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Web Initiatives Link Shoppers To Antennas

Digital and satellite TV proponents are hoping new interactive antenna selector programs appearing on a handful of websites across the Internet will help re-ignite interest and sales in external terrestrial TV antennas.

Recently, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) went online with its AntennaWeb site, which is billed as an interactive tool and offered through the association’s TV Antenna Selector Program. That program has produced detailed maps to help users determine the right antenna necessary to receive free local TV signals on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.

Also, DecisionMark, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Internet firm, recently launched its TitanTV web initiative, which among other things notifies users when off-air digital channels will be available in their viewing area. This site also directs users to an antenna dealer who can either sell the most appropriate antenna or arrange to have a rooftop antenna installed.

In both cases, the services are de-signed to help potential buyers take the guesswork out of antenna purchasing, while linking them with their nearest dealer/installer.

In addition, antenna manufacturers are beginning to tie in with these antenna locator services (see related story below).

Industry observers said antenna education efforts such as these are becoming more critical as television broadcasters begin the conversion to digital systems.

For starters, the 8-VSB modulation scheme included in the DTV standard — and recently revalidated in an important FCC decision to dismiss a petition request from Sinclair Broadcast Group — was designed and tested primarily for use with outdoor antennas. Until cable and satellite companies make a decision to carry a full slate of ATSC terrestrial digital content, the outdoor antenna will be the primary conduit to SDTV and HDTV channels.

Although they have similar purposes, the two Internet programs have taken somewhat divergent paths.

Executives with the former USSB originally started the CEA program in 1995 as a means of giving satellite subscribers access to local TV stations. USSB brought the concept to CEA, and an industry committee was formed to develop a broad-scale antenna-mapping program. One of the ultimate goals was to offer the antenna-selector web site, which has now been realized.

The CEA program uses DataWorld’s predictive methodology, which DataWorld executive VP Hank Brandenburg described as a finely tuned version of the Longley-Rice system sanctioned by the FCC.

The CEA Antenna Web system improves upon the Longley-Rice method, Brandenburg said, by taking into account multipath signal issues and other anomalies that can affect reception of either analog or digital broadcasts.

Users key in their addresses and ZIP codes and indicate if there are any tall buildings nearby.

The interactive chart then processes the information to produce a map showing each channel available (both analog and digital) with a color code that corresponds to the most appropriate antenna. The map also shows the direction the signal takes to the house, which aids in proper alignment for a do-it-yourself installation job.

DecisionMark uses the Longley-Rice predictive methodology to help viewers see which stations they can receive in their area. But the process of antenna selection and sales is left to retail partners who register with the site. These dealers can use a restricted section of the TitanTV site to find the appropriate antenna for a customer.

DecisionMark keeps a database of antennas carried by manufacturers who have signed on for a fee to be listed. So far, Winegard is participating in the program.

Jack Perry, DecisionMark CEO, said was designed as a centralized site where viewers can determine the status of digital broadcast plans for their area.

Although DecisionMark maintains its Get A Waiver program for broadcast-challenged satellite subscribers, the focus now has shifted somewhat to helping digital TV enthusiasts get the proper equipment to pull in digital stations over the air.

By filling out a form, the system will notify viewers as each new digital TV station is added.

More importantly, the TitanTV effort will help potential satellite viewers determine whether they qualify under the law to receive satellite-carried distant-market TV signals in their area.