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Give the digital TV switch a better reception

February 17, 2009 | 12:26 pm

About 400 TV stations are shutting off their analog broadcasts at midnight tonight as part of the nation's switch to all-digital signals. But the new era hasn't gotten off to a great start for some viewers.

As we noted in a story today, some people are getting fewer channels -- even though they did everything the government and broadcasters told them to do as part of the DTV transition. The problems generally stem from the different technological characteristics of digital signals versus analog.

Many people, including viewers of the major broadcast networks in Los Angeles, have nearly four more months to get ready because Congress allowed stations to delay the switch until June 12. One key to improving your reception during that time appears to be upgrading your antenna.

A few readers have pointed me toward the YouTube video, shown above, on how to make your own digital TV antenna using equipment that would make MacGyver proud: six wire clothes hangers, a piece of wood, a dozen washers and a variety of other household items. Assembly doesn't look too difficult -- about the same level of expertise as required ...

... for building a Pinewood Derby car for Cub Scouts. But I haven't tried it so can't vouch for how well it works.

Though there's a certain Rube Goldberg quality to the device, one thing is undoubtedly true -- it's pretty ugly. Even Ross Voorhees, the guy who made the video, suggests you keep it behind your TV set because, he says, "it isn't the best looking-thing in the world."

Here are some more tips I've compiled:

  • Skip the automatic scan: Some converter boxes scan too quickly for digital channels. If you’re having trouble receiving stations you received in analog, try overriding the automatic scan and manually inputting the channel. But be advised: Digital channels are moving. Call the station and find out the correct channel to tune in.

  • Focus on the antenna: Move your indoor antenna to find the best location, such as by a window with an unobstructed view. If you have a rooftop antenna, make sure it's pointed in the right direction. can help: Enter your address and it will tell you what direction to aim the antenna for specific stations. If those fail, consider upgrading, if possible, from rabbit ears to an amplified indoor antenna or to a rooftop antenna.

  • Wait for the final transition: Some stations will move their digital signal to a new channel after turning off their analog transmissions. The new channels often provide better reception. Also, some stations will be boosting the power of their digital signal at that point as well. Contact the stations you are having trouble receiving to find out what they’re doing.

-- Jim Puzzanghera