Digital TV (HDTV) Problems and Solutions
by Rich Deem

HDTV Problems

I went online, applied for my $40 coupon and bought a DTV converter box. Upon plugging in the box and the coaxial cable, it spent a minute scanning for channels and found none. What do you do now?

Rich Deem


On June 12, 2009, all broadcast television becomes digital, and all analog (VHF) TV signals will end. For the average viewer who hasn't converted to cable television, the solution to the problem is simple. Go to the government's website, apply for their $40 coupon, and buy a converter box, plug it into your antenna, and you're set. However, if you are already getting a marginal analog UHF signal, there is a good chance that the simple solution may not be enough to get a HDTV signal in your area. This is a step by step guide for us cheapskates who bought the box and you still can't get any digital channels. If money is no object, just get an account with your cable or satellite company and pay $30-$70/month.

My problems: coaxial cable

When I plugged in my HDTV converter box, it found no channels. I wasn't completely surprised, since I live at the bottom of a hill, which blocks direct line of site to Mount Wilson, the location of our local broadcast television signal. Ever since moving into our home 19 years ago, our reception has been poor. However, since we don't watch much television, it hasn't been an issue. When the switch to digital TV was announced, like most people, I put it off. With less than three months to go, I decided to address the issue, finding that the simple solution didn't work. So, I bought an indoor HDTV antenna, which also did not work. So, it was time to go up on the roof. There, I discovered that the coaxial cable was in really bad shape. Instead of being black, it was white with most of the insulation gone, having set in the Southern California sun for over 20 years. So, the first logical option was to replace it. I plugged the new RG6 coaxial cable into the antenna and into the splitter on our roof and still had no signal. Then I took the cable directly into the house from the antenna and still had no signal. It was obvious that the problem was more than just the old coaxial cable.

Solution: new antenna

Since it was obvious that the coaxial cable was not the only problem, I rotated the old antenna (supposedly both UHF and VHF) in many different directions, in order to try to pick up a digital signal. None of this worked, I bought a new Philips SDV9201/17 Outdoor TV Antenna. The new antenna picked up signal that the old one didn't. However, in order to get the maximum number of channels, it had to be pointed directly toward the signal source. So, some adjustment and trial is necessary to optimize your HDTV signal reception. However, when I plugged the new cable from our new antenna into our signal splitter (and an old coaxial cable entering the house) the signal was completely lost. If you have low signal strength, it is recommended that you don't split the signal unless you buy an amplifier and install it before the splitter. Ultimately, we ended up with 56 digital channels, compared with the 7 analog channels we had been receiving. Digital channels tend to be all or nothing. Only one channel gets poor reception, with some dropout and freezing.

Conclusion Top of page

If your antenna and cables are old and you are having trouble receiving a HDTV signal, it is best to replace them. Make sure you buy RG6 coaxial cable, and not the cheaper, poorly-shielded cable. Since most of the new digital channels are UHF, you are going to need a good UHF/HDTV antenna. Try your old one first, but invest in a new one if you still can't get good reception. The total cost of doing the project myself was ~$130, which is only 3-4 months of cable service. It is also good exercise, climbing up and down the ladder a few dozen times!
Last Modified February 24, 2009


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