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The digital world of television has given new life to the indoor antenna.
When you consider potential demand for high-definition over-the-air broadcasts, as well as maximized signals in a dense urban environment, the antenna is enjoying a rebirth of focus in the living room.
And with the new Federal Communications Commission mandate to include DTV tuners in 50 percent of all televisions measuring 25 inches to 35 inches, and 100 percent in sets 36 inches and up, the demand for antennas to access digital signals is becoming a critical part of the TV environment.
Also, the only way consumers can receive free off-air broadcast TV continues to be through the antenna.
Factor in a retailer's add-on benefits for an antenna sold to a consumer who has just purchased a digital TV, and the importance of the antenna accessories category at retail takes on additional importance.
“While sales for dedicated HDTV antennas have been limited during the past two years, the demand is clearly building as HDTV equipment sales have sharply increased,” said Kent Shiplet, executive VP/marketing and sales, at Oklahoma City-based Jasco Products.
Currently, Jasco offers two new indoor HDTV antennas, said by the company to deliver outstanding performance and incorporate contemporary design elements that are consistent with the high-tech look of TV hardware.
“As more digital broadcast becomes available, retailers will no doubt increase their SKU-count for digital antennas,” continued Shiplet. “In many cases, the consumer will be required to use an off-air digital format antenna to benefit from the increased local broadcasts which will likely exceed the cable and satellite company's available bandwidth.”
With a projected 52 million HDTVs in homes by 2009, the sales trend for HDTV antennas will continue increasing, noted Shiplet. Based upon growth of the category and feedback from customers, Jasco will be adding a GE-brand outdoor HDTV format antenna by this September.
Currently available from the broad-line-based product company is the GE Contempo digital antenna, which receives HDTV signals for the most sophisticated TVs on the market, said Jasco.
The unit, specially designed to receive digital terrestrial TV signals, as well as radio programs (VHF/UHF/FM), offers a built-in filter that eliminates a snowy picture. It has powered amplifications for stronger signal reception, and a “friendly advanced” design for either horizontal or vertical positioning that matches digital signal wave direction for “perfect” reception.
Suggested retail is $39.99 for the “high-tech” unit, with a silver finish and flat “stylish” design said to fit any décor.
“An antenna should be viewed as a 'must-have' accessory with every HDTV sale,” said Michael O'Neal, CEO of Clifton, N.J.-based Philips Accessories and Computer Peripherals. “This is true despite the fact that many U.S. households use cable and satellite programming to receive HD transmissions, as in many markets these carriers do not provide 100 percent of all local HD channels.
“An indoor antenna is a low-cost addition to an HD household as a backup for those instances where the cable or satellite signal goes down due to weather or technical related difficulties,” said O'Neal.
“A final benefit of an indoor antenna sold as an 'add-on' to the sale of an HDTV, is that the consumer will not have to wait for delivery of the HD tuner required to receive HDTV by the subscription carrier. Once they get their new HDTV home, they can begin watching terrestrial HDTV immediately by simply hooking up the antenna.”
New from Philips is the company's PHDTV3 Silver Sensor, a UHF/VHF indoor amplified DTV antenna said to be a “more attractive and enhanced-performance” version of a technology that dates back four years when Gemini, now Philips/Gemini, began marketing this unit. Updating the indoor UHF antenna has been accomplished without affecting the performance of the original Silver Sensor, said the company.
The antenna provides log-periodic design for UHF reception, offering as a function of its design a fairly narrow angle of signal acceptance, which has been proven to be a benefit of rejecting multi-path that can be troublesome for acceptable DTV reception, said Philips.
In addition, the design has excellent rejection of spurious or unwanted signals from the side or rear, said Philips. Since the FCC has allowed approximately 10 percent of U.S. broadcasters to transmit DTV signals in the VHF band, the unit features dual VHF dipoles of 40 inches. A very low noise amplifier (less than 3.7dB of introduced noise) of 10dB of gain with gain adjustment is provided to extend reception range.
The antenna, at a suggested $49.95 retail, is fully compatible with analog broadcasting, offering a very high level of performance in comparison to most conventional designs, especially in UHF reception, said Philips. Shipping started in May.
“Today, the trend in home HDTV antennas revolves around new technology in smaller packages with aesthetic, sexy designs that are user friendly, easy to install, designed for in indoor and outdoor use, compatible with their set-top boxes and can be mounted practically anywhere,” said Bob Howell, distribution systems/off-air antenna business group director for the Burlington, Iowa-headquartered Winegard.
“What I mean by new technology is, by far, the single largest challenge in off-air digital reception is dealing with the multipath or balanced signal issue, which is the main cause of digital interference and the key to selecting the right antenna for the job.”
Multipath, the term for bouncing signals, is the result of several different broadcast signals reaching an antenna, out-of-phase with each other or at differing time intervals. If the amount of multi-path is too high, the chipset will simply not decode any data and consumers wind up with a blue screen. New antenna technology must help mitigate digital multipath problems in order to package that digital data in a format that the set-top box likes and can decode, said Howell.
“By far, the increase in off-air antenna sales in the last two years has been generated by the growth of the DTV industry,” continued Howell. “And the single largest segment of that new antenna market is with the metropolitan/urban consumer, simply based on population. That geographic drives the need for indoor antennas. So, new indoor antenna technology that helps deal with the multipath issue is a huge opportunity for manufacturers like us and electronic mass retailers, for sales to these consumers.”
The other market opportunity for DTV/HDTV antennas is the outdoor market, said Howell. And in the outdoor market, here again, new technology with smaller antenna systems that are easy to install and can be mounted practically anywhere is going to be the driving force behind new consumer purchases for outdoor antennas.
“And the best news for installers is that these new smaller antennas can be piggybacked, with the right mounting hardware, on existing satellite installations and 'di-plexed' onto the existing cable run. For new installations, where the customer wants both satellite and local off-air, you only have to run one cable,” he explained.
To this end, Winegard's newest all-band indoor directional/bi-directional DTV/HDTV antenna — the SharpShooter SS-3000 — offers “scatter-plane” to reject digital multipath. This antenna, designed specifically for the indoor DTV/HDTV enthusiast, offers response throughout VHF/UHF band-pass and receives and resonates indoor analog and outstanding DTV/HDTV signals up to 30 miles from the transmit source.
Reception for apartment/condo dwellers is said to be ideal for receiving digital broadcasts where line-of-sight to the transmit source is blocked. Suggested retail is $139.
While there have not been any recent revolutionary advancements in the technology that goes into building a TV antenna, many manufacturers are now marketing HDTV types, said Brian Dunfee, manager/product development at the Newpoint division of Power Sentry, based in Plymouth, Minn.
“The fact is that local HDTV broadcasts are transmitted in the same UHF frequency range that analog TV broadcasts have been transmitted in for years. The primary difference is that with a digital signal you get outstanding picture and sound quality regardless of signal strength. As with digital satellite reception, you either have a picture or you don't. There will be no snow or ghost effects. The antenna will still need to be adjusted for optimum reception of a particular channel, depending on the direction and distance of the channel transmitter,” said Dunfee.
The primary hindrance to antenna sales is consumer education, or lack thereof, Dunfee emphasized. “Most consumers have no idea that they can receive digital quality pictures and sound for free, provided they have the right equipment. It is a crime for a new HDTV set to go out the retailer's door without a high-margin antenna attached to the sale.”
Newpoint, which believes HDTV sales will drive antenna sales to double-digit growth for the next 3-5 years, feels the antenna should not be an eyesore in the home theater system. Some manufacturers are now marketing antennas that complement a home theater setup, including flat-screen LCD and plasma TVs, and the antenna should look good, but not be a focal point of the system.
The Newpoint Argo XM amplified lifestyle antenna, model 208230, is an HDTV-ready antenna that offers adjustable 44-inch VHF/FM dipoles that provide excellent reception, according to Newpoint. Other features include a large UHF reflector that pivots 45 degrees and rotates 270 degrees for optimum tuning and a SkidSkin base that provides a firm grip and protects furniture.
The Argo XP antenna has a built-in A/B switch for connection with an alternate video source, gold-plated connectors for maximum signal transfer, blue 'amplifier-on' LED and a coaxial cable. Suggested retail is $69.99.
Audiovox is shipping its new high-performance HDTVlp indoor HDTV antenna from its Terk Technologies division. The Commack, N.Y.-based Terk is featuring the high-performance, all-band indoor DTV/HDTV unit as one “ideally suited for installation in urban and suburban areas where line-of-sight to the transmission tower is blocked.”
Senior sales VP Tom Malone noted that along with the new antenna's easy-to-install design is a “unique” directional/bi-directional feature with a removable scatter plane, which allows optimum reception of reflected broadcast signals in a wide variety of locations.
At a suggested $129.99 retail, the Terk unit features a number of “innovative” technologies to achieve maximum reception of both UHF and VHF frequencies, said Malone. It incorporates a proprietary digital ultra-low-noise amplifier system and antenna design with elements that are screen-printed onto the antenna frame. This configuration provides “exceptional” signal capture, he said.
The removable scatter-plane design of the Terk antenna offers a choice of either a directional or bi-directional pattern to optimize the unit's performance in any location and environment The directional antenna becomes an effective bi-directional unit when its plate is removed, said the company.
Featuring the RCA flat-panel design, model ANT537, Indianapolis-based Thomson said the antenna's design keys on urban and suburban areas. The unit, at a bit over 9 inches wide by 5.5 inches high, is targeted toward the urban homeowner seeking optimal HDTV reception, said Thomson.
Other features of the antenna are adjustable variable gain control to fine-tune the reception needs, advanced helical coil UHF design, ultra-sensitive UHF reception, low-noise amplification system and a chassis designed to reduce the multipath issue. Suggested retail is $49.95, and the antenna had been scheduled for August availability.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.