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A directional TV antenna installed outdoors can pick up stations from miles away — the only thing is, you have to aim well to get signals. But what if you want to get channels in different directions, like from behind your antenna?
Then it might be time for some creative solutions. Here are two that don’t require you to clamber up on your roof on a rainy night to manually turn the antenna:
- You can set up a second directional antenna and combine signals from both. Combining two HDTV antennas has its own requirements but is definitely a viable option.
- Or you can place a rotator on your roof and put your TV antenna on top of it.
Today I’ll look at two of the most popular brands of outdoor antenna rotator: the CM-9521HD by Channel Master and the RCA VH226F. Which is better? Let’s find out.
If you’re curious about how rotators work, how to install them, etc., then I encourage you to skip down to the sections at the end of the article.
Antenna Rotator Reviews
Channel Master CM-9521HD
Remote control: infrared
Remote control: infrared
4.1 x 4.1 x 10.6 in.
8.5 x 3.75 x 10.25 in.
Weight: 7.5 pounds
Weight: 5 pounds
Includes: mounting clamp
Includes: mounting clamp
Doesn’t include: wire and rotator mast
Doesn’t include: wire and rotator mast
Preset antenna locations: 12
Preset antenna locations: 69
RCA Antenna Rotator
First let’s look at the RCA VH226F. The exterior of the drive unit is enclosed in aluminum casing and the shipment box contains mounting clamps and U-bolts for attaching the rotator motor to a support pole that can have a diameter of up to 2 inches.
You can insert an antenna mast of up to 1.25 inches’ diameter into the drive unit. Make sure that your mast will give you at least 3 feet of separation between the drive unit and the antenna you’re rotating.
One issue with rotators is that the drive units of some brands aren’t sufficiently waterproofed and this can have a long-term effect on motor reliability. I find the RCA drive unit to be well-sealed against the elements, which will increase its operational reliability.
Note that the RCA rotator’s control unit can hold up to 12 antenna positions in memory. This means you can rotate the antenna in up to 12 different directions. Keep in mind this doesn’t correspond to the number of channels you’ll get, as each direction can correspond to several (virtual) TV channels.
As with the Channel Master rotator (below), this RCA unit doesn’t come with a rotator cable so you’ll need to purchase it separately. This is of course for good reason, as the length will depend on the dimensions needed in your particular situation.
For rotator cable, I recommend RCA VH127N wire, which is 75-feet long and easy to work with.
RCA Antenna Rotator Manual
In case you want to see technical details about the rotator, please find a link to the manual here.
Channel Master Antenna Rotator
The Channel Master rotator is both durable and is lighter than the RCA unit. This is actually the successor of the earlier CM-9521A, which you can still find on sale today.
As with the RCA, this rotor comes with mounting clamps and U-bolts for convenient installation. You can mount this rotor on a support pole of up to 2 inches diameter, and the antenna mast you mount atop it can have a diameter of up to 1.375 inches.
When installing the drive unit, make sure to face it due north to allow it to synchronize correctly with surrounding towers (see the installation section below). It should be able to accommodate the heaviest Channel Master antennas, although you can mount antennas from other manufacturers.
Unlike the RCA, this rotator’s control unit can store up to 69 preset antenna locations. As with the RCA rotator above, I recommend RCA VH127N rotator cable.
Overall, what I like most about the Channel Master is its relatively quiet rotation in comparison with other brands.
Channel Master Antenna Rotator Manual
In case you need more technical specs, here’s a link to the Channel Master CM-9521HD instruction sheet.
What is the Best Antenna Rotator?
Although both products have similarities, each offers certain advantages that may appeal to your situation.
Keep in mind that both these rotors are relatively lightweight products designed for turning your typical TV antenna and short mast — although some people use them for rotating larger items, such as Ham antennas or solar panels (!)
Overall, the RCA is the cheaper option compared with the Channel Master and offers good value for money for customers living in areas with a lower density of TV stations (like, in areas of fringe reception).
The RCA motor is also heavier, but both the RCA and Channel Master are comparable in terms of setup and installation.
I’d consider the Channel Master if I lived in an area with a higher number of TV stations (and thus more towers whose positions you want to store in memory). This rotator also has a reputation for having a motor and drive unit that can take a beating.
How Does an Antenna Rotator Work?
The way TV antenna rotators operate is simple. They typically have two main parts: there’s a drive unit with a motor inside that supports the mast and antenna and turns these.
Then there’s the control unit that’s usually located near your TV, and that’s directly connected via rotator cable to the drive unit. The control unit allows you to enter the heading towards which you want the antenna to face.
These days, antenna rotators come with a remote control allowing you to change the antenna’s position. The control will have left and right arrow buttons specifying in which direction to rotate the antenna — normally by one degree each time you click a button.
Remote controls bring convenience but must have a direct line of sight to the control unit.
The rotator cable connecting both the drive and control units consists of three wires (typically red, black, and green).
These wires both power and convey information to the drive unit, as well as ground it.
You should make sure this cable is securely and correctly attached to both devices since many troubleshooting issues arise from an improperly connected (or weatherproofed) cable.
Are There Wireless Antenna Rotators?
In standard rotators, both the control and drive units are wired. This means you must run a rotator cable through the house to connect them. Wouldn’t it be great to have a wireless or networked drive unit that would save you this trouble?
I’ve searched for such a rotator but haven’t found it yet. Let me know if you find one!
How to Operate a Rotator
Antenna rotators allow you to turn an antenna a full 360 degrees, orienting it towards the heading of any station in your area.
You can find azimuth headings and RF channels for surrounding television towers by looking at your TVFool.com signal report.
Here’s an example. On the radar plot below, let’s say your TV antenna is aimed at the group of stations due south.
Now you want to change the TV channel to the station in the northwest corner, RF channel 13 (on high VHF).
You would enter the station’s azimuth heading (328 degrees) in the rotator’s control unit to turn the antenna towards it.
It’s as simple as that. In fact, you can orient your antenna towards any of the stations on the plot.
Whether you receive those stations or not depends of course on their signal strength.
Pros and Cons of TV Antenna Rotators
By now you might be thinking antenna rotators are an awesome idea so why doesn’t everyone get one.
There are caveats however. Below I list some benefits and disadvantages of antenna rotators.
Advantages of TV Antenna Rotators
- Rotates your antenna to pick up local stations in any direction
- Simple and convenient to operate
- An alternative to buying separate antennas and combining them
Disadvantages of TV Antenna Rotators
- Orients the antenna towards the same station for all connected televisions in a household
- If recording using a DVR, you should ensure your antenna is already facing the station before recording
- Not synchronized with your TV or other entertainment devices — e.g., you must scan for channels independently of the rotator
To Rotate or to Combine Antennas?
If any of these disadvantages is hard to overcome in your situation (e.g., different members of your household want to watch their own channels) then you may consider getting a second antenna and combining it with the first.
How to Install a TV Antenna Rotator
Let’s say you’ve reviewed the information above and decided to get an antenna rotator.
Below are generic steps to give you an idea of what’s needed and what’s involved in the installation.
Antenna Rotator Installation Checklist
- Rotator cable: The thickness of this cable will vary depending on the length needed to connect the control and drive units. For cable runs up to 150 or 180 feet, you’ll need 20 AWG wire. For greater distances, it’ll require heavier gauge wire.
- Support mast for the drive unit: This should be of the appropriate weight-bearing size. You’ll need such a support mast if you’re not mounting the drive unit inside a tower.
- U-bolts and mounting clamps: For securing the antenna to the support mast. These will likely be supplied with the rotator.
- Cable ties, electrical tape, or standoff insulators: These are for securing both the antenna coax and rotator cable.
- Sealants (optional): You may need to apply a sealant (e.g., silicone caulk, waterproofing grease) to the drive unit and cables to weatherproof connections.
- Thrust bearing and guy wires (optional): For extra support of the antenna mast.
- Compass for orienting the antenna and drive unit, if necessary.
- Adjustable wrench
The above list only pertains to the antenna rotator. If you already have an antenna installed, you’ll be reinstalling it on top of the drive unit so you may also want to check out this article on how to install an outdoor antenna.
Step 1: Check the Surroundings of the Antenna
To stay on the safe side, make sure the place where you want to install the drive unit is sturdy enough to support the extra weight of both the support mast and drive unit.
For example, if your current antenna is installed on the side of your house, make sure the structure will support the additional weight.
Check also for surrounding power lines or similar hazards that may get caught in the mast when it rotates.
Step 2: Test the Antenna Rotator
Take the rotator out of the package and run a test before installing it.
Temporarily connect the rotator cable to both the control and drive units and synchronize the rotator.
You may have to cut the cable and strip the wires with a wire stripping tool to be able to attach them to the control and drive units.
Pay attention to how the units should be wired with the rotator cable (e.g., if there’s an ordering of the multicolored wires in the terminals).
Make sure the rotator is registering correct headings of surrounding stations during synchronization of the control unit.
When operating your rotor pause for a couple of seconds between changing rotation direction in order to give the motor time to stop. This will extend the life of your rotator.
Step 3: Mount the Support Mast with Drive Unit
Set up the support mast for the drive unit and the antenna, and make sure this mast is secured properly.
Then mount the drive unit on top of the support mast using the U-bolts and clamps supplied with the rotator.
Some rotators require you to orient the drive unit in a certain direction, such as the Channel Master rotor, which you should point due north (this will show as zero degrees on the control unit).
Step 4: Install the Antenna and Its Mast
Next, insert the antenna mast onto the top of the drive unit using the remaining U-bolts and clamps.
Make sure the antenna mast is perfectly vertical by using a level tool. This will ensure you get optimal reception.
If you’re installing a rotator recommended in this article, ensure the length of the mast between the drive unit and the antenna doesn’t exceed 3 feet.
If you insert a longer mast, you risk creating excess inertia for the drive unit that may cause a mechanical failure.
Minimizing the length of the antenna mast is a way of prolonging the life of your rotator.
You can lengthen the antenna coax by using extra cable and crimping tools if necessary.
Make sure to leave sufficient length in the coax cable by looping it so that the antenna can be rotated a full 360 degrees without yanking the cable.
When attaching the antenna coaxial:
- If it’s using 75-ohm coaxial cable (e.g., modern RG-6 coax) you can use electric tape or cable ties to secure it to the support mast
- If it’s using 300-ohm twin-lead cable, attach it to the antenna and support mast using standoff insulators
Re-attach the rotator cable to the drive unit (if you had detached it after the test above). You can use electric tape or cable ties to secure it to both masts.
Step 5: Attach a Thrust Bearing and Guy Wires (Optional)
This should increase the installation’s wind resistance.
Step 6: Connect the Rotator Cable to the Control Unit
Run the rotator cable from the drive unit and mast down to the control unit in your home.
You can run the rotator cable along the same path as the antenna coaxial cable.
Keep in mind that if the distance between the control and drive units exceeds about 150 or 180 feet, you should be using rotator cable that’s heavier than 20 AWG.
Step 7: Synchronize Your Control Unit and Set Antenna Positions
Synchronizing a rotator involves running an automatic program on the control unit to rotate the antenna 360 degrees.
This serves to initialize the rotator. After synchronization you should verify that the drive unit had indeed turned full circle. You might have to run a synchronization more than once for the rotation to complete.
Next you’ll turn the rotator towards the headings of various stations around you and program these into the control unit’s memory.
You’ll use the remote control to rotate the antenna to known station headings and press the arrow buttons until you find the antenna orientation that gets the best results.
You’ll mark these positions by entering the coordinates into the control unit. Keep in mind that rotators are not synchronized with televisions so you’ll likely need to run a channel scan on the TV as well.
You should also be able to manually add channels that you find by rotating the antenna using the digital tuner of your TV or set-top box.
Modern ATSC-capable TVs should allow manual addition of channels.
After these steps, the rotator should function normally, which means you can change channels by using the remote control to turn the antenna.
Weatherproofing the Rotator
Regardless of how a new the rotator is, you should check the drive unit and cable connections to make sure these are waterproofed.
You should particularly verify the connections of the rotator cable wires in the drive unit (and possibly use some dielectric grease on these terminal connections).
The grommet through which the rotator cable passes on the drive unit is often vulnerable to moisture, so check if this properly seals around the rotator cable.
Grounding the Rotator
The grounding of your antenna and rotator are generally two separate things. You should definitely ground the antenna, but as for the rotator one of the rotator cable’s wires serves as a grounding wire so no need to ground the drive unit separately.
Also, manufacturers generally advise you to unplug the rotator during thunderstorms.
Antenna rotators can add many more over-the-air channels to your TV guide, but you should be aware of certain limitations.
Rotators should be installed with care, as they are vulnerable to high winds and can buckle under excessive weight.
You should research your preparations well when setting up a rotator and consult product reviews online to know of any issues in advance.