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Cable subscribers looking for more affordable options for watching television are turning to an HDTV antenna to receive free sports, news, and content over the air.
But what if you’re a satellite TV customer (like DirectTV)? Is it harder then to cut the cord?
After all, you’ve already got a dish located on your home. How do you make an outdoor TV antenna out of a satellite dish?
- Can a Satellite Dish Be Used as an HDTV Antenna?
- Can You Use Your House Wiring as an HDTV Antenna?
- How Do You Ditch the Dish?
- 1. Search For Local Television Towers
- 2. Shop for Your OTA Antenna
- 3. Gather Your Tools
- 4. Prepare the Location
- 5. Remove the Dish
- 6. Mount Your New Antenna
- 7. Point the Antenna in the Direction of Your Local TV Towers
- 8. Connect the Coaxial Cable to Your New Antenna
- 9. Run a Channel Scan and Enjoy Your Free TV
Can a Satellite Dish Be Used as an HDTV Antenna?
The good news is that for dish subscribers, cutting the cord is very doable.
Can you get regular satellite TV service for free? No, not legally, but that’s not the goal here. You can’t convert your satellite parabolic dish into an HDTV antenna.
For starters, it’s not an optimal shape for capturing terrestrial UHF and VHF signals.
In addition, the dish itself has special electronics, such as a low-noise block down converter (LNB) – part of that arm sticking out of the dish – with its cables that converts satellite signals into electrical pulses to be sent down the coaxial cable.
Such electronics are not designed for processing terrestrial broadcast signals.
Can You Use Your House Wiring as an HDTV Antenna?
Nope, you cannot, and don’t believe anyone who claims this.
You can however, creatively use existing parts of your house as a mount for your HDTV antenna.
As this article is about satellite dishes, you can definitely use the mast that holds your TV satellite dish and the already-installed grounded coax cables to speed up the process of setting up an HDTV antenna, which will allow you to watch TV channels for free.
This means you can skip several steps that would otherwise be required if you had to add the outdoor TV antenna on its own.
The presence of a mounted satellite dish on the roof will actually be an advantage when it comes to getting started with an HDTV antenna.
Since your home is already wired for a dish on the roof, you can use the existing coax cable for the new antenna, which eliminates the need to wire or rewire the house again.
In addition, the TV satellite dish mounting is already on the roof at the right height for picking up terrestrial television signals.
And since you’re leaving the mounting in place, you won’t have to add any new holes in your roof or run more cables through your home.
How Do You Ditch the Dish?
The first (and perhaps most satisfying) step for turning your satellite dish into an antenna will involve getting rid of the dish by dismantling it. Below I’ll give some ideas on how to best do this.
Every satellite comes in two parts: the dish assembly and the mast.
The part of the dish installation that you want to keep is the mounting bracket on the mast holding the satellite dish in place.
This will eliminate the need to add a new mast when setting up the antenna.
You’ll also keep the end of the coaxial cable that had previously been connected to your satellite receiver box.
This will save you from having to drill any new holes or run any new cable.
If you’re not comfortable climbing onto your rooftop and working with tools, then by all means engage a professional installer to remove the dish and attach your new TV antenna.
Keep in mind that hiring a professional to do the job will cost (on average) the equivalent of around two to three months of your satellite TV bill, so factor that into your cost savings.
But they’ll know how to do the job properly.
If you’re game for a little tool-wielding and a trip up the ladder, the following is a step-by-step process for how to use your satellite dish’s mounting to hold and point a TV antenna so you can get free channels.
1. Search For Local Television Towers
Your ability to receive the maximum number of free channels you want will depend on where the transmission towers are located in relation to your home.
Unless you’re certain how to locate these towers and what they’re broadcasting — and most people aren’t — you’ll need to search for them with the help of a good TV station locator tool.
So how do you find surrounding transmitters?
This report will show you which channels you’re likely to pick up, and give you ideas for how to aim your OTA antenna.
It’ll provide you with a list of real (otherwise known as “RF” or radio frequency) channels being broadcast in your area — in the UHF and VHF bands.
2. Shop for Your OTA Antenna
Once you’ve located nearby TV towers, you’ll need to purchase an OTA antenna with a range greater than your farthest tower.
For this step, you’ll need to determine the directivity of your future antenna that’s best for you.
“Directivity” refers to an antenna’s ability to receive broadcasts from one particular direction and reject signals from others.
OTA antennas are available in a wide variety of designs.
Which type is right for you depends less on the antenna’s features and more on where your home is located.
Antennas need a direct line of sight to broadcast towers, so the front of the antenna will need to face where the signals are originating.
If the broadcasts are coming from all around you, you may wish to purchase an omnidirectional antenna.
However, know that a directional antenna will offer better, longer-range reception than that of an omnidirectional antenna (all else being equal).
Once you’ve determined direction, you’ll need to know the range. Each antenna has a reception range that you’ll find in the product description.
The manufacturer has assigned this range based on the antenna’s design, and as a result of testing under ideal conditions.
Keep in mind you probably won’t have ideal conditions: there’ll be interference from buildings, trees, and hills, all of which can effectively weaken or block your signal.
In some cases, manufacturers and reviews may overstate the products’ ranges — like some nominal ranges being in excess of 100 miles, which is farther than the natural curvature of the earth. (Hello, geometry!)
Manufacturers’ exaggerations aside, most antennas mounted at ordinary heights of 10 – 20 feet probably won’t reliably receive broadcasts beyond 60 to 80 miles.
NOTE: From September 2018 to July 2020, many television stations across the U.S. will change their real channel number as a result of a recent FCC spectrum auction. Before you purchase an antenna, visit tvanswers.org to check whether any of your local stations will be changing to a different channel number.
3. Gather Your Tools
Some TV antennas require preassembly, and others are sold fully assembled.
Understand which type you have before you start, as you don’t want to get onto the roof and find that you still need to put the antenna together.
Some antenna models may only require you to extend and lock the dipoles into place, and that’s it.
Others may require you to use a screwdriver or other tool to attach the various elements or a wire to the frame.
Be sure to read the antenna instructions before you start the installation so you don’t run into any unpleasant surprises during the process and delay it for another day.
4. Prepare the Location
While it may feel tempting to rip the satellite dish from its mast and happily fling it to the ground, take some time to do things properly so you don’t damage the mast or the cabling.
To begin, remove the cap (LNB) from the arm of the dish, which will allow you to view the wire or coax cable.
Once you remove the LNB, you should be able to see where the coax cable is screwed into the arm of the dish.
Unscrew this cable and remove it from the satellite dish arm. Be sure to retain that cable, as you’re going to need to connect it again later (to the HDTV antenna).
5. Remove the Dish
From here, you should be able to remove the actual dish apparatus from the pole it’s mounted on by loosening any bolts holding it in place.
To do this, use a wrench to separate the dish from the footplate where it’s mounted. In most cases, there are two or three bolts that are used to keep the dish in place.
Once you remove these, the dish should easily slide out. (Yes, it’s now time to toss the dish!)
Rather than sticking the old dish in a landfill or leaving it to rust on their properties, some homeowners use them to make bird baths by painting them with non-toxic paint and installing them in a garden.
6. Mount Your New Antenna
Simply fix the new TV antenna on the post that formerly held your satellite dish. Many units come with a mounting bracket and U clamps that allow you to mount them on poles or masts of differing diameters.
In some cases, the new digital antenna may not fit onto the dish post.
Never fear, you can buy a fitting from your local hardware store that will allow you to adjust the pole and make it larger or smaller.
7. Point the Antenna in the Direction of Your Local TV Towers
You’ll use the signal report you got on TVFool.com, plus a compass or a compass app on a smartphone to point the antenna in the right direction.
Refer to the instructions that came with your antenna to be certain you’ve correctly identified the front (it’s not always so easy to tell) and that you’re positioning it correctly.
8. Connect the Coaxial Cable to Your New Antenna
Take the coax cable that was formerly attached to your satellite dish and connect it to the new antenna using the hardware provided.
Now, connect the other end of the coaxial cable (that had been connected to your satellite receiver box) directly to your TV or set-top box.
9. Run a Channel Scan and Enjoy Your Free TV
Once you’ve done this, it’ll be time to ensure everything is working properly and make any necessary adjustments.
This may be the fiddliest part of the process, and it’s recommended that you work with a partner who can stand next to the television set (or TVs) in your home and report back on reception.
Run a channel scan to search for digital channels on your TV to ensure the antenna is picking up everything you want.
You may find that you need to adjust the antenna’s orientation to maximize your reception.
When you hit peak signal, you’re all set to watch free TV.
If you need to boost signal strength due to any interference, you can also install an amplifier on the mast (don’t forget it’ll need an AC power supply).