All Australians should generally be able to receive free-to-air television, either terrestrially or via satellite (if terrestrial coverage is not available), provided they have the correct receiving equipment. TV broadcasters provide this service, with support from the Australian Government.
The most common cause of poor TV reception is that thing on the roof—your antenna. An antenna that’s poorly maintained, broken or incorrectly installed is likely to be behind your reception problems.
Following the recent switchover to digital TV and the consequent retune (check out http://retune.digitalready.gov.au for more information), now’s a good time to check if your antenna system is in the right shape and form, especially if it’s been exposed to harsh weather over a long period. Digital TV means a host of new channels should be available in your area, so make sure your antenna isn’t coming between you and good reception!
If you have the right equipment—what’s technically called an ‘optimised television receiving installation’—you’ll be much less susceptible to reception problems.
A number of elements are important when assessing your antenna system, including:
- Where you live—this determines signal coverage and frequencies.
- What equipment you have—the simpler, the better! You need a good single antenna, a good cable and a fly lead.
- How it’s installed—your antenna should be outdoors, pointing towards the right TV tower and correctly ‘polarised’.
- How it’s maintained—make sure your antenna isn’t rusty or broken, and has no missing elements.
Location, location, location
Australians live in many different geographic locations, ranging from large coastal cities to isolated outback areas. The TV signal coverage you can receive depends on where you live. Some areas are on the edge of coverage limits, so if you live in one of these places it’s even more important to have your antenna system fully optimised. If you live outside the terrestrial television coverage, you can still receive a full set of digital channels via satellite (check out our information on the VAST service).
Following the recent switchover and retune, digital TV services are grouped into frequency blocks. These are location-specific frequencies, so where you live also affects which frequencies you receive.
A single antenna, appropriate for your local frequencies, should give you adequate reception of all services. For the best reception, make sure that your antenna points towards the broadcasting site that provides the best coverage for your location. Your television receiver should also be tuned to the services your antenna is directed at. Check out the mySwitch website for information on the best available television signals for your location, including signal level, frequencies and the best transmission tower at which to point your antenna.
Equipment is king
Generally, a simple antenna system consists of an outdoor antenna, a coaxial cable, and a fly-lead between the wall plate and TV.
For many of us, this is all far too technical so chat to an experienced and reputable antenna installer for the best advice.
Assessing your current antenna installation system or considering buying a new one? Go local! An expert from your area will know the region’s specific antenna requirements and consider the following factors:
- What channels are required?
- What signal coverage (strength) is available?
- What, if any, reception problems exist in the area?
- Will a masthead or distribution amplifier (signal booster) be necessary?
The right fit
Your antenna is only doing its job properly if it can receive television signals in your area. The design, size and type of antenna—and how it is installed—can affect its performance. The size and shape of an antenna depend on two main characteristics:
- Which specific frequencies the antenna is designed to receive.
- The gain of the antenna—in areas of poor reception, it may be necessary to increase the received power of the broadcast signal with a more directional, higher gain and frequency band-specific antenna.
The right frequencies
Digital terrestrial television signals in Australia are broadcast in VHF Band III (VHF channels 6–12) and UHF Band IV and V (UHF channels 28–51).
Your antenna needs to be designed to receive the particular television frequencies in your area. Remember that television frequencies are location-specific, so check out the mySwitch website for tailored information before buying an antenna.
The right features
Getting a little technical now, a good antenna will meet the following key criteria:
- Provides enough signal gain for your specific frequencies so your TV receiver will get a strong enough signal level without requiring additional signal amplification (a signal booster).
- Shows good directivity and front-to-back ratio so it minimises reception of unwanted signals.
- Is robust enough to withstand harsh weather conditions or the continual attention of large Australian birds.
A number of antennas either manufactured and/or designed in Australia meet these criteria, but antennas designed for other markets or for global distribution may not, so do your research or ask the experts.
The wrong features
Some antennas will rarely give you good TV reception and are best avoided:
- Indoor antennas (sometimes called 'rabbit ears')—in areas of high signal strength, an indoor antenna may just be sufficient to receive some or all TV channels. However, it may make your signal more susceptible to interference.
- Antennas designed to receive either FM radio or TV channels in the VHF band 1 and 2 (channel 0–5).
- Multiple antennas, combined and used to receive signals from a few broadcasting sites, will make your receive system prone to interference and reception difficulties. Talk to your antenna installer about removing any legacy antenna that is no longer needed.
Cabling, connectors and fly leads
For good TV reception, you should use so-called ‘quad-shield coaxial cable’ (type RG6) with ‘F’ type connectors. Quad-shield cable provides better shielding against noise and external interference than single- or dual-shield cables.
Fly leads, which are used to connect wall outlet plates to either the set-top box or TV, are generally the weakest link in the antenna installation. Quad-shield fly leads provide superior performance compared to other types. You should take care to maintain adequate clearance (at least 50 mm) from AC mains power cabling and leads to minimise induction of impulse noise. Excessive bending and long fly leads can also cause problems for TV reception. It’s best to use custom-made fly leads rather than connecting two or more leads.
Sometimes you need to use ‘splitters’ to divide the signal from the antenna so that two or more TV receivers can operate effectively from one antenna system. But be careful—using a splitter can mean some loss of signal.
Be careful with signal boosters
Masthead amplifiers (MHA) or distribution amplifiers—often called ‘signal boosters’—are not an integral part of what we call ‘optimised television receiving installation’. They should be installed only if necessary. These kinds of devices can cause reception difficulties and even interfere with your neighbors’ TV reception, so do your research before using them.
An MHA—or ‘booster’—should only be used in areas where television signals are very weak because of intervening terrain, vegetation and buildings, or due to the distance between the broadcast transmitter and television antenna. An MHA is typically installed next to your TV antenna.
A distribution amplifier is used to distribute the signal to several television receivers. Unlike an MHA, a distribution amplifier is installed within the building in which it operates, normally within the roof area. Distribution amplifiers can be used in houses with multiple TV sets, hotels, motels, blocks of units and similar high-occupancy buildings.
If your local expert determines that a masthead or distribution amplifier is necessary to provide enough signal level to your television receivers, we strongly advise that you ask her or him to install an amplifier with a built-in filter or to install a filter in front of the amplifier. This will limit the potential impact of mobile broadband signals on your television reception.
Safe and sound
Climbing on the roof is extremely dangerous, so contact the experts to make sure your antenna is safely and correctly installed.
Your antenna should be installed outdoors, up to five metres high for urban and suburban areas and up to 10 metres high for some rural areas or areas with marginal coverage, pointing towards the TV tower that provides the best television coverage for your area.
Check out the mySwitch website to find the direction of the best transmission tower for your location.
The signal level may vary significantly for different locations on your roof. Your antenna installer should be able to do a site survey and find the best location for your antenna on your roof, free of local clutter (big trees and surrounding building) and other local signal obstacles.
If you’re replacing your antenna, don’t assume the best spot is an existing location/pole. The environment may have changed due to mature trees and new buildings. A fresh site survey for good signal strength and quality signal may be necessary—but remember that this is a job for the experts!
Television signals are transmitted either horizontally (H) or vertically (V). This is called ‘signal polarisation’. Your antenna should be installed so that its elements match the signal polarisation—that is, antenna elements should be installed horizontally to receive horizontally polarised TV signals and vice versa.
Signal polarisation is also location-specific, so check out the mySwitch website for information on signal polarisation before installing your antenna.
See below for some common installation problems that can lead to poor TV reception.
Multiple antennas pointing in different directions:
Antenna too close to the roof:
Missing antenna elements:
Staying in shape
Like any equipment, antennas perform better when they’re properly looked after. The good news is that once properly installed, your antenna installation does not require much attention.
Some easy ways to make sure your antenna is in tip-top shape are:
- Do an occasional quick visual inspection of your antenna from the ground. Check that your antenna is still there, it’s positioned in the right direction, it’s firmly attached to the mount (a lot of physical movement can affect reception) and it hasn’t lost any elements.
- Do a visual inspection of the connectors and fly lead next to your television receiver—make sure they’re not damaged or squashed by any furniture.
- Make sure all your devices are connected properly to your antenna, especially if you are using multiple devices connected to each other (such as TV, set-top box and personal video recorders). Double-check that all these devices are tuned to the right channels.