Wally Wonders Why

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Broadcast DTV and HDTV in North Whatcom County

DB8In a lot of areas of the county we have very limited choices for television programming. Cable isn’t a reality for most of us who live out in the county. Satellite is expensive; so how could I complain about my taxes going up whilst paying top dollar for my TV channels. Over the Air (OTA) from Seattle doesn’t work unless you live on top of a high hill and are willing to erect a tower with a aircraft carrier size antenna. The reality for many, including our household, has been 4 fuzzy Canadian TV stations, that is if you properly wrestle the bunny ears. With the new digital television still threatening to take over, I only assumed things would get worse.

I could be wrong though. When I got a new TV last month, I made sure that I got one which could receive these future digital signals as well as displaying high definition and Blu-Ray compatible. I’m cheap and didn’t want to buy a new TV again next year. I wish I had a photo of my state of the art widescreen 46″ LCD HDTV with bunny ears on top. It was a sight :) But with bunny ears atop the set, I did the first auto-channel scan and was amazed that I was now receiving channel 2.1 digital, and better yet wide screen high definition digital. All the other stations bore the same fuzziness to which I had grown accustom, but 2.1 was crystal clear. And let me tell you, you haven’t watched curling, until you’ve watched high definition curling.

ampNow here is the real reason for this post. I wanted to explore broadcast digital options that are available to me and I couldn’t find them anywhere out on the web. And even those sites with promising information assumed I’d be looking for Seattle stations rather than the much closer Canadian stuff. So this post is sort of a public service post of what I have found so far.

Here is my situation; I live on the north side of a little hill, over the hump without a clear shot at Bellingham nor anywhere south. The hill I’m on isn’t really any higher than most of the surrounding area, but still the only major obstacles between myself and Canada are trees and distance.

Old System

  • Regular old TV
  • RCA rabbit ears with UHF loop

Old System Performance

  • Channel 2 – OK picture, very watchable
  • Channel 6 – Fuzzy and barely watchable
  • Channel 8 – Most days fairly watchable
  • Channel 10 – Fuzzy and barely watchable
  • Channel 12 – OK picture, lots of psychedelic colors and ghosting
  • Channel 24 – Most days fairly watchable, but it’s home shopping channel so I don’t care
  • Channel 32 – Fuzzy and I wouldn’t consider it watchable, except Lost is on this channel so we are determined. We sometimes are unclear which character we are actually seeing

New System

  • HDTV with NTSC & ATSC tuners – from Costco online. Relatively cheap after waiting for 6 years to upgrade. It amazed me, as well as the UPS guy, that UPS will home deliver a 46″ TV.
  • Terrestrial DB8 antenna – Online from Erwin Computers. Cost $82.90 including ground shipping which took only 3 days from order to delivery. This same antenna is $119 without shipping at Target online, so I was a bit skeptical, but the order couldn’t have gone smoother. The DB8 antenna is only about 3 foot square and can be either indoor or outdoor. Mine is outdoors mounted on a 8 foot hunk of pipe stuck in the ground in an inconspicuous location. I tuned it by pointing it towards what I thought was about where Vancouver should be and then turning it slightly west. I don’t plan to get a fancy rotator, nor run outside to fine tune the picture, so I fiddled with this aim a few times until I got what seemed like the best performance compromise and then called it good.
  • Philips signal amplifier- from Wal-mart. Cost about $24, but I didn’t shop around. The DB8 antenna has a single coax cable coming out of it, so I ran a short cable to the amplifier and then a longer cable for the run into my TV.

New System Performance

  • Channel 2 – clear, very watchable
  • Channel 2.1 – crystal clear strong digital signal, also some HDTV programming.
  • Channel 6 – clear, very watchable
  • Channel 8 – clear, very watchable
  • Channel 10 – still fuzzy and barely watchable
  • Channel 12 – very watchable with a little bit of ghosting
  • Channel 12.1 – crystal clear strong digital signal, haven’t seen any HDTV programming yet.
  • Channel 17 – clear, very watchable
  • Channel 24 & 24.1 – still shopping so I don’t care
  • Channel 26 – clear, very watchable, but French language
  • Channel 32 – clear, very watchable
  • Channel 32.1 – crystal clear with strong digital signal, I haven’t watched enough to know if there is any HDTV programming, but I’m hoping. Especially Lost.
  • Channel 42 – not real clear, but watchable and better than anything on old system

Obviously the new system out performs the old; more stations, better picture quality and even HDTV in some cases. Again, satellite would certainly give me even better performance and more channels, but it also ropes you into contracts and monthly payments. This OTA solution is much more to my liking. I get enough watchable channels to suit me and there is no monthly bill after the relatively low cost initial investment.

Updated: March 17, 2008 — 10:55 am

13 Comments

  1. Wally,

    When I lived on the north end of BHam, I used an antenna with a rotor, and got 13, 7 and 4 out of Seattle pretty clearly. When I moved to Alabama Hill, I could not get any of them; not even a little bit. I decided the key was, getting that straight shot down the water. I don’t have that from my current location. I’m betting if you get an antenna on that hill to the south of you, you’d be able to get them, but given your new list, it sounds like you’re doing pretty well with the Canadian stations.

  2. Wally,
    Thanks for the write-up. I’m a Canadian living in Vancouver and have been interested in seeing if I can get some US stations. I’ve managed to get CBC (hockey games here I come), CTV and Global BC but that’s it for stations. A bunch of fuzzy US broadcasts too using old NTSC. Any ideas on whether some of these will ultimately be converted over to a DTV signal (even at SD resolutions it’d be better than fuzziness/ghosting). Would be great to get all those channels you listed as “fuzzy” in perfect digital even at 480 lines and free at that. Wondering if getting an amplified antenna or creating one out of 2×4 and coat hangers will be of any benefit. (see google for coat hangar antenna and apparently you can make a decent on for a few bucks that works better than most antennas you buy on the market).

  3. John,

    I haven’t done much experimenting beyond what I posted here, except moving the antenna on the roof. I still get pretty much the same reception but it’s good enough when I supplement it with a Netflix subscription.

    I guess the US stations have to be digital by Feb ’09, so I may try a little antenna turning then. Are all the Canadian stations digital right now, or is there a deadline like we have here?

    I love MacGyver engineering, so good luck with the amplified coat hanger.

  4. So I plugged in my adapter last week and got the crystal clear channel 2. I was pumped, but thats it so far. The canadian’s date to switch to hd broadcasting is later then the US I belive. Now lost is on Channel 17 by the way. What the heck! The A channel is supposed to change over in 2011 according to Wikipedia.

    Rob TV Luddite
    Lynden

  5. Updates as of mid-Feb ’09. Analog 12 is gone, but 12.1 digital seems to have more kick in the signal. 8.1 is a strong stable digital signal.

  6. Hi there.
    I have new HD TV for 1 week and there is another chanel that you have not list here. 22.2 Global HD. Now I just need new antenna :o)

    1. So I tried another autoscan for channels and got nothing for 22 at all, but when I key in 22 it jumps me directly to channel 8.1 which is labeled Global HD. I’ll have to look around and see what’s going on with that.

  7. Hi there.
    I made simple Yagi antenna,12db gain and so far I got 5 digital chanels.3 HD. CBC,Global and CTV.Living in White Rock o top of the hill. My antenna is pointed north,and I still get Bellingham and “shopping chanel” in digital from back of my antenna Transmiting towers are I guess on Orcas island. Here is very interesting web-site in US. Show you all chanels in area you looking for. http://www.fcc.gov/mb/engineering/maps/
    Unfortunately only US. I’m geting KCPQ-FOX analog to, but I would have to turn antenna south. Still need some more work, but this is the start. More powerful antenna I guess :o)

  8. I’m wondering whether low power digital translators are possible under this new situation. Perhaps capturing the digital signals from Seattle and re-translating them locally – since the signals are so weak this far north in Washington state.

    Vancouver and lower mainland residents might be able to capture these signals too. Anyone have knowledge on this? The spectrum is available and with mountain shielding from the south it would seem possible to do this without undue interference farther south in Puget Sound.

    1. More food for thought. The signal’s once translated won’t degrade, because they’re digital. The signal is either there or it isn’t.

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