DIY OTA DTV FTW!!!

Would you believe September 1st, 2011 came and went I wasn’t ready?!

I had thought about what I was going to do when all the TV stations up north here followed their cousins down south and switched exclusively to digital transmissions. But I hadn’t done anything about it. So now was the time because my wife’s backlog of taped summer shows was running out and the fall season was about to start!!!

I looked into the satellite option, but I felt like I would be paying a lot of money for channels that are basically broadcasting for free if I had the right setup.

The setup has become:

A Viore ATB150V Digital-Analog TV Converter Box that I purchased from Walmart while in the USA. There are alternatives available here in Canada, most notably the Access HD 1080D box but I wasn’t able to get my hands on one. I did get my hands on a Homeworx converter box but a piece of carp! It would loose the lock on even the strongest station, when there was sound it was barely audible, it would freeze up in the middle channel changes, basically: it was carp!

A really nice extra with the Viore is the remote is a universal remote so we can control the TV and the DVR with one remote – although you never know which device your controlling until you screw something up!

The next piece of the puzzle is the DVR: a Magnavox MDR515H. This replaces the VCR so no more tapes lying around, getting knocked over and order all screwed up. It’s a single-tuner DVR which means we can only watch what it is recording OR something already recorded while it is recording a channel, but we can’t flip channels while it is recording. This is why we had to have a DVR and a converter box – so we could record one channel and watch another. There are dual-tuner DVR’s available, particularly the Channel Master CM-7000PAL but it doesn’t have the capacity of the Magnavox (500 GB) and it doesn’t have the DVD burner that the Magnavox has.

Something else about the Magnavox that I think I will like is that has a variety of input sources, not just the antenna. There is a composite video input on the back and another in the front along with a digital-video input.

The coax output on the unit is just a pass-through though, so we connect to the TV via composite video (no HDMI on my TV) and pass the antenna signal on to the converter box – that connects to the TV’s antenna in on channel 4.

Finally the antenna!

Inspired by William Ruckman‘s article at Instructables.com I built a fractal antenna with bits left-over from the basement renovations. The base is a PVC single gang wiring box and the actual antenna is made from 14 AWG copper wiring. I had to buy the PVC pipe that I used as a mast (used loosely since it is only 18 inches long) but the rest was stuff I already had and would have probably ended up in the garbage eventually.


The bending of the wire was simple enough, following a template available from William’s site i bent the four receivers of the antenna and joined them together with two smaller pieces of wire. In my case I soldered the wires together, which will hopefully make a better contact and stronger build than screws. I used a lot of tie-wraps in the construction and mounting, mostly because I had a lot lying around but they’re also easy to work with and easy to re-do if you get something wrong.

The cable comes down from the antenna into the basement, where it goes through a Von-der-Nick amplifier and the heads up to the living room where it joins the DVR.

Currently we get as many stations as with the rabbit ears but I want to say they come in much clearer and more consistent. The orientation is in the middle of what tvfool.com identified as our two biggest clusters of transmitters. I’m not sure if it would be better to have two directional antennas, one pointed at each cluster and then merge the signal. We’ll have to see…

Cross-posted on 2FatDads at DIY OTA DTV FTW!!!

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Stop, Drop, and Roll — the Kindle is on Fire!

So the Kindle Fire has been announced, followed by the iPhone 5 – no wait, the 4S, and we’ve got Google, RIM, Nokia and everyone else lining up for their shot at end-of-year/pre-shopping killer announcements.

Of course the iPhone 5iPhone 4S killed them all, but that’s not surprising and hardly worth debating. Nothing to talk about there. I mean it was a coin-toss any ways, it’ll either be the “4S” or the “5” so you had a 50/50 chance of getting it right.

The real fun is in the Android camp, much more fertile ground for rumours and wild speculation and spectacular changes! Unless you’re the morbid type and like to watch a dying turtle spinning around on it’s back desperately trying to flip-over and catch-up to the hare(s), in that case head over to RIM or Nokia.

Now I’ve been saying this all along:

Why is a 10.1″ tablet two to three times as expensive as a 10.1″ netbook!?

When HP axed the TouchPad and began selling off stock for $99 they created a sensation that rivalled the iPad’s!!! People were lining up to buy a TouchPad, over night!!! Now the TouchPad is good hardware, and WebOS is a great platform, but it’s not an iPad so you can’t sell it like an iPad. You can’t charge $600 and only provide some of the iPad experience.

Hopefully the other tablet pedlars saw what was happening. I know one did: RIM (believe it or not) because you can now buy a Playbook for a mere $300 (that “mere” was sarcasm, $99 would be a more appropriate price). And perhaps Toshiba did too because you can get a 10.1″ Thrive for $380 (still a bit much, but certainly no where near $600).

Now whether Amazon learned from HP’s experience or if they had already figured it out I don’t know, but they’ve done two things right:

  1. Price for Kindle Fire: $200 – not $600; and
  2. Experience: you get the Kindle Fire experience – not some nebulous Android experience with a cutesy/buggy UI layer on top.

And $200 is not a cheap tablet. Admittedly an analyst said this (and people don’t seem to like analysts these days) but apparently Amazon is making a pretty decent margin on the Fire, around 25%!!! The article is at Light Read Mobile and contains a breakdown of components and a comparison to other tablets.

The other manufacturers had better learn fast. And Google had better throw some weight around. Amazon doesn’t need Android, they’re not selling Android, they’re selling Amazon & the Kindle all bundled up in a neat package called the Fire.

But Android needs Amazon, or something like it.

Amazon is not about to invite anyone else to join them at their own private trough – the combination of low price and great content is what is going to bring people to the Fire (and a hopefully upcoming 10″ tablet) so Amazon would be crazy to share their strategy with the competition!

Google has to do a better job a selling the Google experience. Of course the manufacturers won’t like this – they want you to buy HTC or Motorola or Samsung, not Google. But I’ve said this before too:

No one is going to beat Apple going head-on! But by combining their forces (behind Android) they can stay ahead.
If you make your money selling devices (like HTC, Motorola, et al.) then leave the experience part to someone else (Google).

Cross-posted on 2FatDads at Stop, Drop, and Roll — the Kindle is on Fire!