Monday, February 11, 2013

Optimize Your OTA Antenna Signal With Splitters

In my first post about cutting the cable TV cord, I showed you how to cut the cord and receive over-the-air HD channels.  At the very least you now have one TV connected to one antenna, or maybe multiple TVs with their own antennas.  We can improve this design, using the best antenna for every TV's signal, even when they're on at the same time.

Here are the chapters to follow me on this journey to glorious HDTV goodness:

Chapter 1 - Receive HD channels on your TV with an over-the-air (OTA) antenna

Chapter 2 - Optimize the antenna signal for all TVs with splitters

Chapter 3 - Run an antenna's signal on the same cord as your Internet feed

Chapter 4 - Stream videos from cable stations with a media server

Before you entertain the thought of using your best antenna location for every TV, you will need to have a coaxial cable (coax) running from the best antenna location to whichever TVs you have in mind.  If your antenna's on the top floor and the TV's on the bottom floor, my advice won't help you if there's no coax between the two of them. Because you purchased an antenna to stop your cable TV service, it's likely that your cable company ran a coax to every TV in the house, meaning this might just work after all. 

As this PSA from the 1970s shows, cable TV is bad, free TV is good.  Thought it aired in a movie theater that didn't want to lose business to movies on cable TV, it's the right sentiment.

In my case, I wanted to connect my TV that's downstairs to the TV and its antenna that's upstairs.  Because the house was wired for cable TV, the TV that's upstairs has a coax from its location down to where the cable box used to be.  Meanwhile, the TV that's downstairs is still near that same cable box area.  Because the wiring is already done, this won't require me to drill holes through my walls.

This blog post is much more interesting if your living quarters have coax running between whatever rooms you need from the prime antenna location.  Let's assume that's the case so we can start the steps.

Note: The antenna may be hooked up to a TV or another device capable of searching for OTA channels.  For example, my OTA antenna is hooked up to my TiVo, just as I used to run my cable TV through the TiVo.  For this blog, assume "TV" means whatever device you're using to search for OTA channels.

Step 1 - Make a drawing of your setup from the main antenna to the other TVs, noting where the coax would have to split to reach each TV, including the need to add coaxes as necessary.  Don't worry, I won't judge the drawing's quality, it just has to make sense to you.

Step 2 - Determine how many splitters to purchase.  What's a splitter you ask?  Well a splitter splits a single coax signal, in this case the main antenna's, and sends it to coax outputs.  The most common splitter takes one signal from a coax and splits it into two signals.  Larger splitters split the signal into three or more signals as in the diagram below.  In my case, the main antenna's signal had to be split to one other TV meaning I would need one splitter to split the signal to two outputs, allowing the antenna to work with its normal TV and the one downstairs.

 This diagram gives a good idea of what we're trying to accomplish with a splitter.

Step 3 - Now that you know how many splitters you'll need, also note how many coaxes you'll need.  Look at your drawing and note how many coaxes are needed and how many you have; also consider if you need to extend a coax by connecting it to another cable.

Step 4 - Each coax has two male ends and a splitter only has female ends.  Look at your drawing again and for each connection point, note each side's male or female end.  Do you have two male ends connecting?  Maybe two female ends are connecting?  For these conflicts, you'll need female-to-female coax connectors or female-to-male coax connectors to bridge the issue.  Make a note of what you need to purchase.

You may need a mixture of female-to-female and male-to-female coax connectors for longer coax connections and device connections.

Step 5 - When you think you've got the right number of splitters, coaxes, and connectors for your design, look online or visit your local electronics store and buy the items.  These are rather basic audio/video products so they're found everywhere.  As always, keep your receipt in case you need to return items and check the store's return policy for opened items.

Step 6 - Optimize the main antenna's location.  You already have a nice reception, but see if you can improve it by moving the antenna, adjusting its rabbit ears, or turning it in a new direction.  Then see if you can receive even more channels; this may require you to rescan for available channels.

Step 7 - Note the main antenna's optimal location.  The antenna will probably move during this chapter so this makes it easier to come back to when all is done.

Step 8 - Get all splitter(s), coaxes, and connectors in hand.  For this post, we'll assume you're in the same boat as me, requiring just one splitter.  Your home's coax, splitter, and connector needs will vary from my experience, but the same ideas apply.

Step 9 - Locate or place whatever coaxes you need to connect other TVs in your home.

Step 10 - Unscrew the main antenna from the TV or device it's connected to. 

With a nod to Ted Williams...all hail the splendid splitter!

Step 11 - Take the main antenna's coax cable and screw its male end into the splitter's female "IN" coax port.  As with all coax connections, tightening it with your hand is enough and it doesn't have to be super tight.

Step 12 - Take a coax and screw it to one of the splitter's "OUT" coax ports.  This should be a male-to-female connection.

Step 13 - Take the other end of this coax and connect it to the TV's coax port.

Step 14 - For the TV that's a new addition to this antenna, take its coax and screw it to the other splitter "OUT" port.

Step 15 - Take the other end of this coax and connect it to the TV's coax port.

Step 16 - If all is well, you now have a single antenna providing a signal to a splitter, and from that splitter there are two coaxes running to two TVs.

My beloved splitter setup.

Step 17 - Return the main antenna to its optimal location noted in step 7.

Step 18 - Run a channel reception search for each TV; this can be done at the same time.  Both TVs should find the same stations.  If they don't list the same stations, it's because one of the TVs doesn't consider a station with low reception worthy of saying it is available, while the other one does.  If you connected more than two TVs to the splitter, repeat this process with each TV.

Step 19 - Congrats!  Now your TVs have the best OTA reception possible and they can watch TV at the same time.

In my next post, I'll introduce you to the world of diplexers which solved my problem of running an OTA antenna's signal on the same coax as my Internet feed.


jocoselma said...

When my antenna is connected directly to the tv, reception is great! As soon as I connect it to a splitter, I get 0 channels. Does a splitter reduce signal that much?

B and T Crowd said...

jocoselma...I'm no electrical engineer, as evidenced in my blog, but I'd imagine that any device that gets in the way of a signal's flow could hurt it; however, a splitter is designed to not do that. Have you tried using splitters from other brands? I have yet to experience any signal degradation from my splitters.

Keith Eversman said...

Every splitter reduces the signal by 3db which is approximately 1/2 the signal strength.

Cam R said...

The author mentioned he runs his signal to. TiVo. Does that TICo require any kind of subscription to work in this setup?