How To Enjoy Super Bowl XLV in HD: A Last-Minute Guide with Minimal (or No) Cost

It’s the night before (or morning of) the big game, and you suddenly decide that piping the ‘ole standard definition cable box into your big HDTV just isn’t going to cut it this year. There’s no way to get an HD cable box in time (and you don’t want to pay the associated fee). Well, you’re in luck, because the Super Bowl is one of those games that’s carried on the national networks (it’s on Fox this year), and that means that anyone with an antenna can pick it up for free, and most likely, if you’ve got an HDTV, you can get it in HD too.

Over The Air (OTA) Method

Shopping list:

  • An antenna ($25 or more, depending on the type you need)
  • Optional: A compass, preferably one with degree markers on it
An example of a report generated by AntennaWeb
An AntennaWeb channel report

The configuration is pretty simple. Pop on over to AntennaWeb and enter your address. Don’t worry about getting junk mail or anything: it’s only used to figure out where you are in relationship to transmitters in your area. The website will then indicate a color and if the station is in the UHF or VHF bands. Clicking on the color/band description will take you to a page that explains what to look for in your antenna, and if it needs to be pointed a certain direction.

Then all you have to do is go out and buy an antenna. If you just need a small or medium antenna (with or without a preamplifier) you can probably pick it up at your local Target, Walmart, Kmart, Best Buy, Ultimate Electronics, Fry’s, or whatever is in your area. The smaller antennas will cost between $20 and $45 depending on the model you choose and if it’s amplified or not. I’m getting pretty good results using a $25 GE 24700 Amplified antenna at the base of a hill, though VHF reception requires a bit of experimentation to get reception. Once things are set up, however, everything is stable and reliable.

Tuning your antenna:

If your Fox affiliate is in the VHF band, you will need to adjust the dipole “rabbit ear” antennas to an appropriate configuration. If the affiliate is in the UHF band, you will need to adjust the ring antenna (this may be completely contained in plastic, and a shape other than a ring, like a box) by pointing it in the right direction (consult direction indicated by AntennaWeb’s Compass Heading column). If you don’t have a compass, or don’t want to buy one/can’t find one (you don’t need a fancy digital magentometer, and unfortunately many places only sell those), you can always make one.

You may be able to test your tuning by manually setting your TV’s channel to the number indicated by AntennaWeb as the “RF Channel” (this is the actual channel the station broadcasts on) and pulling up the signal strength information. This may be under the information display or in your TV’s settings, and you may need to consult your manufacturer’s manual.

Once your antenna is set up and pointed the right way, you will need to do a channel scan. This will have the TV find all channels available to it, as well as any subchannels. This step will need to be repeated every time you re-point your antenna. The channel scan may take a few minutes, so this is a good time to go get something to drink, maybe make a sandwich, or take out the garbage.

Et voilá! If you have the right antenna, pointed the right way, and the signal is strong enough, you should be able to get the game in HD, without the need of getting your cable company involved.

ClearQAM (Cable) Method

Shopping List:

  • Nothing (if you already have a cable line in your house)

Now let’s say you don’t want to mess with an antenna, or OTA reception in your area just isn’t viable (say you live at the base of a hill, or you’re too far away from the transmitter), but fortunately enough you have a cable line running into your house! Some cable operators run broadcast stations through their lines with unencrypted (“clear”) QAM signalling that almost all modern HDTVs should be able to decode. The process is pretty simple: Disconnect the cable line coming out of the wall from your cable box and connect it directly to your TV.

Once that is done, just run a channel scan and see what turns up. However, the channel numbers may not make much sense, and channels may be available in multiple versions. For example, Comcast in my area runs all broadcast stations three times: The HD broadcast, their own SD version (not counting the SD version the station may broadcast on their own), and an analog version. If you’re not sure which version you’re looking at, check your information display.

Wait! I want to watch the Puppy Bowl too/I want to keep this set-up, but need to keep my cable box

An example of a coaxial cable and composite cables
Left: A Coaxial cable, Right: Composite cables

Well, fortunately there is a solution here. Chances are if you’re reading this, your cable box is probably connected by a coaxial cable (the kind with a single connector) run from your cable box to your TV. There is a solution! For this, you will need a free set of Composite connections (Yellow/White/Red connectors) on your TV and a composite cables. There is a good chance your cable box has a set of these too. If that is the case, then you can connect both devices.

First, you will need a coaxial splitter (these should cost less than $3 online, but in stores they’ll likely cost more than $10, so comparison shop if you can), composite cables, and an extra coaxial cable. Don’t bother buying expensive Monster Cables, any set of sturdy cables should do, but try and keep them short. From there, you connect the line from the wall into the side with a single connector, and the other two connectors to the cable box’s and TV’s cable inputs. From there, connect the composite cables to the TV simply by matching the colors.

If you have something that is already using your component connectors, but you still want to use that device sometime, consider buying a switch that will let you swap from one to the other at the touch of a button.

Getting Extreme: Let’s find more signals!

If you want to try pick up additional TV channels (or weak signals) in your area, consider stepping things up. For more detailed information on the transmitters in your area by using TV Fool to get more robust information on what’s in your area, on top of maps, signal propagation profiles, and more information. They will not, however, tell you what equipment you need. For that, you’ll want to pay a visit to the AV Science Forums. The users there tend to be a bit more advanced, and expect you will search first, so follow general forum etiquette before hitting the post button.

RTN “Throwback” Promo

As part of a challenge to get new members involved in RTN, a contest was set up for members to have some experience shooting their own promotions. The resulting video was one that attempted to showcase RTN’s broad range of positions for students to get involved in, while maintaining a level of kitsch. Video after the jump.
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