Mimsy Were the Borogoves

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HDTV Antenna placement

Jerry Stratton, March 28, 2018

Tablo TV and Mohu Glide with amplifier

This is the signal strength report with an amplifier.

One of the greatest features of the Tablo TV box is that, if you have a smart phone or tablet, you can easily change the location of the antenna and re-run an antenna scan to check the signal strength of all available channels. And you can put the Tablo and its antenna anywhere, as long as it has power1 So the best place to put the television doesn’t have to be the best place to put an indoor antenna.

Before the Tablo, I had a Mohu Leaf 50 antenna downstairs plugged directly into the television set. Sometimes it worked better on the window; sometimes it worked better on top of a corner bookshelf at a weird angle. Sometimes it worked better after it fell on the floor, and then later it wouldn’t. When a car drove by, the signal often flickered.2

Moving the antenna upstairs improved reception for every station I watch but one. There’s a 24-hour weather channel that sometimes came in great downstairs, and sometimes didn’t come in at all; upstairs, it seems to come in all the time, but never comes in great. I suspect it’s direction-related, but I don’t know. In any case, I almost never watch that channel. It was mostly when channel flipping, which I’d stopped doing after I bought the Apple TV over a year ago.

Besides generally better reception, reception has also become more stable, which is also important. Time of day and weather seems to matter much less, if at all, now, except for one channel. And I was able to find a location that worked well for all of the stations I wanted to watch.

With the Mohu Leaf, that location turned out not to be the window. The whole process of antenna placement seems to be voodoo: even restricting antenna placement to the window, the best place turned out to be at the bottom of the glass doors, not at the top of them. But the best place was about two feet in from the window, tacked so that it was barely hanging from a wooden beam going down the center of the upstairs room’s peaked ceiling. This meant, also, that the antenna was perpendicular to the window, so directionality may have played part.

But, there’s even more voodoo. When I decided to try a bigger antenna to improve reception even further, the wider Mohu Leaf Glide, I found that while it did indeed improve reception over the Leaf, the best location completely changed. Where the smaller antenna worked best facing northwest/southeast, the larger antenna worked best facing northeast/southwest. That is, in the window.3 And at the top of the window, not the bottom.

Direction does still matter. There are two PBS stations near enough to me to receive a strong signal from. But their signal comes from entirely different directions, so that if I can get one, I can’t get the other. Fortunately, they appear to broadcast the same material.

Both of the antennas come with amplifiers. And both worked best without amplification. This may be because the Tablo has amplification built in, or it may be because the signals are already strong enough, and amplifying them more amplifies them too much.4 Amplification did seem to improve reception when I was using an antenna downstairs, plugged directly into the television set.5

Because amplification sometimes hurts, it’s also a good idea to look at actual video from the signal while testing the antenna, as well as performing the raw signal strength scan.

The rules of thumb that worked for me when it comes to antenna placement are:

  1. Higher is better, except when it isn’t.
  2. Closer to the window is better, except when it isn’t.
  3. Size matters, but not necessarily how you’d expect.
  4. Direction matters, and that sucks for an indoor antenna.
  5. Amplification can make things worse.

The best advice I can give is to test even stupid ideas for antenna placement, because you never know when the voodoo is going to stick.

In response to Tablo TV: Pause and rewind live television: Now that I have an Apple TV, I almost never turn on broadcast television. After getting used to the better interface and the better control, getting stuck on someone else’s schedule was too annoying. The Tablo TV makes live television interesting again by running it through an Apple TV app.

  1. And, preferably, an ethernet connection to the router, but even that’s optional: the Tablo can connect to the network via WiFi.

  2. I’ve said this before, but I have a lot better understanding of why television broadcasters had to be forced to go to the new HD format. Everything has tradeoffs, and there are definite benefits to the old system. I really think having two or three formats fight it out would have been a better idea. The cost of a modern television is in the screen, not the receiver.

  3. Which is nice, because I no longer will have to bring a stepladder upstairs if I need to do something with the antenna.

  4. Although this doesn’t quite match the signal strength reports I got when testing.

  5. I currently have the smaller Leaf downstairs doing exactly that, just in case I need to use it for testing or during an emergency.

  1. <- Tablo TV naked