronic parts stores.

Pliers/wire strippers

X-Acto knife or similar.

Soldering iron (required if not using terminal strip to join cable and antenna)

 

How To Make It (please read carefully at least twice before emailing me!)

The essential part of the antenna is the two horizontal rods, of which one connects to the inner conductor of the coaxial cable and the other connects to the outer.

For ideas on how to make these connections, have a look here. The white plastic thing with the screws is called terminal strip. It's available at hardware stores as well as electronics places and it makes connecting things easy for people who are not comfortable with soldering (note that electrical soldering requires a soldering iron, not a soldering gun).

Alternatively, if you have a cable with a screw connector at both ends and you don't want to chop one of them off, you can get an F-series chassis jack from an electronics parts store and solder the dipole arms on to that.

I made these elements from heavy gauge copper mains wire, but welding rod or even coat hanger wire should work just as well. Each of the two pieces should be about 6" (13-15cm) long (a bit longer is OK, but no shorter than this) . People whose TV room faces the TV transmitter can often get a strong signal just with this dipole, as it's called (I am not one of them; my signal has to travel through one exterior and 3 interior walls and I need the reflector described in the next paragraph).

The purpose of the shoe box is to hold the dipole at a convenient distance in front of the metal screen (if you can think of a better way to do this without using any metal components, feel free). The screen is a reflector which improves the signal strength. I found that the size and material of the reflector was the single biggest factor affecting performance. Therefore I would recommend that you get hold of a piece of sheet metal approximately the same size and thickness as mine (1.6mm/14ga). I don't think it needs to be perforated, but using aluminium will keep the weight down and avoid corrosion worries (good for balcony use). Most sheet metal places will sell you a suitable offcut of plain sheet for $5 or less. But if you have a good line-of-sight to the TV transmitter, try it without the reflector first.

Questions and answers are in the FAQ.

Setting It Up

  • TV signals are horizontally polarised, so keep your antenna horizontal.

  • Connect the antenna to the input labeled ANT and switch the TV to the Antenna input.

  • Tune the TV to an analogue channel that is broadcast from the same location as the digital channel you are seeking (eg CTV analogue, ch. 32). Since digital reception is an all-or-nothing affair, it makes sense to use the TV in analogue mode as a guide to signal strength. Try placing the antenna at different locations in your room (a good length of co-ax helps) and at each location rotate it very slowly (side to side, not up and down) to maximise the signal. You might find that there is a relatively small 'hotspot' where the signal is dependably strong, and there's no way to predict in advance where that might be.

  • When the picture is as good as you can get it, you must tell the TV to scan for digital channels (there will be a menu option for this). Unlike analogue channels, they don't just 'pop up'.  On my Sony I go to Wega Gate --> Settings --> Channel --> Scan for Digital Channels.

Finally, please note that the performance of this antenna on channels 13 and below is poor since these are on VHF and have significantly longer wavelengths. For these channels you will need a much longer dipole (eg rabbit ears, fully extended, or even bigger) or a higher-gain antenna (probably an outdoor type). This does not affect us here in Van because all the digital OTA signals are on UHF channels.

Digital Broadcasts for Greater Vancouver NOTE: these channel numbers are different from the cable channels you are used to for these stations 
Station Callsign Transmitter Location Physical Ch. Virtual Ch. as displayed by TV Frequency (MHz)
CBC CBUT-DT* Mt. Seymour 43 43.3 647
CTV CIVT-DT* Mt. Seymour 32 32.1 581
Global CHAN-HD Mt. Seymour 22 8.1 (also seen on 22.1) 521
OMNI CHNM-DT Mt. Seymour 20 42.1 509
City TV CKVU-DT Mt. Seymour 33  10.1 (also seen on 33.2) 587

* The callsign is absent from the broadcast signal as at 1 October 2011

 

Please contact me if you found this page interesting, or if you have any information on DTV broadcasting in Vancouver, particularly when other broadcasters will be commencing digital broadcasts. 

Even small donations are very welcome and will help to fund this site and others like it !

 
You made it this far, so you're obviously a thorough and thoughtful type of person .....

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