When I first talked to Karim Sunderami in January, there was reproach in his voice as we discussed the joys of my $40 TV antenna.
Twenty-plus free channels, no more monthly cable bill, great picture quality. Sure, not a setup the hardcore viewer or sports fanatic wants, but when combined with a streaming service like Netflix, good enough for me.
Sunderami is an IT guy who turned a hobby into a business 10 years ago. He takes free TV seriously and for him it’s about more than a knockoff antenna.
I was too cheap by half, he said. He says consumers are kidding themselves if they think they can throw up a coat hangar (which does work) and get the reception and selection they want.
In October, 2012, I cut the cord, joining about 1 million Canadians who are pulling down free signals. I invested $56 all-in for an aluminum antenna, two 50-foot lengths of cable and the retailer threw in an antenna mount. A friend and I installed it in a few hours and the setup pulls in 22 stations. I’ve had no problems with the antenna.
Sunderami agreed my solution worked, but predicted it wouldn’t last. He asked pointedly why I didn’t get a better setup since I was saving $60 to $100 a month. Do it properly. For many in the GTA, (though not me as it turns out), that is as little as $100, he said.
“Spend a little more, but spend it once, not twice, or three times,” he advised when we met at saveandreplay.com the Mississauga store he runs with his wife Grace. “How many times do you want to climb onto your roof?”
I was taking up his old antenna rebate offer made in January, when I last wrote about over-the-air TV. Bring in the old antenna and get $20 off a new one.
Here are the most important things to consider, he says:
Location: The higher the ground where your house or condo sits the better your reception. And the higher the antenna on your house, the better. You’ll have a less obstructed path to the transmitters on the CN Tower and Grand Island, NY. If your home is in a dip, behind a hill or surrounded by tall buildings, reception will be affected.
“You can’t remove trees and buildings, but at 25 feet off the ground you have a good line of sight,” he says.
Distance to transmitters: Over-the-air signals degrade the farther away you are from the source. So cottage country reception is spotty. In Newmarket and Orillia, Buffalo channels may fade in and out. In Milton, antennas sometime have problems picking up Fox 29 and CW23.
“That means a person in Mississauga needs a different antenna than someone in Newmarket,” Sunderami says.
Transmitter frequencies: Some channels are transmitted in VHF and some in UHF. There is no rhyme or reason, he says. CTV in Newmarket is broadcast on a VHF band. The CHCH signal in Midland picked up in Orillia is VHF.
“You need an antenna that captures both,” he says, recommending TVFool.com as a place to go to help figure out which is being broadcast on which frequency.
Angle to transmitters: In Oakville, for example, the angles between a house, the CN Tower and Grand Island, are quite broad. So the setup needs an antenna with two pieces, or bays, one aimed at Toronto and the other across the lake. If you live in Mississauga, or North York, the angle is much narrower, so you might get away with one.
Sunderami says a high quality one-bay unit costs as little $100. In St. Catharines it wouldn’t work because the CN Tower is directly in front and Grand Island behind. You need an antenna facing each way.
Sunderami says you get what you pay for with knockoffs. The price difference between them and the real thing isn’t great and the name brands use better materials, offer warranties and have help lines. With a knockoff, you’re on your own.
His preferred manufacturers are Channel Master and Winegard which have been in the antenna business since the 1950s. Another is Antennas Direct. All three are American. They are also sold at The Source and Best Buy, which is now consolidating with Future Shop.
I came away with a two-bay Antennas Direct model which costs $180. But because it was an open box and with the rebate, he knocked it down by 20 per cent to $144 plus tax.
“If you lived in Mississauga, I could do this for $100, but you have to live in Oakville with trees in the way,” he said.
Sunderami says this new antenna should do two things. It will pick up a few more channels and reduce the fade-in, fade-out nuisance factor, which is a bigger deal for me. He says it should maintain the signal quality in all weather conditions.
As they say, stay tuned. I’ll report back once all the leaves are out.
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