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A television antenna, or TV aerial, is an antenna specifically designed for the reception of over-the-air broadcast television signals, which are transmitted at frequencies from about 41 to 250 MHz in the VHF band, and 470 to 960 MHz in the UHF band in different countries. Television antennas are manufactured in two different types: "indoor" antennas, to be located on top of or next to the television set, and "outdoor" antennas, mounted on a mast on top of the owner's house. The most common types of antennas used are the dipole ("rabbit ears") and loop antennas, and for outdoor antennas the yagi and log periodic.
To cover this range antennas generally consist of multiple conductors of different lengths which correspond to the wavelength range the antenna is intended to receive. The length of the elements of a TV antenna are usually half the wavelength of the signal they are intended to receive. The wavelength of a signal equals the speed of light (c) divided by the frequency. The design of a television broadcast receiving antenna is the same for the older analog transmissions and the digital television (DTV) transmissions which are replacing them. Sellers often claim to supply a special "digital" or "high-definition television" (HDTV) antenna advised as a replacement for an existing analog television antenna, even if satisfactory: this is misinformation to generate sales of unneeded equipment.
Simple half-wave dipole antenna for VHF or UHF loop antennas that are made to be placed indoors are often used for television (and VHF radio); these are often called "rabbit ears" or "bunny aerials". because of their appearance. The length of the telescopic "ears" can be adjusted by the user, and should be about one half of the wavelength of the signal for the desired channel. These are not as efficient as an aerial rooftop antenna since they are less directional and not always adjusted to the proper length for the desired channel. Dipole antennas are bi-directional, that is, they receive evenly forward and backwards, and also cover a broader band than antennas with more elements. This makes them less efficient than antennas designed to maximize the signal from a narrower angle in one direction. Coupled with the poor placing, indoors and closer to the ground, they are much worse than multi-element rooftop antennas at receiving signals which are not very strong, although often adequate for nearby transmitters, in which case they may be adequate and cheap. These simple antennas are called set-top antennas because they were often placed on top of the television set or receiver.
The actual length of the ears is optimally about 91% of half the wavelength of the desired channel in free space. Quarter-wave television antennas are also used. These use a single element, and use the earth as a ground plane; therefore, no ground is required in the feed line. See also: Dipole antenna#Quarter-wave antenna
Soon after television broadcasting switched from analog to digital broadcasting, indoor antennas have evolved beyond the traditional "rabbit ears." RCA is one manufacturer which has commercially sold a flat antenna. Flat antennas are very lightweight, very thin, and square-shaped like a thin notebook. They connect to televisions, or to digital converter boxes, with a single coaxial cable, and may be sold with an optional signal amplifier. The amplifier must be plugged into a power source, but the flat antenna does not require a power source. The flat antenna may need some moving around to achieve an optimum reception, but it eliminates a lot of manual manipulation which is inherent in use of the "rabbit ears".
An outdoor TV antenna generally consists of multiple conductive elements that are arranged such that it is a directional antenna. The length of the elements is about one half of the signal wavelength. Therefore, the length of each element corresponds to a certain frequency.
In a combination (combo) VHF/UHF antenna the longer elements (for picking up VHF frequencies) are at the "back" of the antenna, relative to the device's directionality, and the much shorter UHF elements are in the "front", and the antenna works best when "pointing" to the source of the signal to be received. The smallest elements in this design, located in the "front", are UHF and use Yagi antenna principles. The longest elements, located in the "back" of the antenna use VHF Log-periodic principles. Combining these two types of antenna creates the combination VHF/UHF antenna commonly used.
An antenna can have a smaller or larger number of directors; the more directors it has (requiring a longer boom), and the more accurate their beamwidth the higher its gain will be. For the commonly used Yagi antenna this is not a linear relationship. Antenna gain is the ratio of the signal received from the preferred direction to the signal from an ideal omnidirectional antenna. Gain is inversely proportional to the antenna's acceptance angle.
Two or more directional rooftop antennas can be set up and connected to one receiver. Antennas designed for rooftop use are sometimes located in attics.
Sometimes television transmitters are organised such that all receivers in a given location need receive transmissions in only a relatively narrow band of the full UHF television spectrum and from the same direction, so that a single antenna provides reception from all stations.
Antennas are commonly placed on rooftops, and sometimes in attics. Placing an antenna indoors significantly attenuates the level of the available signal. Directional antennas must be pointed at the transmitter they are receiving; in most cases great accuracy is not needed. In a given region it is sometimes arranged that all television transmitters are located in roughly the same direction and use frequencies spaced closely enough that a single antenna suffices for all. A single transmitter location may transmit signals for several channels.
Analog television signals are susceptible to ghosting in the image, multiple closely spaced images giving the impression of blurred and repeated images of edges in the picture. This is due to the signal being reflected from nearby objects (buildings, tree, mountains); several copies of the signal, of different strengths and subject to different delays, are picked up. This is different for different transmissions. Careful positioning of the antenna can produce a compromise position which minimizes the ghosts on different channels. Ghosting is also possible if multiple antennas connected to the same receiver pick up the same station, especially if the lengths of the cables connecting them to the splitter/merger are different lengths or the antennas are too close together. Analog television is being replaced by digital, which is not subject to ghosting.
Rooftop and other outdoor antennas
Aerials are attached to roofs in various ways, usually on a pole to elevate it above the roof. This is generally sufficient in most areas. In some places, however, such as a deep valley or near taller structures, the antenna may need to be placed significantly higher, using a lattice tower or mast. The wire connecting the antenna to indoors is referred to as the downlead or drop, and the longer the downlead is, the greater the signal degradation in the wire.
The higher the antenna is placed, the better it will perform. An antenna of higher gain will be able to receive weaker signals from its preferred direction. Intervening buildings, topographical features (mountains), and dense forest will weaken the signal; in many cases the signal will be reflected such that a usable signal is still available. There are physical dangers inherent to high or complex antennas, such as the structure falling or being destroyed by weather. There are also varying local ordinances which restrict and limit such things as the height of a structure without obtaining permits. For example, in the USA, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 allows any homeowner to install "An antenna that is designed to receive local television broadcast signals", but that "masts higher than 12 feet above the roof-line may be subject to local permitting requirements."
As discussed previously, antennas may be placed indoors where signals are strong enough to overcome antenna shortcomings. The antenna is simply plugged into the television receiver and placed conveniently, often on the top of the receiver ("set-top"). Sometimes the position needs to be experimented with to get the best picture. Indoor antennas can also benefit from RF amplification, commonly called a TV booster. Indoor antennas will never be an option in weak signal areas.
Sometimes it is desired not to put an antenna on the roof; in these cases, antennas designed for outdoor use are often mounted in the attic or loft, although antennas designed for attic use are also available. Putting an antenna indoors significantly decreases its performance due to lower elevation above ground level and intervening walls; however, in strong signal areas reception may be satisfactory. One layer of asphalt shingles, roof felt, and a plywood roof deck is considered to attenuate the signal to about half.
Multiple antennas, rotators
It is sometimes desired to receive signals from transmitters which are not in the same direction. This can be achieved, for one station at a time, by using a rotator operated by an electric motor to turn the antenna as desired. Alternatively, two or more antennas, each pointing at a desired transmitter and coupled by appropriate circuitry, can be used. To prevent the antennas interfering with each other, the vertical spacing between the booms must be at least half the wavelength of the lowest frequency to be received (Distance=λ/2). The wavelength of 54 MHz (Channel 2) is 5.5 meters (λ x f = c) so the antennas must be a minimum of 2.25 metres, or about 89 inches apart. It is also important that the cables connecting the antennas to the signal splitter/merger be exactly the same length, to prevent phasing issues, which cause ghosting with analog reception. That is, the antennas might both pick up the same station; the signal from the one with the shorter cable will reach the receiver slightly sooner, supplying the receiver with two pictures slightly offset. There may be phasing issues even with the same length of down-lead cable. Bandpass filters or "signal traps" may help to reduce this problem.
For side-by-side placement of multiple antennas, as is common in a space of limited height such as an attic, they should be separated by at least one full wavelength of the lowest frequency to be received at their closest point.
Often when multiple antennas are used, one is for a range of co-located stations and the other is for a single transmitter in a different direction.
- TV antennas are good conductors of electricity and attract lightning, acting as a lightning rod. The use of a lightning arrestor is usual to protect against this. A large grounding rod connected to both the antenna and the mast or pole is required.
- Properly installed masts, especially tall ones, are guyed with galvanized cable; no insulators are needed. They are designed to withstand worst-case weather conditions in the area, and positioned so that they do not interfere with power lines if they fall.
- There is inherent danger in being on the rooftop of a house, required for installing or adjusting a television antenna. British entertainer Rod Hull died after falling from his roof where he had been trying to improve reception for a football match.
- Gulati, R.R. (2007). Monochrome And Colour Television. New Age International. pp. 164–170. ISBN 8122416071.
- TV Antenna Range
- BBC: Digital switch advice 'shocking' 9 of 14 installers gave bad or misleading advice, suggesting that people are likely to need a new aerial for digital switchover ... 5 told the mystery shopper they would need a "digital aerial", when in fact there is no such thing.
- TV Rabbit Ear
- UK aerial groups In the UK transmitters are grouped into A, B, C, D, E, and K frequency bands and located so that, as far as possible, they are all in the same direction for receivers in a given region. This allows optimal reception of all stations by a single fixed narrow-band (and hence high-gain) antenna pointing in a fixed direction.
- Attic Mounted TV Antennas - Stallions Satellite and Antenna
- UK TV transmitters
- Combining or Stacking Two TV Antennas - Stallions Satellite and Antenna
- Antennas Direct | FAQs About HD Television Antennas
- Lightning Protection for TV and Radio Antennas
- "Rod Hull's death 'accidental'". BBC News. 5 May 1999. Retrieved 29 October 2008.
- Article on the basic theory of TV aerials and their use
- Consumer Electronics Association antenna mapping page
- NEC Lab - A tool to design and test television antennas.