The Switch to Digital TV - An Aerial Buying Guide

 Peter Scully
  Jul 31, 2018

The switch to digital television has brought numerous advantages, not least being the ability to get a significantly larger number of channels for free (for those who might not remember, in the analogue days, there was a grand total of five, free-to-air channels, digital brought us Freeview, which has about 70). The move to digital did not, however, solve the problem of getting decent TV reception across all areas of the UK, although it did change the nature of the problem.

Analogue signals versus digital signals

In simple terms, analogue signals travel in a straight line and get weaker the further they go, until, eventually, they fade out completely. Digital signals can, in theory, travel an infinite distance, but in practice, they are subject to various degrees of interference from a range of sources including the weather, tall buildings, thick walls and, somewhat ironically, electronic devices (or any device that carries a signal, like a mobile phone, broadband router etc). This means that, for most people, getting decent TV reception depends on getting a decent TV aerial and positioning it correctly on the exterior of their home.

Indoor TV aerials

At this point in time, indoor TV aerials do not match up to outdoor TV aerials in terms of performance and hence are only a viable option in places where digital TV reception is already reasonably good. The fact that there are so many of them on the market, however, shows that they clearly still have a niche and that niche tends to be metropolitan areas with a proportion of renters and also home owners who may not necessarily find it easy to get the sort of access needed to put up an external TV aerial (such as flat dwellers).

Indoor TV aerials can be divided into two groups, standard indoor TV aerials, which are intended to be used in public rooms like university common rooms or a communal space like waiting areas or receptions, and loft-mounted TV aerials. The latter have more power, but tend to be bulkier and not particularly attractive. In the right circumstances, both types of indoor aerial can do a decent job, although not necessarily a perfect one, as a lot still depends on your location and signal strength. You may, for example, find your TV rescanning or adding and removing channels from time to time without any apparent reason. They do, however, usually provide an adequate signal which shouldn't harm your viewing pleasure too much.

Outdoor TV aerials

Most outdoor or exterior TV aerials are “Yagi aerials” (Yagi was the name of one of the people who originally invented them). This type of aerial consist mainly of one long metal rod with a reflector positioned beside the mounting pole and several smaller rods at right angles to the main one. These smaller rods are called elements and as their number increases, so does the quality of the reception - assuming the aerial is correctly positioned on the roof or the side of your home.

Yagi aerials can do a much better job of picking up signals than either kind of indoor aerial, but even they can struggle in areas where reception drops below at least moderate. If a Yagi aerial just needs a bit of a helping hand, then you may want to consider using a grid aerial, which is unlikely to be sufficient on its own, but can be a very useful addition to a Yagi aerial. If, however, this is still not enough, then your next option is a high gain aerial, which is essentially a supercharged version of a Yagi aerial in that it has two large reflectors and more elements, both of which serving to amplify signal. High gain aerials are great for parts of the country where reception is poor but are best avoided in areas where the signal is good as the sheer strength of these aerials can actually lead to problems processing the signal.

The Switch to Digital TV - An Aerial Buying Guide

Peter Scully

Peter Scully is a marketing consultant for Orbital Aerials, a nationwide installer and repairer of a wide range of TV aerials and digital TV equipment.

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