Category: The Front Line

CES 2010, PART III: Trends and takeaways

In this, my final installment of CES 2010 coverage, I’m going to cut through the pile of press releases and hype and focus on several clear trends that emerged from this years’ show. Some were pretty obvious (3D), others not so obvious (shifting power in the TV marketplace).

3D: Yep, it was everywhere. After about the first 10 demonstrations, I declined the offer of glasses and simply took notes on the manufacturer and products demonstrated. TV manufacturers really, REALLY want 3D in the home to take off in 2010, providing more momentum for  sales in an era of “me too” thin TV styles and falling prices.

Problem is, many consumers just bought their first LCD or plasma HDTV in the past couple of years, and they’re in no hurry to upgrade to 3D-compatible models. While cell phones and other personal electronics turn over every couple of years, there is an expectation that TVs will last a lot longer…probably 10 years at least.

3D is coming, ready or not!

So I see a potential market for 3D converter boxes, just like the ATSC converter boxes of a decade ago. Such boxes will be able to process 3D content into a format that uses the highest-possible refresh rate of the TV, detected through HDMI connections. It may be 120Hz, enabling active shutter 3D. Or, the TV may be limited to segmented or interlaced 3D presentations, using two frames @ 60Hz each for a total frame rate of 30Hz. Will it be the best 3D available? No, but it will suffice to get viewers started.

As for delivery platforms, Blu-ray and DVRs currently have the edge over streaming and broadband downloads. The file sizes are just too large and the bit rates non-sustainable over the typical broadband connection. Downloads to flash memory will also play a big part in the near future of 3D.

NeTVs: Consumers love ‘em, and crave more Internet-connected products. But they want those connections to be wireless, NOT wired. DisplaySearch predicted that there would be upwards to 70 million NeTVs sold by 2012, with a majority of those in Western Europe and North America.

The popularity of using a TV to find Internet video just like TV other channels shows that Microsoft had it exactly backwards in the late 1990s – they wanted you to watch TV on your computer. Why did anyone think that would be a good idea? (Sorry, Bill and Steve, ya can’t win ‘em all…)

The best thing about NeTVs is their relatively low implementation costs for manufacturers. And the growth of widgets and video streaming is amazing! Even Netflix has acknowledged that their future business model will be based on streaming and digital downloads, not optical discs.

Icons and streamig and widgets – oh my!

NeTVs also pose a competitive threat to the cable TV industry’s tru2way initiative.  tru2way is an embedded interactive cable tuner system that will replace CableCARDs. Sounds good, but there’s a little problem: It is based on the traditional cable TV channel model, which is likely on the way out as consumers increasingly will move to broadband video delivery and dump expensive channel tier packages.

On another front, network connections in Blu-ray players will turn out to be the salvation of that format. As I have mentioned before, BD players in Japan are full-blown media hubs, with internal hard drives, BD-RE capability, and coaxial and Ethernet connections. That’s the sort of product that will interest American consumers more than a simple BD player.

Don’t believe me? Look at how many new BD players have WiFi connections and support streaming. LG’s new BD-950 player takes the right approach as it contains a 250GB DVR and Wireless-N connectivity. Assuming the DRM lobbyists and Hollywood lawyers don’t have collective heart attacks; look for more BD player announcements like this during 2010.

The new kids on the block: You only had to glance at the size of the Haier, TCL, and Hisense booths at CES to see that the balance of power in TV manufacturing is changing drastically. These guys had everything the Koreans and Japanese did – Blu-ray players, WiFi connections, NeTVs, 3D demonstrations, widgets, streaming, edge-lit LEDs, wireless HDMI. You name it; they had it on display.

Those reporters and analysts that took the time to visit Vizio’s ballroom suite at the Wynn also saw another impressive demo by a powerful “new kid,” with a full line of LED LCD TVs, a BD player, wireless products, accessories such as headphones with built-in LCD screens, and even prototype MH digital TV receivers.

Look, Ma – no cables!

Even so, Haier one-upped everyone by demonstrating a completely wireless LCD TV in their booth. Based on WiTricity technology developed at MIT, this small LCD TV coupled about 100 watts of energy from a nearby RF-style emitter. Is it ready for the marketplace yet? No, but the idea that someday all connections to a large TV could be wireless is intriguing.

Significantly, this demo wasn’t in Sony’s booth, nor Samsung, nor Panasonic, nor LG. It was in a Chinese TV manufacturer’s booth, and that says a lot. Look for all three companies to significantly boost awareness of their product lines in 2010, and sign deals to sell direct through major brick-and-mortar stores.

Handheld convergence: The days when everyone has a “smart” phone like Apple’s iPhone or Google’s Android are fast closing in on us. These phones will do it all – voice, text, PDA functions, GPS, shoot video and photos, and maybe even receive digital TV through the new MH standard.

A Google rep at the Pepcom Digital Experience show told me that “universal” Android phones (combo GSM and CDMA models) aren’t exactly around the corner. But they’re coming later this year for Verizon customers who can’t use their phones overseas, and for AT&T customers who can’t use their phones at all in many places.

Portable TVs for the 21st Century.

Question: If these phones eventually reach 10 megapixels imaging capability and can also shoot HD video, does the market for stand-alone pocket cameras go away? Pocket video cameras are already a big threat to still cameras – this will just make it worse…

OLEDs: Will they EVER come to market? Seriously, we’ve been seeing OLEDs for years at CES, but you can count the number of OLED-equipped CE products currently offered for sale on the fingers of one hand.

That may change in 2010, as LG Display is poised to rollout commercial 15-inch AM OLED displays into North America and Europe. My feeling is that they would work perfectly with Netbooks and even eBook readers. (Indeed, there is an OLED-based eBook product in the works!). Netbooks are going to repace laptops eventually but would still have a three to four-year life cycle, so they seem to be a natural fit with OLED displays.

They’ll be here any day now…any day…any day…

In the meantime, we’ll se the odd OLED screen here and there, such as in the Aiptek PenCam Trio I wrote about in part II of my CES coverage. Smaller OLED screens are just easier to manufacture right now, and probably more cost-effective for camcorders and digital cameras.

Smart TVs: We’re getting closer to the day when the only universal remote control you’ll need will be your hands. (Or your voice. Or maybe both!) Toshiba’s Cell TV demonstration showed that day isn’t far off, and past CES shows have also featured gesture recognition control by JVC and Hitachi.

Will we see a gesture-recognition TV this year? I believe we will, although it will cost plenty to get to market. But there will surely be early adopters who will pay any price to out one of these in their homes. And Toshiba could use the increased PR boost such a product would create for them, particularly in a cluttered LCD TV marketplace.

It sure beats the Clapper.

CES 2010, Part II: Dead-ends, gems, and trends

The photos have been edited…the press kits downloaded…the flash drives emptied…time for another post-CES writeup!

There were lots of mixed signals at CES this year. On one hand, attendance was way up from 2009’s debacle, and that’s a good thing for the CE industry. On the other hand, many booths were smaller, and the South Hall wasn’t even filled to capacity. There were quite a few ‘rest stops’ to be found in the Central and South halls…booths that were paid for, but never used. And that led to a few ‘dead ends’ as I searched for several ‘missing in action’ exhibitors.

In my Display Daily for January 18, I mentioned some of the more prominent MIAs, notably Sanyo, Pioneer, and Hitachi. A Pioneer representative emailed me after the show that…“our home entertainment group decided not to exhibit at CES this year in order to reduce costs and make the most efficient use of their resources for the remainder of the year.  As you noted, our mobile group did exhibit in the North hall…the home division is on track with restructuring efforts announced earlier in 2009, and they’re planning a normal rollout of key product categories in Spring, Summer and Fall 2010.”

How nice to CES to provide this “park” next to the Panasonic booth!

I’m still not sure what happened to Sanyo and Hitachi. The former company is a powerhouse across a wide range of CE products, including digital still and video cameras. And Hitachi was doing some nice cutting-edge work with super-thin LCD TVs, along with combo BD camcorders and motion-recognition TVs.

Instead, their booth spaces were taken over by Chinese CE manufacturers such as Haier and Hisense. You may not have head of these brands before, but you will soon – Haier is already being distributed by small, regional appliance retailers, and Hisense plans a major push into the US market for 2010 with a full line of super-thin LED LCD TVs. They’ve even got a glassless 3D TV solution.

So what were the gems from this year’s show? Here are a dozen products and/or demos I saw that made the trip to Las Vegas well worth the aggravation. (And if you’ve flown to Las Vegas lately on US Airways, you know what I mean by aggravation!)

Samsung’s prototype OLED ID card works with RFID sensors.

Samsung OLED ID card: This technology demonstration took place at the Digital Experience tabletop show. The card has a tiny (about an inch square) OLED embedded in it, next to a conventional photograph. When placed near an RFID sensor, the OLED screen comes to life, showing an animated 360-degree view of the person. It rotates twice, and then zooms in to a tight headshot (below the hairline to the chin). Remove the RFID reader, and the screen goes blank. It’s powered by a super-thin lithium ion battery.

It looks like they’re mating…

Luftco wireless USB file transfer: Got a file on one flash drive you need to copy to another? Piece of cake! Simply use two of Luftco’s wireless (Bluetooth) USB flash memory sticks. Place them side; turn both on, and after they sync up, the file is automatically copied to the empty drive. Look ma, no laptop!

That’s actually a 3D globe, loaded with content and menu windows.

Toshiba Cell 3D TV demo: I’ve seen this before at CES in a less-refined presentation. This year, Toshiba really dressed it up, and added active shutter 3D content on top of everything. The Cell processor is powerful enough to process up to 8 streams of HD programming while simultaneously handling the complex x,y,z vectors of hand gestures. Will we see this on a commercial TV model by end of this year? I believe we will.

You want wide? Vizio’s got w-i-d-e.

Vizio 21:9 (2.35:1) LCD TV: Most of you readers have probably heard about Philips’ CinemaScope LCD TV. Prototypes were shown last spring, but this is the first I’ve heard of a manufacturer bringing it to the marketplace. It’s a niche product to be sure, but the size (56 inches) and resolution (2560×1080 pixels) will no doubt attract plenty of early adopters. No firm pricing has been announced just yet.

I thought we were supposed to be watching HDTV on these things, not YouTube!

IDT StreamClean video processor: Now that we’re all running out and buying big screen plasma and LCD TVs, what are we watching on them? YouTube, Hulu, and a host of other low-rez, crappy video signals. Those look bad enough on a desktop monitor, but on a 55-inch 1080p LCD TV? Fortunately, IDT (among others) is working on a host of ASICs to clean up compression and scaling artifacts. While they don’t exactly turn chicken turds into chicken salad, they work better than I expected.

A projector with an antenna connector? You betcha!

Desonic HomeBoy LED LCoS projector: Wow – it didn’t take long for LED projectors to go mainstream. Desonic is another one of the Chinese manufacturers that swamped CES this year. Their booth in the South Hall featured a few clever projector designs, but this is the first one I’ve ever seen with a built-in ATSC tuner. Not sure how functional that is, but Desonic gets extra credit for thinking out of the box. The HomeBoy is rated at 100 lumens and has a native resolution of 800×600 pixels.

How much smaller can they make these things? (And not, it’s NOT 3D…)

Aiptek PenCam Trio HD: This is a super-slim 1280×720 HD pen camera that can also shoot 5 MP photos. It comes with 4 GB of flash memory (records 100 minutes of H.264 video) and is equipped with a mini HDMI port for connection to a larger TV. The viewing screen is tiny – only 1.1 inches – but it’s an AM OLED screen! Cool all around, and it comes in five different colors.

More eye candy from the LG Displays suite.

LG Display suite: It doesn’t matter what LGD shows every year, ALL of it is cool. Located at the Bellagio this year, I was once again greeted by old friend Bruce Berkoff and Stacey Voorhees, and they proceeded to show me several 3D demos, a wall of 15-inch OLEDs, and a new 72-inch LCD glass cut from LGD that also showed up in the LG booth and Vizio’s suite at the Wynn as finished TV products.

A 3D camcorder for only twenty-one grand? Such a deal!

Panasonic 3D plasma demos and consumer 3D camcorder: The folks from Osaka are jumping into 3D in a big way, and their active-shutter demos of Olympics footage were top-notch. In fact, almost half the booth space was devoted to 3D – wireless, DirecTV, and a prototype $21,000 camcorder that is being ‘built to order.’ Look for it at the 2010 HPA Technology Retreat in a few weeks.

An LED, a laser, and a color wheel – voila! A “green” projector!

Casio Green Slim projector: Casio’s answer to eliminating mercury-filled projection lamps almost reads like a Rube Goldberg design (note to younger readers – Google his name, it’s well worth the read!). Their latest projector design uses a red LED, a blue laser, and a spinning color wheel with green phosphors on it to derive a full RGB palette. The red LED illuminates a DMD directly, while some of the energy from the blue laser splits off and ‘tickles’ the green phosphor. Both WXGA and XGA resolutions are available, and amazingly, they start at $800!

You’ve got to see it in 3LCD LED color. (Sorry, Epson!)

Samsung F10M LED 3LCD projector: This XGA-resolution desktop projector uses three discrete light-emitting diodes instead of a short-arc lamp, and brightness is specified at 1,000 lumens. Up until now, all of the LED projectors I’ve seen at this brightness level have used DLP technology. Guess what? 3LCD imaging works just as well with LEDs. Look for other 3LCD manufacturers to follow suit in 2010.

(Later this week: My final CES post-show wrap-up.)

CES 2010 – Part I: Big crowds, smaller booths, 3D, MIAs…

CES 2010 rebounded nicely from last year’s lightly-attended show. But there weren’t as many surprises this year.

First off, 3D was everywhere. You couldn’t hide from it. I estimate I saw at least 20 demos of 3D over two days, and toards the end I simply declined the active or passive glasses and just took notes on the manufacturer and the projector or TV on display. 3D is like the wild west right now – everyone’s advancing their own “solution” and there aren’t any standards for home delivery just yet. (Where’s a sheriff when you need one?) Some of the more ballyhooed demos were actually disappointing, like JVC’s 4K 3D demo that used passive glasses. Yes, the images had lots of detail. Yes, they were larger than life. But they also exhibited too much crosstalk for my liking. (Crosstalk in 3D appears as unwanted ghost images in your glasses and is actually left or right eye information showing up in the wrong eye.) My preference was for the active shutter demos – they were cleaner and a better representation of 3D.

Secondly, more and more companies are jumping on the NeTV bandwagon. In addition to new Widget alliances and an entire App Store that Samsung announced, I saw numerous demonstrations of image processing for cleaning up Internet video to be shown on large screens. IDT’s suite at the Wynn had some particularly effective processing for not only YouTube videos, but movies downloaded to iPods as well. Those of you who own large LCD and plasma TVs know exactly how bad Internet video looks on a 1080p screen. These processors don’t make it look substantially better, but they do clean it up enough to be tolerable. This movement towards broadband delivery of video content is exactly why CE companies are asking the FCC why it is that digital TV stations really need all of the channels currently allocated to broadcasters.

One good answer is mobile handheld digital TV, or MH. There was an entire MH pavilion this year in the Central Hall, loaded with exhibits of integrated MH cell phones, MH receivers inside portable DVD players, and USB plug-in MH receiver sticks.  Participants included LG, Samsung, Movee, and the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC),  among others. Combined with a primary HD program stream, MH could be a real game-changer for broadcast television. Add in custom widgets from local TV stations to appear on NeTVs, and voila – broadcasting has re-invented itself.

Yet another trend was green displays, from pocket LED projectors to LED-backlit LCD TVs. Even Panasonic got into the game with a demonstration of 25% to 30% reductions in energy usage on their latest line of plasma TVs. LED baklights are rapidly replacing cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) commonly used in LCD TVs. My prediction is that LEDs will be the dominant backlight technology within two years across all sizes of LCD TVs – they contain no mercury (although they do contain gallium, a rare metal) and enable much better color control and local area dimming. In the projector world, Samsung showed an LED-powered 3LCD model that was rated at over 1000 lumens, while Casio featured a hybrid red diode – blue laser – green phosphor color wheel design in an ultra-slim $800 XGA DLP chassis!

I was quite impressed with the size of the booths staged by Chinese TV manufacturers TCL, Haier, and HiSense. TCL manufactures the RCA line of LCD TVs, while HiSense is planning to launcha full line of TVs and related products this year, under its own name. That includes 240Hz Tvs, 3D models, and Blu-ray players.These are major players, and wil give the Japanese and Korean manufacturers a run for their money.

Missing in action? Pioneer’s AV receivers and BD players (they opted to skip the show to “conserve resources”), Hitachi’s LCD TVs and camcorders (no public explanation why), and Sanyo’s line of camcorders, cameras, and projectors (again, no official word on why they passed up the show).  Those are three substantial, heavyweight players in the CE marketplace!

Well, back to work. Look for more detailed coverage next week, this time with photos. (Boy, it takes a LONG time to download and edit 750 images…)

Welcome to the 21st Century

OK, so I’m a little late – by ten years.

But better late than never, I always say. And with that, I want to welcome you to HDTVexpert.com 2.0 – a new, updated, and slimmed-down version of the original site, launched way back in November of 2004.

This new look has been in the works for several months. And it’s very much a work in progress. But it will allow me to provide more frequent updates, news stories, and analysis of trends and trade shows – something that was not as easy to do with the previous version of HDTVexpert.com.

You’ll find the same insightful and opinionated coverage as before, in the “Front Line” blog. I’ll also feature selected reviews of significant and groundbreaking products – no more “me, too!” reviews of products you can just as easily find elsewhere on the Internet.

The popular “Catch Pete At” and “HDTV Tech Talk” sections have also been retained. Look for useful tutorials on a wide range of subjects near and dear to the world of HDTV, such as IPTV, broadband television, digital video downloads, storage media, and alternative delivery methods.

The analog TV shutdown is now history. As a result, I won’t be posting as many stories about antennas and DTV reception, although both are still very important topics. I will keep reviews of appropriate DTV reception products posted as long as there is still interest in them.

Because of time and space limitations, the new layout won’t have a Letters section for now. However, feel free to send any questions or comments you may have to me at pete@hdtvexpert.com. I’ll compile them from time to time in my Front Line section.

If you are looking for an archived article and review from the past couple of years, I’ll be glad to send it to you as a PDF file – just ask.

I’d also like to take a moment to remember Chris Campbell of CC Graphic Design, who was taken from us suddenly this past December at age 50. Chris developed my first Web site back in 2000 and was responsible for the clean look and easy reads of HDTVexpert.com. We worked together for nearly 20 years and he will be greatly missed.

In closing, I want to say thanks for your continue support. My advertisers appreciate your interest, too! Please continue to patronize their products and Web sites, for it’s their support that keeps HDTVexpert.com going!

Pete Putman
Editor/Publisher

Classic Pete: Up On The Roof…Once Again

Three DTV antenna installations in two weeks — just another “day at the office?” Not for two of the homeowners involved, who are enjoying more free HDTV channels now.

It’s been a while since I got up on a roof with my tools and wired up an antenna system. With a whirlwind Panasonic dealer tour taking up most of my time in October (along with thousands of miles logged on United and US Airways), it was a nice break to put aside the computer and Powerpoint presentations, strap on my tool belt, and work with my hands.

As it turned out, I upgraded two systems and built a brand-new system for the third location. Off-the-shelf antennas and preamplifiers were used in each case, along with existing DTV sets and set-top boxes. Propagation tests and TVFool.com plots were used along with a Sencore SA1501 portable spectrum analyzer to align the antennas and verify reception at each location.

FIRST STOP: WALL TOWNSHIP, N.J.

I had previously set up this location a few years back to receive as many of the New York City DTV stations as I could. Back then, all of them were transmitting on UHF channels, but the combined antenna owned by CBS and mounted on the NW side of the Empire State Building still had pattern problems.

In particular, WNBC-28 was getting out horribly with a pattern that looked more like broken glass than a semi-circular shape. The pattern was so bad that I couldn’t even receive the station reliably when sitting on top of the Ramapo Mountains in NW New Jersey, looking directly at Empire with a Channel Master 4308 UHF yagi.

Following the analog shutdown on June 12, three NYC stations gave up their UHF assignments and moved back to highband VHF channels. WABC vacated channel 45 and returned to VHF-7, while WPIX turned UHF-33 over to WCBS and went back to VHF-11. WNET completed the trifecta by bailing out of UHF 61 (now out of the DTV core) and resuming transmissions on VHF-13.

Why didn’t WWOR move back to channel 9? Asleep at the switch, I’m afraid. WBPH in Allentown, who had been assigned UHF-60 originally, moved their operation to channel 9 and decided to stay put when the final channel elections were conducted. So, WWOR was forced to stay on UHF-38, carrying their own programs on minor channel #1 and duplicating WNYW’s telecast on minor channel #2. (The story behind that arrangement, along with WNYW simulcasting WWOR on 5-2, is best left for a future column.)


Figure 1. The “old” antenna setup (since June 2009) for VHF/UHF reception in Wall, NJ.

The original antenna setup (Figure 1) was a modified CM4308 driving a CM 7775 Titan 2 mast-mount preamp, fastened to a chimney atop a one-story house barricaded immediately to the north by tall trees. The location, just west of NJ Route 18, sits about 39 miles from Empire “as the photon flies” and was a good candidate for strong highband VHF reception, too.

The problem: The owner had originally replaced the CM4308 with a Channel Master 2016 and CM 7777 dual-band preamp at my suggestion to pull in 7, 11, and 13, but no luck. Channels 28 and 33 were solid, while WNYW-44 was in and out. Not good if you are a New York Giants fan and want to watch NFC games on Fox! Figure 2a shows the weak VHF signals on those channels using the original antenna setup, while figure 2b reveals that WNYW, while presenting with a clean waveform, has just barely enough carrier-to-noise to lock up reliably.

The fix: I ordered an Antennacraft Y5-7-13 five-element highband VHF yagi ($26.99 plus shipping) to replace the single angled half-wave dipole element on the CM2016, and set the internal combining switch on the CM 7777 preamp to separate VHF and UHF inputs. Out came the original CM4308 and it went atop a newer, taller mast (Figure 3).


Figure 2a. Highband VHF signals were weak through the CM2016.


Figure 2b. WNYW-44 was intermittent.

After careful aiming with the SA1501, it became apparent that, while the optimum heading for the VHF yagi was true to the TVFool prediction, the optimum heading for the CM4308 was about 5 degrees farther east to clean up the pattern from WNYW-44.

Figure 4a shows the improvements to channels 7, 11, and 13, adding NJ Public TV station WNJB-8 to the mix, while figure 4b shows UHF channels 25 through 40 all booming in. A stronger, dropout-free 8VSB waveform from WNYW-44 is seen in Figure 4c. (That’s WNJT-43 off the side of the antenna.)

Now, the homeowner has reliable reception of all major network channels, even in high winds (which we experienced that day) using a DirecTV set-top receiver with ATSC tuner. That means was able to see the NY Giants get their butts kicked on successive weekends by the Cardinals and Eagles! (Be careful what you wish for…)

Note that, as of this writing, Channel Master has discontinued the CM4308 from its catalog. Not to worry! You can use a CM2016 in its place — just don’t connect the single dipole VHF element, although you should fold it out into its normal position.


Figure 3. The new split-stack UHF/VHF array, showing the offset for UHF reception.


Figure 4a-b-c. Now, channels 7 through 13 are solid (left), while UHF stations are slightly stronger (center) and WNYW-44 has lots more headroom (right).

SECOND STOP: HOME SWEET HOME

Not many people come home from church services at noontime on a sunny, warm day and say, “Gee, I think I’ll go up on the roof and change out my antenna system!” But I’m a bit strange that way. My wife asked me if she should stick around to help out while I was up there, but I assured her I was perfectly capable of falling off a roof by myself with no additional help. (Black humor…)

Turns out, I ordered two of the Antennacraft Y5-7-13s, which (for some strange reason) they insist on shipping FedEx Green with signature required. Apparently, theft of TV antennas from front porches is a problem in some parts of the country?

Last December, I had replaced my old setup with a pair of CM 2016s, stacked and offset on a rotatable mast. The offset was designed so that when the bottom antenna was aimed towards Philadelphia, the top antenna was aimed towards New York City (60+ miles away, over two ranges of hills).

The problem: As things turned out, I rarely need to move the Philly antenna, but I did rotate the top CM2016 frequently to pick up stations as far away as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (70+ miles, also over two ridges). Alas, after 6/12/09, I lost WABC, WPIX, and WNET completely as they moved back to the VHF band. As I discovered at the previous location, the CM2016s weren’t up to the job of pulling in these stations, even though they did snag WBRE-11 and WYOU-13 from Scranton — pretty impressive for a single half-wave dipole!

Figure 5. My lower, fixed CM2016, aimed permanently towards the Roxborough (Philadelphia) antenna farm.

Figure 6. The new UHF/VHF stack, aimed towards New York. Told you it was a beautiful day for antenna work!

The fix: This was a three-art solution. First, I removed the lower CM2016 and fastened it to the rotor support, permanently aimed SSW towards Roxborough, about 22 miles away as seen in figure 5. It feeds the combined input of a CM 7777 preamp, necessary because I split the signal several times to distribute it through the house.

Next, I re-installed another CM4308 atop the mast and Y5-7-13 below it, both feeding another CM 7777 preamp in split-input mode. This array would become my “DX” antenna (figure 6), although I anticipated leaving it aimed towards New York most of the time.

Results were encouraging, although not perfect. Figure 7a shows the RF spectrum from channels 7 through 13 before the upgrade, while figure 7b shows the same channels afterwards. Not a substantial difference to be sure, except that the antenna is now more selective and I gained some C/N headroom on channel 7. WPIX-11 and WNET-13 are largely unchanged, which would imply that I had some enhanced propagation when I took the original measurements back in late June of 2009.

Reception of all three VHF channels continues to be problematic, although each has gotten much stronger. Channels 11 and 13 in Scranton are no doubt causing co-channel interference problems, so I may never get that resolved. As for WABC-7, I don’t think the station is running enough power for highband VHF operation — another 3 or even 6 dB would seem to be in order.

Figures 7a-b. Channels 7 through 13 as received on the old CM2016 (left) and the new Y5-7-13 (right).

Figure 8. There’s lots of RF coming in from New York on the low UHF band!

On UHF, signals just barrel in, as seen in figure 8. WNBC-28, WCBS-33, WWOR-38, and WXTV-40 are all strong, 24/7. Unfortunately, WNYW-44 can’t get through because of co-channel interference from WMCN-44 in south Jersey (no NY Giants NFC games…sigh…), while WPXN-31 just isn’t strong enough to peek through.

Supposedly, an upgrade to the combined VHF antenna atop Empire is in the works for 2010, according to sources in the industry. Maybe that will change things for the better!

LAST STOP: SAUGERTIES, N.Y.

My last trip was up to the foothills of the Catskills on a rainy, foggy early morning. My goal? Install VHF and UHF antennas for reception of Albany and Schenectady DTV stations, allowing the homeowner (my youngest brother) to “cut the cord” and drop expensive cable TV channel packages while retaining broadband service from Time Warner.

The problem: This location, on the side of a hill and about 35 miles from the Helderberg Mountain antenna farms over a 1-edge path, didn’t look to be particularly difficult. (Figure 9) I had run some UHF DTV reception tests at this location a few years back with encouraging results. At the time, most of the Albany DTV stations were on UHF, with a couple plugging away on highband VHF. Post-transition, I’d need to pull in WRGB-6, WXXA-7, WNYT-12, WNYA-13, WTEN-26, WMHT-34, and WCWN-43 at the least.

Figure 9. The Saugerties location had a nice, nearly flat roof to work on.

Figure 10. Here’s the final UHF/VHF stack with the CS600 on the bottom.

The fix: Because the Albany market has a lowband VHF DTV operation (WRGB-6), I ordered Antennacraft’s CS600 dual-band yagi ($34.72 + shipping), the same antenna that is currently sitting about a foot off the ground at the “fringe” SW Vermont location I wrote about this past August.

UHF reception would be taken care of by yet another CM 4308, sitting a few feet above the CS600 on the stack. (Figure 10) A quick test with my spectrum analyzer showed that it didn’t much matter where I mounted the antenna on the roof — I’d have plenty of signal to work with, except from WNYA-13. This channel exhibited low signal levels no matter where I spotted the mast.

(Subsequent email chats with one Albany DTV engineer revealed that the WNYA-13 DTV antenna system does not get out as well as other stations and is side-mounted on the old WRGB analog channel 6 tower — PP)

Each antenna drove the separate inputs of a CM 7777 mast-mounted preamp (gotta love it!), which in turn was scheduled to go into an existing eight-way splitter from the original cable TV distribution system. As it turned out, only four of the taps on the splitter actually led to any TVs or wall-mounted jacks, so I swapped it out for a more reasonable four-way split arrangement.

Figure 11a-b-c. WRGB-6 is super strong (left), while WXXA-7 (center) and WNYT-12 and WNYA-13 (right) are sufficiently powered up.

Figures 12a-b-c. WTEN-26 (left) is another monster signal out of Albany, while WMHT-34 (center) and WCWN-43 (right) are “merely” strong enough!

Figure 11a shows the unbelievably strong signal from WRGB-6, boosted shortly after 6/12 to overcome possible interference from those adjacent FM broadcast stations and also to fill in holes in signal coverage. Figure 11b shows WXXA-7; while figure 11c lets you clearly see the power disadvantage of WNYA-13 (right) compared to WNYT-12 (left).

As for UHF, you can see the strong signal from WTEN-26 in figure 12a (that’s WTBY-27 to its right, many miles SE of my location), with WMHT-34 and WCWN-43 visible in figures 12b and 12c, respectively. WYPX (ION) from Amsterdam just wasn’t strong enough to lock up on either of the Digital Stream DTV converter boxes I installed in the house — too far away.

Oddly enough, WNYA-13 will only come through on two of the three active RF feeds in the house, even though a test of signal levels showed all three to be about the same. Switching converter boxes out didn’t make any difference, so there may be a problem in one of the coaxial lines I’ll have to ring out on a future visit. In the meantime, the system was up and running in time for us to watch Game 3 of the World Series…even if it was downconverted digital TV of an old Philips CRT set.

Tech notes: Antennacraft yagis are designed with square booms and cannot use conventional round boom hardware that is common to Channel Master yagis. You will get a hardware bag with the antenna — don’t lose it! Also, you will need to purchase a balun transformer separately to make your coaxial feed, as Antennacraft doesn’t provide baluns or weatherproof boots with their yagis.

Figure 13. Here’s one way to attach a round balun to a square boom. (Sounds like one of those mental puzzles from my childhood…)

Figure 13 shows a Channel Master balun attached to a Y5-7-13 and secured with tape. It’s a good idea to form the balanced wire connections into drip loops and mount the balun underneath the antenna. Also, add a drip loop to the coax feed before it attaches to and travels down the mast.