Wednesday, October 26, 2005

FAQ to the Future

I worked in a TV repair shop for seven years. My tenure included watching consumer electronics (as well as watching TV!) move from the twilight of vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits. I received enough on-the-job training to eventually become a fair technician. These days, I know enough to be willing to take the covers off stuff and either fix them or reduce them to landfill in a matter of moments.
Part of that education was the whole antenna/tuner thing. Remember TV’s with dials? The big one that went from Channel 2 to 13, along with the little one that went from 14 to 83? Very High Frequency and Ultra High Frequency! UHF Stations were usually low power, low self-esteem stations, where reception was wobbly at best – the world really ran on VHF. San Diego was and still is an area overwhelmed with cable subscription; the terrain assures that most consumers can’t get at least 2 channels, combined with our seeming need to have at least 40 channels of lowest-common-denominator programming at our fingertips. Electronic tuners and the reality of cable companies converting UHF stations to VHF numbers for their band had pretty much relegated UHF to the scrap heap, or at least that’s what I thought.
Sunday, we bought a new TV. A(n) HDTV capable TV. I hooked up the cable and DVD and stereo and such and went hunting for a(n) HDTV program. Imagine my dismay when it didn’t look nearly as good as it did in the store. Actually, I was smart enough to realize that I hadn’t yet tapped into the digital vein, just yet. I lacked knowledge. Little did I know what lay in store.
The internet, of course. There is more information – including an abundance of outdated information – than I ever wanted to know about HDTV. The salient point to this essay is that over-the-air HDTV stations are UHF STATIONS! The band seemingly allocated for obscurity in the early 20th century was now and is the platform of innovation and data packets. If only the parents of UHF were alive to see it (I have no idea who that might be, and I’m not sure how to Google that, nor am I compelled to know).
I couldn’t wait to get home and try it out. Alas, I could not find a suitable loop or even bow-tie antenna amidst the morass (we passed ‘clutter’ in 1998) that is my garage. What to do? As a TV and electronics tech for so many years, I a) Have thrown more of these away than you can imagine, and b) could not imagine even paying $1.49 for one at a local store – if I could find one. Bingo! I took a 75-300 ohm converter, and made a loop from terminal to terminal with a length of solder. I attached it to a length of cable, hooked it up, and, as my Mother would say, “Glory Be!” I was getting 4 or so crystal clear channels of HDTV. For FREE! Oh, Serendipity; joy unbound!
The bad news is that I am nestled up against a mountain that I’m confident that will prevent me from ever getting a signal from 2 network transmitters located 13.1 miles away on another peak on the other side (internet information – I was able to determine the exact latitude and longitude of my address, and plot it in relation to the transmitters up to 100 miles away – waaaay too much information). Couple this with the siren song of the independent film channel and a smattering of educational programming for the kids – a cable upgrade is inevitable – resistance is futile. But for now, I’m just tickled pink, happier than a clam at high tide, with my solder-loop antenna stuck to my hi-def TV. Who’d a thunk it?