Help needed with attic antenna selection

freetvforme

DTVUSA Jr. Member
#1
Hello,

First of all, here is my TV Fool Analysis: http://www.tvfool.com/?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=29&q=id%3de2cbc5d1ecd438

A couple of years ago, I posted on this site looking for help with antennas but in the end, I just opted to keep my rabbit ears. For the most part, they work fine. However, the weather can sometimes cause issues as well as they are not very pleasant to look at.

A few weeks ago when the Olympics were on, we had all sorts of problems over several days when the weather was normal. I hadn't touched the rabbit ears for a long time and all of a sudden, the signal started flaking out. We have had random issues like that before as well. Anyway, that prompted me to start looking into antennas again.

I'm thinking about putting one in my attic and have it drive 6-8 TVs if possible. (I don't want to mess with the roof for multiple reasons.) I was thinking about an 8 bay and likely needing to add an amplified slitter. I know my location is close to most of the antennas (8-15 miles - All UHF) but I thought a larger antenna might help me since I would be splitting into so many lines as well as being in the attic and not outside. My house is also in somewhat of a low spot. In addition, neighbor's house that is in the direction of the towers is only about 12-14' from mine and the same height.

I thought about the Channelmaster CM-4228HD but then realized it won't fit through my attic access hole which is about 32" diagonal. I also thought about the Antennas Direct HD8E but they seem a little expensive. (I'm a value shopper.) The HDB8X from Solid Signal looks interesting also. I kind of like the idea of being able to point the 2 sections separately. (I sometimes have problems with one station that is the farthest south so one could point that way, and the other towards the other towers.)

Do you think this type of set up would work or would something else be better? Is an 8 bay too large to be this close to the towers even if it is in a attic? How many splits can you make before an amplified splitter is normally needed? (I know... to many variables to answer...but a guess would be fine.)

Any thoughts or suggestions on antennas, amplified splitters, placement, brands, pricing, etc. would be much appreciated.

Thank you
 

Jim5506

DTVUSA Member
#2
You could probably get by with a 4 bay bow-tie type antenna, that would fit through the attic access panel.

If you purposely "mis-aim" one of the panels on the HDBX and similar antennas, you can actually get some signal degradation since aiming antennas in different directions causes 1/2 of the signal to be re-radiated out the opposite antenna.

In your case it might work, since signals appear to be good and strong.
 

Fringe Reception

Super Moderator, Chief Content Editor
Staff member
#3
:welcome: (back) freetvforme

I'm sure we already told you that your survey is one of the best we have ever reviewed. Assuming your home doesn't have a metal roof or metal siding nor foil-backed insulation in your attic walls, an attic antenna should work well for you. If it does, a screen-type antenna could be mounted outdoors on the East wall and painted to match your home.

An 8-Bay is too directional for your location with the exception of the hinged 8-Bay from Solid Signal. However, when the two panels are pointed in different directions they behave as separate 4-Bay antennas BUT (in theory) they will cancel signal reception from the center of the average direction they are pointed toward. Check this link which explains the 'results' of combining identical antennas: http://www.hdtvprimer.com/ANTENNAS/ganging.html#ROS

A better choice would be a less focused (less directional) 4-Bay or even a 2-bay (outdoors). Regarding splitting 8-ways, I doubt you will need any amplifiers: a low-level stream of CLEAN digital data is all your tuners need to 'see' to be able to reproduce a perfect picture and audio. As an example, I receive a station from 75 miles distance split 4-ways around my home using no amplifiers.

Please keep us posted on your progress and your results.

Jim
 

freetvforme

DTVUSA Jr. Member
#4
Jim & Jim..... I really appreciate the information. I didn't realize the signal could degrade with the 8 bay. I went ahead an ordered the 4-bay Stellar Labs model (30-2425). It looked like the one from Solid Signal was identical to the Stellar Labs 4-bay model and it was a few bucks less factoring in shipping and the mounting pole so I went that route. I really would have liked to try the ChannelMaster or Antenna's Direct 4-bay but they were more than double the cost so I thought I would give this a shot first and see what happens.

I'm sure we already told you that your survey is one of the best we have ever reviewed.
This is certainly good to know. As I previously stated, the rabbit ears do a good job most of the time. I'm hoping this new antenna will do better in bad weather and not have the occasional flakiness that the rabbit ears do. There is one channel that I would like to get but it is 31.6 miles away and has an NM(db) rating of -11.1 so I guess that one is out of the question. (Ch 25)

Thanks again for the help. I will be sure to post back when I get everything set up.
 

Fringe Reception

Super Moderator, Chief Content Editor
Staff member
#5
There is one channel that I would like to get but it is 31.6 miles away and has an NM(db) rating of -11.1 so I guess that one is out of the question. (Ch 25)
KCKS-25 may not be a problem. Get your antenna setup, move it around your attic or outside wall (rescan, rescan, rescan) to find 'the sweet-spot' for the other channels and then get back to us. If 25 doesn't come in, you could build a dedicated 'cut-to-25' Yagi antenna and you may be able to capture it.

Regarding accuracy, the antenna survey we are working from is a computer generated guesstimate and we offer 'down to Earth' guestimates but with years of real antenna installation experience. That's why Jim and I both recommended a 4-Bay solution.

Jim
 
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#6
So, you're in luck, because I happen to have a very similar antenna survey to yours here in Atlanta, and I also happen to be from your area (near the airport), so I know the geography where you live pretty well. Before the DTV switch-over, I had a set of rabbit ears for the old black-and-white TV upstairs in the office. I watched the Royals lose a lot of games on that TV back then, and fell in love with Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine watching UPN 29 (and then UPN 62 when 29 switched to WB Network--or was it the other way around?).

Anyway, as Jim stated with his stipulations about foil-backed insulation and metal roofing (which if you're from Lee's Summit, I sincerely doubt either one is the case), an attic-mount is probably about perfect for you. I have one of those cheap, Chinese-made "wonder" antennas that Jim always tells everyone to avoid, and I'm picking up 91 channels here in Atlanta, at roughly the same distance from the towers as you are from the ones in KC. It's similarly hilly between me and those towers as it is for you and the bluffs at the Big Blue River. The directional spread of broadcast stations is even similar. You just have fewer total broadcasters in the area than I have here in the ATL.

I have my antenna split 8 ways. I'm currently only connecting 4 televisions, but I have a 2-way splitter going to two 4-way splitters, which means that as far as the signal strength is concerned, I am still split 8-ways at every location. I've shortened the overall transmission distance from the original 140 feet, but the longest run is still about 100 feet from antenna to TV. I'm not using amplified splitters, but the antenna does have a pre-amp. I'm powering that by placing it between the antenna and the first 2-way splitter, with the power cable running from an outlet behind a hutch into the crawl space behind the office through the face plate where the coax comes into that room.

As for KCKS, you may get lucky. With some effort and as Jim said, "rescan, rescan, rescan," you may find the sweet spot to pick it up. Good luck!
 

freetvforme

DTVUSA Jr. Member
#7
If 25 doesn't come in, you could build a dedicated 'cut-to-25' Yagi antenna and you may be able to capture it.
Jim, I am not sure I would want to put too much extra effort into getting channel 25. I just noticed they have a few outdoor shows on one of the sub-channels that might be nice to have as a bonus but I don't think I would add a dedicated antenna for it. Maybe someday when I retire I will have enough time to go the extra mile.

After I get the antenna installed and some new wires ran, I will post an update. Thanks again for your help.




ATLRoyals, Small world... If you moved from KC to Atlanta, then I'm guessing you had to pick up some advanced driving skills before the move? I have several family members on my wife's side that live in that area. (Downtown Atlanta, Snellville, Dunwoody, Marietta, Milton) When we go there to visit, I fear for my life when driving!

Anyway, good to know that you have good results in a similar situation as mine. Just curious... did you try your antenna without a pre-amp first and then have to add it because of all of the splits?

You are correct, I do not have a metal roof or foil backed insulation. I just have an asphalt shingle roof. My neighbor's house is very close to mine, which does make me think it could affect the signal.

I'm guessing the antenna I bought may be one of those Chinese antennas you are talking about? (Stellar Labs 30-2425) I'm not really very familiar with the brands. When you search for 4-bay antennas, there are 4-5 that keep popping up. This one and another brand that looked identical were less than half the cost of some of the others so I thought I would try it and go from there.

I hadn't really thought of the overall cable length perhaps being shorter by running a 2-way and then two 4-ways vs. one 8-way. I was just trying to have as few of connections as possible to help avoid signal loss. My entry point from the attic is fairly central to the house but I still may re-think the splitter combinations.

If the signal is too weak to support 6-8 connections, I have a back up plan. This past weekend, I built one of those coat hanger type antennas that are plastered all over YouTube. I made myself only use the materials I had on hand without buying anything. I used some old 12-2 house wire for the whiskers and phase lines. I only had a 20+ year old cheap balun so I used that. I did a quick test on it but the only cable I had long enough was RG59. My testing was very limited but only showed about a 5% or so improvement over rabbit ears. I hope RG6 will help out the signal. (I'm now trying to figure out what brand to buy.) If my new antenna won't support all my connections, I may use my home made antenna on 2 or 3 of the TVs that see limited use and the new antenna on the rest. If I go this route, how far apart do the antennas need to be or does it matter?

Thanks for your insight and Go Royals!
 
#8
As for RG-6, the brand isn't nearly as important as making it quad-shielded. I recommend buying from a discounter like Monoprice.com. If you buy it at Home Depot or Walmart, you pay their stocking fees and other expenses. I usually pay about 1/3 to 1/5 the price for cut-to-length cable with F-connectors already on them compared to at a store.

As for your splitters, the issue isn't how they're arranged, but rather the number of splits. If you have 8 TVs, use an 8-way splitter. If you have 4 TVs, use a 4-way splitter. If you have 4 TVs arranged around a central passage, and 4 TVs elsewhere in the house, then yes, a 2-way splitter with two 4-way splitters is fine. My TV-outs just happen to be 4 upstairs and 4 downstairs, so the 2-to-4+4 made sense. My original plan was to run the antenna to the basement and make a patch-panel for an 8-way split, but the realities of house construction intervened.

The "run" is the total length from the antenna to the TV, and a weak signal will break-up into an unreadable signal at a shorter cable distance than a strong signal. That said, Jim likes to talk about the stations he pulls in from 75 miles and runs on 140 feet of cable without an amp!

Stellar Labs is a reputable brand, but not one of the more highly regarded ones. I have one a couple of their HD Tuners for some older analog TVs. The "cheap, Chinese-made crap" looks more like this. There are lots of "brands" reselling this one. I have one and it works fine, but it's designed for much higher broadcasting ranges than in the US, so it doesn't pick up VHF very well and even low UHF doesn't come in as well as it should. I intend to replace it eventually.

One advantage of the cheap, Chinese-made piece of garbage is that it has a built-in pre-amp and rotor. When I tested without powering it, it was only good for short cable runs and splitting the signal was a total waste of my time. As soon as I powered up the pre-amp, it worked perfectly. Most folks here recommend testing without amplification, and if you're not getting results you like, put on a pre-amp. Try to avoid splitter-amplifiers, since they tend to add electronic noise that can cause poor signal quality.
 
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freetvforme

DTVUSA Jr. Member
#9
As for RG-6, the brand isn't nearly as important as making it quad-shielded. I recommend buying from a discounter like Monoprice.com.
When I said I was looking at RG-6 brands, I really meant quality. I will for sure get quad shield but not sure if I want to buy the cheaper stuff made in china or try and seek out a place to buy a little better quality cable similar to what cable/satellite companies use. I was hoping to find a spool of about 250' but it seems 500' or 1000' is the standard. I am not real impressed with the bulk spool options on Monoprice. (I also think their search tool needs some work.)

As far as the splitters, is there a formula/rule of thumb for determining if you'd be better off running multiple cables from one main splitter vs. running one cable over a common path and then adding a second splitter where the paths separate? I have 3 cables that I think will need to run a common distance of about 15'-30' (I'm still in the planning stages and exact distance is unknown.) In terms of signal loss, would I be better to run them all direct to one splitter or would it be better to run one length the common distance and then split from there? Obviously if the distance was 50-100' feet of common distance, I would probably not want to run 3 cables direct. But on a distance of 15'-30', I wasn't sure if that was short enough to justify going direct will all of the cables.
 
#10
Almost all cable is made in China, or Thailand, or Korea, or Dubai, or some other 2nd- or 3rd-world country, and then imported to the US. If you want something else, that's your choice. Again, it's not about the brand, it's about meeting the design standard. I agree that Monoprice's search function is weak, but they really do offer and guarantee quality products. They meet all standards for RG-6, are Quad-shielded, and I have Monoprice products all over my house and my work and they all do the job.

As for splitters, there's not really a formula. Just remember that each "split" reduces your signal by approximately the number of outputs in the splitter (more or less). So, I split 1-2 to 50% signal strength. Then I split 1-4, down to 12.5% signal strength, and subtract for any signal loss along the 100'-plus length of my cabling. There will be some signal loss from a long cable run, and some others here can detail that more with more knowledge than me. Overall your loss from excess splitting will be greater than from the length of most household cable runs, especially on RG-6 cable.

How you make those splits and do your runs is up to your situation and preferences. Had I been able to, I'd have run my antenna cable from my attic to the basement and split everything there and into a single panel, making an individual run to each level's output receptacle. When I got into the walls and crawl spaces, I realized that it wasn't really going to work, and I had to adjust my layout as I described before (1-2, and then 1-4). At some point I will go back and put in local panels that I can label, but until then, this works.
 

Fringe Reception

Super Moderator, Chief Content Editor
Staff member
#11
(For all) -- Regarding strategically locating signal splitters, it is best to have the shortest possible coaxial feed lines to maintain signal strength. An 8-way splitter mounted in the attic of a two-floor home will require (example) eight separate runs going to four upstairs rooms, two main floor rooms and two runs to the basement and that's a lot of coax! Play around on a sheet of paper with splitter location variations based on cost efficiency (shorter coax runs).

If you use separate antennas for different floors, they should be several feet away from each other BUT there may be only one 'sweet-spot' for the best reception / most channels received. After finding the best location for your 'primary' antenna, do the same with the second one: move it and rescan, move it and rescan ...

I live within one mile of four full power (megawatt) transmitters and I don't need quad-shield coax but avoid white-jacketed coax from Radio Shack and elsewhere: a few years ago an Engineer I know did an in-depth study and he says the stuff is leaky and lossy compared to other RG-6 cabling. Also, it has very poor UV resistance compared to black-jacketed coax, so if you have some it should only be used indoors. (disclaimer ... I use white coax, three 12 foot lengths in my underground basement and it works for meeee!)

I almost forgot to say: coax should never be bent or pinched into a tight turn, certainly no smaller turn in radius than a beer can. Best of luck!

Jim
 
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freetvforme

DTVUSA Jr. Member
#12
Update:
The antenna (Stellar Labs 30-2425 4-Bay Bow Tie) arrived yesterday so I hooked it up directly to my main TV in the living room as a test. I was disappointed to see the signal wasn’t even as good as my rabbit ears. I tested another TV and got the same results. I hoped that when I got it in the attic, the extra height would make all the difference.

I went to the attic today and decided that before I got started, I really needed some better footing so I spent a couple of hours screwing down some scraps of wood along the ceiling joists so I'd have a place to walk from the attic access hole to the location I planned to mount the antenna. (Joist hopping is not one of my favorite things to do and I'm not getting any younger.)

Now, on to more bad news. I set up the antenna facing due west which is about in the middle of where the towers are located in my area. Using a 25’ length of RG6, I hooked up the antenna to a 13” tube TV and a converter box that I lugged into the attic. I played with the angle of the antenna and moved it around a bit as well. The best I could get on the signal meter was in the 55%-65% range on the 4 main networks.

This tells me that if I’m not getting any better signal than that, when I split the signal and then run several cables anywhere from 25’ to 80’each, the outcome will definitely not be good. Regardless, I decided to go ahead and connect it to my main TV in the living room which is on a run of around 80’ from antenna to outlet. For the 80’ run, I used 3 pieces of RG6 that had been previously installed by the cable company in my home and connected them using 2 barrel connectors. (I did buy a spool of RG6 in anticipation of running a bunch of cables but considering what I had seen thus far, thought I might end up scrapping the project and returning the cable so I didn’t want to cut any off the spool to try one continuous piece.) The results of this test were horrendous. 2 of the 4 network stations registered 43% & 69% and the other two would not come in at all. I plugged the rabbit ears back in, and got in the 90s on all 4.

In my testing thus far, I have tried to rule out cable and connector problems by trying different ones to see if I could find a weak link. I couldn’t find any.

My conclusion: The antenna I bought is either junk or defective. I wasn’t impressed with the packaging or instructions and it was sloppily put together. The wings/bow ties are screwed in place with a sheet metal screw into plastic which makes it make contact with the phase lines. Several of those connections were barely touching and one of the screw heads was even stripped out. You can’t tighten them too much or the plastic will strip out. I guess I found out why this antenna was half the price of other brands.

My plan is to call the company and find out if they think it could be defective or if they have any other suggestions. Likely, I will just end up returning it for a refund.

Let me know your thoughts and suggestions. Thanks!
 
#13
That's disappointing to hear about the shoddy construction of the antenna. As I've said, I use Stellar Labs converters and havne't had a problem with them. If their antennas are that poorly made, then it makes me wonder if the quality of their equipment is falling, or if they're just a product aggregator brand that's not really concerned with quality.

I'm curious, you said you "plugged the rabbit ears back in;" was that in the attic or just directly next to the TV?

Sorry for the bad experience. Just one question: Did you move the antenna around to any other locations, or just try it in the one spot? Radio waves can have odd propagation patterns, sometimes resulting in "dead spots" just a few feet away from where signal is just fine.
 

Fringe Reception

Super Moderator, Chief Content Editor
Staff member
#14
ATL, that was well said and FREE, sorry to hear about your poor results. Your review of a Stellar Labs 30-2425 4-Bay Bow Tie is the first here on the Forum and in light of your report, I will not recommend it to others. Per your description of its shabby construction, it sounds as if it could not withstand one season of winter weather. Hopefully, you can return it or exchange it for a different 4-Bay that is 'known' to work.

Jim
 
#15
The most common point of failure point on import antennas is the PCB balun. The failure photos I've seen show the connector was simply soldered to the PCB board with no additional support. Which resulted in broken connections upon the first tightening of the coax connector.
It makes me wonder even if the circuit board connection does not break upon installation. How long would it hold up in a hard weather environment.
This problem is not unique to the Stellar Labs brand of antennas.
 

freetvforme

DTVUSA Jr. Member
#16
I'm curious, you said you "plugged the rabbit ears back in;" was that in the attic or just directly next to the TV?
ATL Royals (or would that be ATL Chiefs now?) When I noted that I plugged the rabbit ears back in to get signals in the 90s, I was at the TV where they always are and not in the attic. However, as part of my testing, I did test the new antenna against the rabbit ears in several locations. (In the attic and at multiple TVs in the house.) The rabbit ears always got better signals than the new antenna. Now that I think about it, I don't think I tried the rabbit ears along the 80' run. I think at that point, I was about to give up and probably just didn't think to try it.

I guess it is possible that the balun on the antenna where the cable connects may be faulty as I'm not sure really what else could be wrong with it other than poor design.

In the attic, I tried several spots and angles but admittedly, I didn't want to try every possible location due to the difficulty in getting around in my attic which is full of blown insulation. My home is a split level and the attic is chopped up into sections that are at different levels. It doesn't have any flooring other than a few boards here and there that I put down to allow me to get to a few different spots. I do have a gas fireplace flue that is on my west wall which is the directions of the towers. I would have liked to try mounting the antenna closer to the west wall to perhaps avoid that pipe in the path but I went as far as I felt comfortable going without having more flooring. If the antenna would have shown significant improvement over the rabbit ears at each TV I tested before going to the attic, then that would make me think I just didn't find the right spot in the attic. But since that didn't happen, my assumption is that the antenna is either defective or just junk.

I think I am just going to return it and keep searching for another option and in the mean time, just use my old faithful rabbit ears. Have you ever tried any of those double loop antennas for UHF? (Perhaps called a pennyloop?) I found a few sites where some folks were building them but the sizes and material lists seem to be quite varied. If I try to build one, I'd like to find a proven design first.
 
#17
While these are not proven designs, or building instructions. They are 4NEC2 computer models. From my experience the closer you can build it to the 4NEC2 design the more likely it is to succeed.
http://imageevent.com/holl_ands/loops/hivhftwinloops
http://imageevent.com/holl_ands/loops/uhftwinloops11rr
I'll check those links as I see a problem, but I suspect it's a typo by the author.
The twin loop design can be quite forgiving of construction errors.
The hour glass loop is another one that has caught my attention. I've played with both some.
http://imageevent.com/holl_ands/loops/uhfhourglassloop
 

freetvforme

DTVUSA Jr. Member
#18
Thanks Steve for the info. I've stumbled on to that site before but most of that is over my head. I will use it for the dimensions but I was hoping to find specific plans/materials lists and even videos like you can find on the popular coat hanger style antennas. Those are everywhere. (Some good, some... not so much)

One thing I don't understand about the loops, is that some are 7"-8" in diameter and some are 23"-26". I've seen the terms quarter wave, full waves, etc. but not sure if that has any relevance to the loop sizes I'm seeing.
 
#19
Many of the smaller 7" to 8" UHF loop antennas were designed for the old UHF band up to channel 69. For current UHF real channels 14 to 51. 8.5"-9" should work fine. I have built and tested a 9" twin loop UHF antenna antenna out of 9 AWG aluminum. As I recall it worked quite well for the low power UHF signals in my area.
A 23" loop is about the right size for high VHF real channels 7 to 13. I don't see any high VHF channels close enough to be easily received on your TV fool report.
 
#20
ATL Royals (or would that be ATL Chiefs now?)
The season's not over yet! The Royals still have a chance! Although, not if they keep losing like they did last night (16-3!? WTH?!?) Also, my dad's from D.C., so he raised me to be a Redskins fan. Still like the Chiefs, though, just not my Number One.

Sorry once again for the poor performance of your antenna. That was really disappointing. I'm hoping to replace my cheap Chinese antenna before the end of the year and I don't think I'll be looking at Stellar Labs equipment now.
 
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