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January 29th, 2014 SAVANNAH WASSERMAN | Culture Features
 

Return of the Rabbit

Antennas are back, baby. Here’s what you need to see the Super Bowl in HDTV for free.

culture_4013IMAGE: Bernd / CC
This Sunday, the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will play in Super Bowl XLVIII. We’ve got an old-school master of pocket passing, Peyton Manning, facing the league’s best defense and the Seahawks’ versatile young quarterback, Russell Wilson. Oh, plus all those commercials. And there’s a big halftime show. And Richard Sherman.

Is it any wonder this is the one weekend of the year everyone wants to watch television? Sadly, the game isn’t on Netflix or Hulu, which, for many, means returning to an old friend: the television antenna. Believe it or not, the bunny’s back. As more people dump cable for computers, the number of over-the-air TV households increased from 14 percent to 19.3 percent in the last three years, according to the National Association of Broadcasters.

Even if you do have cable, you might want to watch the game over the air. Cable networks can’t match the pristine picture quality of broadcast HDTV, compressing signals and degrading the quality of Manning’s passes and Beast Mode’s broken tackles. 

Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your over-the-air streaming for the big game.


Aim west.

Portland’s TV transmission towers are on top of Forest Park in the West Hills. TV signals are sent from stations to these towers, which beam them to you. In order to receive the frequencies, your antenna needs to be pointed in the direction of these towers. To find the station antenna you’re looking for—the Super Bowl is on Fox 12 in Portland—go to antennaweb.org, which will show the location of the antenna and which direction you should point your antenna based on your street address.


There is no such thing as a perfect antenna.

There are many different types of antennas, ranging from $20 to $200. Unfortunately, no matter how much you spend, there’s no design that’s ideal everywhere. You’ll probably need to a look at directional antennas, rabbit ears, bow ties and others to figure out which suits your house. That means taking it home, setting it up and messing with it.


Expensive, fancy antennas aren’t necessarily better.

Depending on how close you are to the transmitting towers, spending extra cash on an antenna with amplifiers and fancy features can actually cause problems by overamplifying nearby signals.


You probably don’t need a big, powerful roof-mounted antenna if you live in the city.

Most Portlanders should be able to pick up all of the over-the-air TV stations with a small indoor antenna. If you live in a more challenging environment—for example, on the other side of Mount Tabor—an outdoor antenna designed for rural and mountainous areas might be necessary. The best way to find a good antenna for where you live? Ask neighbors what works for them. Chances are, it’ll also work for you.


Trial and error.

Keep in mind that TV signals and radio frequencies bounce off objects in their paths. If your antenna is pointed in the right direction but isn’t picking up a signal, there may be something in the way. Try every possible direction: It may turn out that pointing it in the opposite direction works better for your location.


Check your TV settings for an antenna signal-strength meter.

Some televisions have meters which show the strength of a signal as you move the antenna around. If your TV has a meter, move your antenna very slowly to play a game of “cool, warmer, warmer, hot.”


Remember, antennas are super-touchy. A few inches make a big difference.

When you’re near or touching your antenna, the reception can change. Point it in a direction, let go and step back, checking the meter. Then move it slightly, step back and repeat. Signals bounce off human bodies, too, so don’t stand too close. And when Wilson throws the game-winning touchdown pass with 19 seconds to play, keep any cheering fans away from the antenna if you want to watch the extra point.


SEE IT: Super Bowl XLVIII is at 3:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 2, on Fox-TV channel 12.

 
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