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Reception Warms for Antennas

Television: The humble device maintains a foothold in the high-tech world of home entertainment.

January 10, 1998|JOHN MORELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Take a good look at the rooftops in your neighborhood and you'll notice a significant difference from the way things looked a decade ago.

Most roofs today are antenna-less.

Unfortunately for birds that liked to perch on them, TV antennas have gone the way of the gas lamp and the eight-track player.

"In a lot of our newer, planned communities, you would be in violation [of CCRs] if you put up an antenna," says Wayne Smith of Clear View Antenna Systems in Irvine. "You've either got to put them in your attic or hook up to cable to get TV reception."

Encroaching cable and satellite systems, which offer a wide range of channels and better reception, have made the low-tech antenna history. . . . or at least they've tried.

But some things never change.

"I get calls every month from people who want a TV antenna," says Bob Kolt, an electronics repairman in Yorba Linda. "You're more limited as to where you can install them, but you can still get them, and they work just fine."

Why in this burgeoning Information Age, where one can access countless channels, would someone choose a rudimentary system that only brings in the locals, channels 2 through 13 plus UHF?

"I had one customer who had cable and was paying $50 a month for the deluxe package, all the movie channels," Kolt says. "But she traveled a lot on business and realized that when she was home, she just watched the major networks. So we got her hooked up with a good antenna system, and she's happy and saving $600 a year."

People on fixed incomes and others who decide they can easily live without Home Shopping Network and the Golf Channel are among just some who have chosen to go the low-tech route.

"The small-dish satellite systems are becoming very popular nowadays," says Jim Hyle of R&D Electronics in Anaheim. "But these won't bring in local stations for you. You'll need to either install an old-fashioned antenna system or hook up to basic cable for those local stations. But getting rid of cable was why many people chose to go with a dish in the first place."

Mike McCoy of Fountain Valley chose the satellite-and-antenna route. "I wanted more options, which is why we got a satellite dish, but I didn't want to continue to pay for cable as well," he says.

He used an existing antenna. "The TV antenna is on the roof in the back of our two-story home. It was left by a previous owner. It's hard to see. I didn't even know it was there until a neighbor pointed it out to me," he says.

An attic installation is the most aesthetic choice. "You might lose about 10% of your reception by putting it in the attic rather than on the roof, but it's the best place for an antenna overall," Hyle says. "With an outdoor installation, the antenna will weather faster, and you could end up losing 30% of your reception after a few years."

A problem with attic installations can appear when a new roof is installed. "Many of the newer fake shake roofs have aluminum or other metals in them, and these will completely shut off the antenna from picking up a signal," Smith says.

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People who live in apartments or condominiums without attics have antenna options as well. "They can set up an antenna in a closet or even under a bed," Hyle says. "The TV signal is coming from miles away; it's not much of a stretch for it to go through a wall."

A standard high-tech TV produces an excellent picture from an antenna feed, experts say. "The high-gain input from the newer sets will create a beautiful picture from an antenna hookup," Hyle says. "They're accustomed to working with multiple TV systems in which the cable signal is weakened by using splitters. When you hook it up directly to an antenna, you're going to get amazing results.

"A new TV doesn't know where the source of the signal is from; it just takes it and creates the best picture it can," he says.

The modern antenna hasn't changed much from the angular stick-poles that used to protrude from every roof. "The materials and the principles are still there, but there have been a few improvements," says Gene Hankins of Action Electronics in Santa Ana.

Antennas are commonly made of aluminum, and each element, or arm, is designed to pick up a particular signal. "The longer elements are used to pick up the lower channels, such as 2, 4 and 5. The shortest ones get the higher channels, like 50 and 52. The pieces work together like a telescope to bring in TV signals," Hyle says.

The biggest change in today's antenna is the use of coaxial cable to connect it to the TV. "The old, flat leads tended to crack and crystallize over time, especially on rooftop installations," Smith says. "Cable is better insulated, and it's easier to install."

When antenna shopping, the general rule of thumb is: The more elements on it and the higher up you install it, the better the signal, Hankins says.

Prices range from about $20 for a small kit to $130 or more for a deluxe system. Installation can start about $75.

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