Mike's TV and FM DX

Turning Analog TV DXers into DTV TV DXers


DTV TV DXing isn't quite the same as analog TV DXing was. You already know that. That's why you quit when analog TV went away.

You quit because you couldn't tune your DTV the same way you turned the channels on your analog set. You left because when a signal faded out your TV screen went black. You went away because "they" said you could get all of the same channels you got when they were in analog form. They lied. You weren't crazy about staring at a black screen for hours waiting for a DTV channel to decode...if it ever did decode. You weren't happy and you were discouraged.

So, as analog TV was in the process of shutting down, the government issued coupons for discounts on DTV converter boxes. These were the boxes that let you watch DTV on your analog television. You could run 75ohm coax into the box and out of the box to your television, or you could  run 75 ohms into the box and use an audio/video cables to your audio/video inputs instead.  For TV DXing purposes, most of these boxes were useless. All of them were useless except a very few. The best two boxes for TV DXing were, and still are,  the Insignia NS-DXA1 sold by Best Buy stores and the Zenith DTT-901 which is identical to the Insignia box except for the label. These two boxes are still in good supply and can be found at yard sales and eBay for decent prices.

What makes these two converter boxes desirable is what they have that the others don't. These let you manually tune from ch2-69 and back again, and while you are tuning you can see any signal that your antenna sees going into the box, even the ones that are too weak to decode. To enter manual mode, press the MENU button on your remote, then press the RIGHT ARROW. Doing this leads you to another menu that has Manual Tuning as one of its options. Select Manual tuning. Press the ok button on your remote and you will be in manual mode for 60 seconds. You'll have to press the ok button every 60 seconds to stay in manual mode, but you still have enough time to move up and down the channels to see what's available at your location, both decoding and non-decoding.

These two boxes will also decode the PSIP, which in most cases is the callsign of the station. This PSIP will remain, even after the station broadcasting it has faded out and gone away. If you leave your box turned on and set to ch21 when you go to bed, you can check it in the morning and possibly find the callsign of some station that tropped in overnight and has long since disappeared.

The left photo shows you that "something" is there on ch28 (the progress box is one third yellow). We don't know what, but it bears watching. The right picture shows the PSIP "WMC NBC" on ch5. The screen is black, and we can tell that WMC in Memphis decoded (with PSIP at least) at some point but now is long gone. Sometimes a PSIP will decode but video will not decode. The PSIP will stay indefinitely unless you shut the box off. And to make sure the box never shuts down you can defeat the timer so it stays on all the time.

There are a few other DTV boxes that will tune manually. The Sansonic FT-300A is one of them. Please go HERE to learn about the other boxes. Also be aware that the tuners in LG DTVs are about the same tuner as in the Zenith/Insignia boxes (LG made them for Zenith/Insignia). You can manually tune channels using the remote's left and right buttons but the DTV will not give you a visual indication of stations you are receiving but are too weak to decode. What you are looking for instead, is a time delay when changing channels. A 2-3 second delay when moving up or down a channel means "something" is on the next channel but too weak to decode.  If that "something" is there day after day, you will eventually find out who it is. If it isn't there every day, then what was it? DX? Could be.

What about those Hauppauge DTV tuners that plug into your computer and let you record video? Well, that would be cool if you could manually tune the thing like the boxes above, but you can't. All you can do is do channel scans. Long ago Hauppauge made a DTV card that DXers liked because of the manual tuning. Those cards have since disappeared. Mine quit on me. I don't even see them on eBay anymore. Use the boxes above and use your phone to take stills and video.

Now let's jump to antennas. If you want to receive distant TV from hundreds of miles away and you are not satisfied with just watching your locals, don't buy any antenna with the words "As Seen on TV" on them EVER. The minimum I'd ever use for TV DXing is this...a two bay bow tie. This one has some gain and would work pretty well if used with an amp.



Don't even think about these or any antennas that resemble these:


Choose a yagi or chose a two, four or eight bay, or try a parabolic if money is no object. Check Channel Master (Advantage U/V Combos), Winegard (HD8200 U/V combo), AntennasDirect or Solidsignal:


Most TV DXers use preamps. Some of the most popular preamps are the Channel Master, Winegard (LNA200) or the Kitzamp. These offer high gain and very low noise figure.



Let's briefly move on to Lowband VHF antennas. I say briefly because there's not much to say. The FCC has authorized more DTV stations for lowband, and stations are asking for power boosts, and that means more skip targets for many of us. Unfortunately Winegard discontinued their popular line of VHF TV antennas a few years back. Most of us bought spares at that time. Those of us who didn't will have a hard time finding anything. What you can do instead is 1. build your own ch2 or ch3 yagi or 2. buy a UHF/VHF combo and use that. There are a few of them still on the market.

So, if I were wanting to get into DTV DXing after doing analog TV DXing for decades, this is what I'd do to start. Some things are the same but some are different. Skip is skip and tropo is still tropo. You don't have these multi-hour Es events where skip from Miami is on your TV for hours on end. You might be lucky to get a few seconds of video, but you'll get an ID in most cases and be able to log the station. Stations will trop as before and you might be able to watch something for half an hour, or it could be just a quick decode, but you'll still get the ID. If you were able to successfully DX the TV band in the analog days, the odds are good that you'll be able to do it well in these DTV days. How well you do, though, depends on you.

2017 M.Bugaj no reprinting without permission
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