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OTA DTv

Over the Air Digital TV
and How to Get it
OTA DTv

How It Works | Digital Televisions | Antennas | Site Calculators

Get free TV with just an antenna. Pickup major networks, local stations, and a growing number of entertainment channels. Over 100 TV channels are available near large cities, over 70 channels near mid size cities, and over 30 channels near small cities. The number of Over the Air networks keeps on growing.

How Over-the-Air TV Works
Typical Tower Map

A TV station will typically transmit a 3 to 1000 kilowatt (kW) signal over the air (OTA) from a broadcast tower. The station's broadcast tower antenna is typically mounted 300 to 2000 feet above the ground. Coverage range, varies with broadcast antenna height and power, from around 30 miles or more for low power stations, to over 80 miles for full power stations. Broadcast towers are often concentrated within a 10 mile radius near or in a city.

A broadcast station will transmit on an FCC licensed RF channel in either the VHF or UHF Frequency Band. Most broadcast are in the UHF band (more available RF channels). Each RF channel contains 1 to 18 TV channels (networks).

OTA
RF
kW
FCC
-
-
-
-
Over-the-Air
Radio Frequency
kilowatts (1000 watts)
Federal Communication Commission

BROADCAST TOWER
TV Broadcast Tower
OTA DTv - is FREE
You need - an Antenna
- a Digital Television
- or tuner / viewing device
Get - Major Networks
- Local TV Stations
- Entertainment Channels
Resolution - Ultra High Definition (UHD /4k TV)
- High Definition (HD)
- Standard Definition (SD)
Audio - Multi Channel Surround Sound
- Stereo
- Mono
Data - Program Guide
- TV Channel, Callsign, Network
- Closed Caption (CC)

Most HD Broadcast TV channels are in High Definition (HD) or Standard Definition (SD). A few stations broadcast an Ultra High Definition (UHD) signal, a 4k UHD television is needed to decode the signal. A few of the UHD broadcast have TV channels that are encrypted. Most stations that broadcast a UHD signal also simulcast an HD signal on a different RF Channel and usually from a different tower.

In 2022 there were 82 cities (37 States) with 1 or more UHD broadcast stations. UHD stations totaled 113 broadcast RF channels and 388 TV channels. Small compared to 500 market cities, over 7500 stations, and tens of thousands of TV channels. In the first month of 2023 the number of UHD stations dropped to 110 RF channels.

Digital Televisions
connector

Most Digital Televisions can receive over-the-air broadcast and will have a digital ATSC tuner. The television will also have a coax connector labeled "RF In" or "Antenna".

-------- HD Televisions --------
ATSC 1.0 Tuner.
• HD Broadcast Signals.
• Can't receive UHD broadcast.
------ 4k UHD Televisions ------
ATSC 3.0 Tuner.
• UHD and HD Broadcast.
• Optional Internet connection.


SD
HD
UHD
RESOLUTIONs
-- Standard Definition
-- High Definition
-- Ultra High Definition (4k)
PIXELS / INCH
480
720 or 1080
2160

Also see Digital Televisions.

4k UHD (NextGen) TELEVISIONS
UHD TV's can use an optional Internet connection for streaming additional content and video while watching a UHD broadcast. The televisions are also setup to stream TV programs on the Internet. This allows broadcasters to know what you're watching and when.

Ultra High Definition (ATSC 3.0) has 2 to 3 times higher resolution compared to High Definition. It also has enhanced audio and better reception. A 4k TV with a screen size less than about 40 inches diagonal will not see much if any difference between a UHD and HD picture.

RECEPTION
All Digital TV's receive a perfect picture or no picture. There is virtually no or very little in between for weak signals. A signal that is weak but above the TV minimum has the same picture as a strong signal. Signal power just below the televisions minimum the picture starts to pixilate, and quickly gets worse as the signal decreases. Just a few decibels (dB's) below the minimum the picture disappears. See TV Minimum Signal page.

DIGITAL TUNERS and CONVERTERS
Set Top Digital Tuners are available to connect to your computer / network, or monitor. Analog TV's need a Digital to Analog Converter to receive OTA broadcast. See Tuners and Converters.

Test Pattern

COMPARED TO CABLE
Picture resolution is as good as or better than cable or satellite TV. Cable and satellite operators often compress local channels before re-broadcasting. The compression reduces picture quality. Compressing signals opens up more bandwidth and allows providers to squeeze in more channels nobody watches.

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DTv Channels
63-5
Network
RF 36
Over Air
TV and RF Channels

The early Analog TV stations (1947 to 2009) used their FCC license RF Channel number as their Station TV channel. One TV channel per RF channel. Digital broadcast can contain multiple TV channels in one RF channel and use 2 numbers for TV channel (Station channel - Sub channel (network)), and another number for broadcast RF channel.

Over the Air TV has 2 types of channels, displayed channel and broadcast channel.

TV Channel Displayed
63-2
Main Channel - Sub Channel
-- MAIN: Station Channel
-- SUB : 1 to 18 (Networks)
• Also called Virtual Channel
RF Channel
36
Broadcast Channel
- FCC allocates RF 2 to 51
• HD or UHD broadcast signal
• Carries multiple sub channels

TV CHANNEL
The TV channel Main number may or may not (probably not) be the same as the RF channel number. During the transition from analog to digital most stations changed their RF channel but kept their old analog channel number as their station TV channel.

RF CHANNEL
A VHF antenna is needed to get RF channels 2 to 13. A UHF antenna is needed to get RF channels 14 and above. See TV Frequency Bands below.

Antennas

FREQUENCY BANDS
TV broadcast are in the VHF and UHF frequency bands. Virtually all home antennas are designed to receive UHF signals. Most TV broadcast are in the larger UHF band. Many antennas get both UHF and VHF signals, 2 antennas are built into one assembly. In some cases a UHF antenna will receive a VHF signal at reduced power, but still strong enough for reception. Also see TV Broadcast Frequencies.

TV Frequency Bands
Band RF Ch's Frequency
VHF 02 - 13 54 - 216 MHz
UHF 14 - 51 470 - 698 MHz
VHF-Lo
VHF-Hi
RF 2 - 6,
RF 7-13,
54 - 88 MHz
174-216 MHz

ANTENNA RANGE
Your location (from towers) and antenna are the main factors that determine the broadcast tower range you can get a signal. The larger the antenna the more signal captured (gain). The higher the antenna is mounted the greater the signal density.

Reception Range
Antenna Range
Indoor 20 - 25 miles
Outdoor
-- attic mount
-- roof mount
30 - 60 miles
60 - 85 miles
Also see;
-- Antennas.
-- How to Get OTA DTv.
Tower Locator

ANTENNA DIRECTION
Your antenna should be pointed in the general direction of the broadcast towers, and have a relatively clear path to the towers. TV signals are Line-of-Sight, large obstructions (hills, buildings, trees) can reduce or block reception.

TV BROADCAST TOWER LOCATOR
Also see;
-- Antenna Installation.
-- Signal Factors.
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OUTDOOR TV ANTENNA RESTRICTIONS PROHIBITED
Installing an outdoor TV antenna cannot be restricted by state or local laws, regulations, condominium restrictions, or cooperative associations. Masts higher than 12 feet above the roofline may be subject to local permitting requirements for safety purposes. See Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule (FCC Website)

FCC Rule 47 C.F.R. Section 1.4000
Prohibits Restrictions that
impair Outdoor TV Antennas
Use,
Installation,
Maintenance.
Applies to;
  • State, Local Laws, Regulations
    -- includes Zoning, Land-Use, Building Regulations
  • Condominium Restrictions
  • Cooperative Association Restrictions
  • Lease Restrictions
    -- drilling holes etc can be restricted.
  • Similar Restrictions

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