Updated: July 7, 2014 6:28AM
Back in January, I became one of more than 21 million U.S. residents to hook up a television to an antenna.
Cable television had become too expensive, around $100 a month, so I cut that cord. Increasingly, others are doing the same. In April, USA Today reported that homes with antennas increased from 20 million in 2012 to 21.5 million in 2013.
I canceled cable “in favor of old-fashioned antenna TV as well as much cheaper Internet-dependent subscription services,” I wrote five months ago.
There was a glitch in my thinking.
Antenna TV doesn’t exist as it once did. In 2009, when TV stations switched from analog to digital broadcasts and picture quality improved dramatically, rabbit ears became inadequate. Homeowners who have antiquated rooftop antennas probably have found them subpar.
Newer indoor HD antennas are popular, seem convenient and range from under $20 to a little more than $100.
They can also be unreliable.
Tired of losing the transmission with an indoor antenna every time an airplane was within earshot, on windy, rainy or snowy days and sometimes for no reason, I reached out to a few engineers at Chicago TV stations for answers. They assured me that station signals from atop the Willis Tower are “pristine,” as one put it. To get them consistently, viewers need roof antennas.
“Anything you stick on the window is not going to do what you expect,” an engineer, who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to give interviews, said of indoor antennas.
Indoor antennas get resistance from building materials as well as wires in walls, furniture, humans and pets. An already weakened transmission that causes the TV picture to freeze occasionally can be wiped out by a gusty wind.
Users of indoor antennas who can mount the devices against a window in the direction of Willis Tower, without excessive cabling, will have more luck than others. Those who want to use indoor antennas in their basements should forget about it.
Apartment renters and those who live in condominiums might feel married to cable if owners or building associations haven’t maintained or purchased modern roof antennas.
There might be an alternative by September when Aereo, a company that uses the Internet’s cloud technology to access broadcast TV for a fee, is scheduled to begin operating in Chicago.
Networks have challenged the legality of Aereo’s transmissions, and the case is in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule by month’s end.
For now I plan to improve my broadcast TV viewing experience with a new roof antenna. After wasting about $150 on indoor antennas, I will fork over $150 more for a bunch of metal bars on top of the house (there go the savings after dropping cable). The station engineer said he saw no need to spend more than that in the Chicago area.
Installing a roof antenna is another story. An associate at one electronics store said installation is about $350 but could be higher if cabling in the home is substandard. Hooking up additional TVs could run $200 more for each TV.
That’s too steep. My husband is thinking about installing it. He will work on the roof, and I can help him. On the ground.