2006 continues to be a breakout year for HDTV. The number of families with high definition sets in their homes seems to be growing exponentially. As more people become familiar with HD, they are also turning in large numbers to a technology most of them haven’t used in years- the antenna. Specifically, the digitally tuned HDTV antenna.

High definition television has sparked a revolution. It’s one that sees consumers trading in their cable boxes for tuners and antennas. In a world where we’re constantly searching for the next big thing, it seems on the surface to be counterintuitive that our society would ever consider reverting back to an old technology. But the digital revolution has cast a new light on some positive features of antenna technology that are just too powerful to ignore.

HD antenna vs. Cable or Satellite

So why, you’re probably asking, should you go with an HDTV antenna instead of cable or satellite. I mean, you bought this great, expensive TV because it was the latest and greatest, and it offered the best picture possible. Well for starters, that’s exactly why you should use an HD antenna.

The first reason to consider an antenna for your HD signal is picture quality. Believe it or not, HD antennas provide the best possible HD picture period. The reason is compression. Cable companies receive the signal via an antenna, and then have to compress it to fit in their cable lines. So by the time it arrives at your house, it is higher definition than you old analog signal but it isn’t the highest definition picture your set is capable of. There is a visually noticeable difference between high definition pictures from cable and from antennas. And with HD antennas, there’s never a ‘fuzzy’ picture. You either get the signal or you don’t. Satellite dish setups also compromise picture quality when compared to antennas.

The second biggest reason you should use an antenna to access digital programming is price. Cable and satellite subscriptions continue to go up in price. Many who are concerned with the cost of a high definition television set don’t think twice about paying out that much for programming in a year’s time. Antennas don’t have any subscription fees. Because the federal government owns the airwaves, private parties can not charge viewers to receive the signal if it is accessed with an antenna. So the purchase price of your antenna is the only price you’ll ever pay to use it.

The third benefit that antennas offer is channel availability. Currently there is a rift between some cable providers and broadcast signal providers. Cable companies believe they should be able to access the HD signal from the local networks for free, and the networks think that if the cable companies are selling the broadcast signal, they should have to absorb some of the cost of providing it. Neither side can agree, so the cable customers are the ones who lose. Because the networks provide some of the most popular programming throughout the year, from sitcoms to the Super Bowl and Academy Awards, consumers value the HD picture on those channels. But in some markets, because of these disagreements, the only way to see the network broadcast in HD is with an antenna. So are you restricted to local channels if you use an antenna to get HDTV? Not at all. HDTV Antennas work seamlessly with satellite dishes. By installing an antenna for your local channels and a satellite dish for your premium channels, you can get the best of both worlds in an affordable package with the best picture quality possible.

Features to Keep in Mind When Choosing an Antenna

So how do you choose the right antenna for your home? The first task you have is locating the nearest network towers to your home. A great tool for doing this is AntennaWeb.org. By entering in your exact address, you will be able to determine your distance from each of the towers. For most people, the nearest towers will all be located in generally the same direction from your home. Once you know the distance between you and the tower, you can begin to determine how strong of an antenna you need.

It is also important to identify and note any barriers between your antenna (the receiver) and the network’s antenna (the transmitter). Large trees, nearby large buildings and hills are a few examples of barriers that you may encounter. The reason these are a problem is a geometric principle known as multipathing. Multipathing means that your signal moves from the transmitter to the receiver via multiple different paths. The sum of these paths contributes to your overall signal strength. Some portions of the signal could be weakened or slowed by barriers between your antenna and the transmitters. Some antennas are better with multipathing than others. There’s no guaranteed formula for success but there are a number of forums online where the topic has been covered and where experienced antenna users can answer your questions.

Finally, it is important to consider aesthetics. How important is it that your antenna looks as good as it performs. By nature, antennas have never been very attractive to look at. They’re big, bulky and metal- not exactly an aesthetic complement to your home. But antenna manufacturers have recently begun developing powerful antennas with a more streamlined appearance to fit with the design of the home, such as Terrestrial Digital’s Lacrosse. Streamlined antennas have been developed in the past, but the performance typically left something to be desired. This new generation is finally able to satisfy the user as well as his neighbors and his spouse.

Once you’ve determined which type of antenna you will need, it is time to start shopping. Remember, you get what you pay for, so the cheapest isn’t always the best. Anyone who tells you all antennas are the same is probably just trying to sell you a cheap antenna. Shop around for the best price and talk to friends and experts online to find out what they’re using and where they got the best price.

Technology and the Future of HD Antennas

As digitally tuned antennas continue to appeal to a more mainstream audience, customers are demanding more from them. There was a time when the only customers who knew about antennas and HD were the tech-minded folks, who cared primarily about the antenna’s performance and not its appearance. But as the customer base has expanded, customers are demanding higher performance from smaller designs.

Television antenna technology has come a long way. Terrestrial Digital for example, is working with military engineers to constantly reshape and redesign the antenna for optimal performance from a smaller package. There is a lot to consider now in design. As antennas get smaller, the amount consumers expect from them continues to grow. So manufacturers will have to find new and innovative ways to make the antenna perform better with less physical space.

For the foreseeable future, antennas appear to have strong potential to continue as a preferred medium for many HDTV set owners. Antennas themselves will also continue to change with time. We’ve already developed powerful, attractive rooftop antennas. The next horizon will require us to identify ways to harness that power in continuously more discreet products and those that deliver value to the consumer by combining multiple needed services into a single unit. Antenna manufacturers realize there are a wide range of predisposed stereotypes and misinformation to battle. But through education and the constant delivery of innovative and useful products, it is likely that the practical applications of HD antennas will prevail.

As long as picture quality and price remain important to consumers, the antenna will be an important vehicle for high definition television signals. Expect engineering innovations to continue to help the antenna reestablish itself as a preferred channel for the HD signal for many years to come.

Richard Schneider is the President of Terrestrial Digital and Antennas Direct. He founded the companies in 2003, and currently has over 265 dealers nationwide. Terrestrial Digital’s DB2, DB4 and Lacrosse HDTV antennas have all been honored among the strongest in their class. For more information on Terrestrial Digital and for a complete list of products and dealers, visit www.terrestrial-digital.com.