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All posts for the month March, 2015

Mohu Curve 50 atop our set, pulling in COZI TV. That's Sharon Farrell on "Marcus Welby, M.D."

Mohu Curve 50 atop our set, pulling in COZI TV. Sorry, my phone camera washed out the color, but it was there. That’s actress Sharon Farrell on “Marcus Welby, M.D.” Nice wig.

The folks at Mohu sent me a couple of antennas for review a while back. One was the Mohu Curve 50 (see below), the other was the Mohu Sky 60, reviewed this week (Mohu Sky 60 antenna review & The Riddle of COZI).

Recap of that post

The Sky 60 mounted on the roof solved all of our reception problems in the den, but one: COZI TV (a subchannel of KWHB-47).

KWHB’s antenna is close by, but our house is downhill and away from it, partially blocked. Large neighborhood trees add extra blockage to their signal as “seen” by the Sky 60.

None of the other five stations with antennas at the same site in Oneta (12 miles away) pose reception problems for us.

The lower frequency stations there, KJRH and KOED, operate with relatively low power (24 and 47 kW respectively), since their longer wavelengths are far less prone to obstruction.

The higher frequency stations (KOKI, KMYT and KOTV) are much higher powered (1000, 900 and 840 kW) in order to get their shorter wavelengths through ground clutter like our trees.

KWHB operates not only at a higher frequency than any of the other stations, but also at relatively low power (50 kW). Thus, our picture is often punctuated by pixelation when any amount of wind moves tree branches though the signal path to our Sky 60 antenna. (Also, KWHB’s antenna is more than a football field length lower than KOTV’s.)

We watchably receive the station in the theater room, but antenna positioning was critical. With a flat, amplified, wall-mounted antenna, I found an exact spot to miss the bulk of the local trees (or pick up a reflection of the signal, I’m not sure which), and get good signal strength on all stations, with the exception of KRSU in Claremore. There was no such spot in the den, but the Sky 60 pulls them all in well except COZI.

A way to get COZI in the den

Yesterday, I realized that I might be able to use the other antenna, the Mohu Curve 50, as an auxiliary to improve COZI in the den.

I now have both Mohu antennas hooked to a remote-controlled A|B switch that feeds the den TiVo box. I leave it on the Sky 60 all the time, except when COZI is on. Then I hit a button to seamlessly switch to the Curve 50. Presto, COZI loses most of the pixelation.

I found, not to my surprise by now, that pointing the Curve 50 in the exact direction of COZI was ineffective. What worked best was aiming it a bit less than 90 degrees away from the station, and placing it on the left side of the TV set-top (I took the above photo before this setup). It’s probably picking up a reflection of KWHB’s signal; I can’t even imagine the path it is taking. But it seems to work consistently.

(I want to mention again: this guy had good luck placing antennas in and near his basement window to pick up reflected signals! He also used two Mohu antennas.)

It may seem extravagant and a bit kludgy to use an extra antenna this way, but the result in our “special needs” den is that we are now receiving every station we want in our area.

Whatever works.

The Mohu Curve 50 antenna

It has a very high WAF (wife acceptance factor). When I told Gaye that we had a new antenna, she said “Where?” She didn’t recognize it as an antenna. To me, it looks like a little drive-in theater screen, though I’ve never seen one with a designer curve.

It is basically a Mohu Leaf 50 (for 50 mile maximum unobstructed range) with a stand and backing for rigidity and shape. Like the Leaf 50 and the Sky 60, it has a filtered amplifier powered by AC, with the option to plug into a USB port for power instead. Amplification doesn’t relieve you of the need to experiment with positioning, but it does add a noticeable amount of signal strength, which can make the difference with marginal stations.

It works best as your general coverage antenna if you are able to place it near a window or wall facing toward your antenna farm.

A flat thin antenna like the Leaf 50 is very flexible about the mounting height, but you are typically limited to either north-south or east-west orientation (depending on your house). For most stations, this would not be critical, since, like the Curve, it is multidirectional.

The Curve 50, having its own means of support, is flexible in orientation, which was vital for me to pick up the weak and obstructed COZI. Heightwise, you could place it on the TV as I did, or on a table or high shelf. It certainly looks better than any indoor antenna I’ve seen.

The best antenna for you depends on your location relative to the antennas of the stations you want to receive. The Mohu Curve 50 might be the one, particularly if the WAF is important to your choice.

Mohu Sky 60 on the apex of our roof

Mohu Sky 60 on the easternmost apex of our roof

This is our new Mohu Sky 60 antenna, suitable for indoor or outdoor use. Its design is based on a mudflap antenna developed for covert military communications by Mohu’s parent company, GreenWave Scientific.

Mounting it in the attic is difficult in our house due to our vaulted ceilings. It’s hard to reach a good place in the attic to hang the antenna, then to get the cable down to the TV. You also lose some of the signal every wall it passes through.

I wanted the maximum signal strength, so an outside mount as high as I could get seemed best.

Installation

I didn’t feel that the risk/reward ratio favored my scaling the steep roof to install it, so I hired help. Even the installer had qualms about clambering up there.

The Sky 60 comes with a filtered amplifier (powered by either USB or wall wart), mounting bracket, a short mast, and a 30′ RG59 cable.

RG59 is the lighter, more flexible kind. RG6 is the thick, heavy-duty one that the cable company uses. The installer was very down on RG59, even wondering if it is still made. Yes, it is. And it does quite well for indoor use and short runs. But I agreed with him that RG6 was the best choice for an outdoor installation.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

I was able to save him time, and therefore me money by reusing the existing cable to our den, which I had traced to the cable box a week before. (After I did that, I hooked up the Sky 60 outdoors and hung it on a couple of nails at my highest reach for a few days to try it out, with good results.)

Once he got the mast in place, I did a Will Rogers and hurled a coil of the RG59 cable up there like a lasso. To my utter astonishment, I scored a ringer on the first try.

He lightly attached the antenna to the mast, and I connected up the cable temporarily so I could go indoors and check signal strength on all the stations with various antenna orientations.

To finish up, he tightened down the screws on the antenna, attached RG6 cable, and used a tall ladder to fasten it down the side of the house. He then grounded the antenna properly.

Indoors, I had already connected the TiVo tuner to the existing cable wall outlet. The Sky 60’s USB power cord connects to one of the TiVo’s two USB ports. (I use the other one to power a little LED clock, needed to show us the time with the cable box gone.)

The Sky 60 seems well-suited for a rural setting, where there is a lot of distance (as many as 60 miles), and a clear path to a distant antenna farm.

However, its compact, ultra-wideband design makes it an excellent choice for suburban areas like ours (81st & Memorial).

I want my RSUTV!

A majority of Tulsa-area antennas are located in Coweta and Oneta, 12-15 miles east-southeast of us. That’s close, but our street slopes down and away from them. That’s why I wanted to go as high as I could get.

But there are also tall trees in our immediate neighborhood between us and those antennas.

As I learned previously (High winds can affect TV reception), the higher frequency stations are more often affected by trees and the movement caused by wind. Those shorter wavelengths are close enough to the size of tree trunks and branches that the signals are more easily blocked or diffracted.

Tulsa-area TV transmitter locations

Tulsa-area TV transmitter locations from our house. See http://transition.fcc.gov/mb/engineering/dtvmaps

The standard advice is to point your antenna right at the antenna farm and hope for the best. That was the advice of the installer as well. We tried it and it worked.

But I also wanted to pick up KRSU-35 (RSUTV) in Claremore, to our northeast. It wasn’t happening with that orientation.

So I had him fudge the direction to slightly north of east, toward a low-tree corridor through our neighborhood. I still got high signal strength from almost all the other stations, but also a consistent signal and picture from Claremore.

The Sky 60 is billed as multidirectional, and it is, but its orientation made a critical difference in receiving the Claremore station, which is almost 30 miles from us.

We have been very satisfied with our reception of all the area stations, but one…

The Riddle of COZI

KWHB-47/COZI-47.2 (Independent, real channel 47), one of the higher frequency channels, occasionally freezes and not infrequently suffers brief, blocky blotches of pixelation on the screen. But KOTV-6 (CBS, real channel 45), close to COZI’s frequency, is rarely affected. Both of their antennas are in Oneta.

The signal strength we get for COZI is about what we now get from RSUTV, both on the low side of the acceptable range. KOTV and all the other channels in the Tulsa area (excluding KDOR, way up north in Bartlesville) show high signal strength as measured on the TiVo’s tuner.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

The chart at right is custom for our street address and free from TV Fool.

It shows that KOTV’s “Noise Margin” (a rough estimate of signal strength, based on the topography of the area) is 65.3 dB, whereas COZI’s is 51.9. It’s lower, but not that much lower (KRSU is 26.4).

It also shows that the COZI and KOTV antennas must be either side by side or on the same mast!

The full wavelengths of the KOTV and COZI signals are between 17.5″-18″ so they would seem to be equally vulnerable to tree interference, and should behave very similarly.

By contrast, I have a flat amplified antenna taped to an east-facing inside wall in the theater room. I found one and only one spot on the wall where it works. (I could find no spot near the den TV where a flat antenna worked acceptably. That’s why the Sky 60.)

The flat antenna in the theater room does a better job with COZI than the outdoor antenna in the den, but worse with RSUTV to the northeast. That makes some sense, because the flat is aimed straight east, slightly more toward COZI and slightly away from RSUTV compared with the Sky 60.

But COZI’s signal strength on the theater room set, like KOTV’s, measures near the maximum, and pixelation occurs far less frequently, though high winds can still affect COZI’s picture in there.

Why does that antenna/TV tuner show maximums for both KOTV and COZI, but the Sky 60/TiVo combo reads a maximum for KOTV, yet much lower for COZI?

It’s a bit of a puzzle:

  • Are we getting a freak “bank shot” of COZI’s signal in the theater room, or finding a gap in the tree cover?
  • Is the compromise angle of the Sky 60 critical for COZI, but not for any of the other stations at precisely the same location?
  • Is even minimal tree movement periodically pushing COZI over the “digital cliff” despite my seeing steady signal readings?
  • Maybe the KOTV antenna is higher on the mast as well as having more power?

Since a small shift of the Sky 60’s angle was decisive in getting a consistent picture from RSUTV, might that same shift might have been decisive in losing a consistent lock on the lowest-powered (though not by much) signal at nearby Oneta?

Maybe not; new info: I did some digging at FCCinfo.com for KWHB (COZI) and KOTV data.

Key facts: both stations are indeed on the same tower and KOTV is 113 meters higher than KWHB. That’s 124 yards, more than a football field.

But here’s the eye-popper: KOTV broadcasts at 840.1 kW ERP (effective radiated power). KWHB at 50 kW ERP. Huge difference! No wonder KWHB has a harder time blasting through the tree clutter.

Re the misleading (at least to me) “Noise Margin” figures quoted above, TV Fool’s TV Signal Analysis FAQ states: “Please understand that this is a simulation and can only be treated as a rough approximation. Reception at your location is affected by many factors such as multipath, antenna gain, receiver sensitivity, buildings, and trees – which are not taken into account. Your mileage may vary.” Did it ever!

The mystery now is how I am getting a strong signal in the theater room, but only when the antenna is at a particular spot at the center and top of the wall.

It appears to me that the offset position of the theater room vis-à-vis the den gives it barely enough clearance from the trees to avoid impairment of COZI’s signal, at least at that one little spot. I wish I had “radiovision” so I could see the radio shadows and reflections in there.

We haven’t yet experienced the blooming of trees in the spring with the Sky 60 on the roof, so we’ll soon see how or if that affects our reception.

Luckily, COZI is more my channel than Gaye’s (it has “Run For Your Life“, which I record with my WMC/Pi setup in the theater room), so this isn’t a big crisis. And it is watchable a lot of the time.

Conclusions

As I had previously found (Placing an indoor TV antenna), you need to experiment with inside antennas for best performance. The same is true for outdoor or roof mounts. It’s difficult to predict where the best spot is going to be, and it is often surprising.

Experiment at leisure with different antenna orientations and positions on an inside or outside wall, or in the attic, and find out what works best at your house. Then you’ll be better prepared if you choose to do an outside mount.

When the stations you want are not all clumped together, tweaks and trade-offs may be necessary.

I had hoped that maximum antenna height would completely eliminate reception problems.

It almost did, but I had to tweak the direction to pick up a distant desired station (RSUTV) while keeping the others.

Sometimes-impaired reception of COZI may be the trade-off, but given its low power and our tree-laden, partially-obscured location relative to its antenna, COZI would likely be problematic for any antenna in the location I selected, regardless of its orientation. (I seem to have barely caught a gap in the trees with the theater room antenna’s precise positioning.)

I learned that two stations (RSUTV and COZI) received at roughly the same signal strength, albeit on the lower side of the acceptable range, can differ greatly in quality. One can come in consistently, and the other can be subject to frequent interference if it is on a high frequency and nearby trees are in the path.

Signal strength as measured on your TV doesn’t always tell the whole reception story.

(This guy had better luck placing his Mohu antennas in and near the basement window to pick up reflected signals! He also found a way to combine two antennas.)

Final notes

The Mohu Sky 60 is doing a bang-up job for us. It’s solidly constructed and was light and easy to move around in the experimentation phase. I like the unique appearance of the antenna up there; Gaye thought it looked like an alien artifact (which is to say she likes it a lot).

With the TiVo Roamio OTA DVR/tuner and the Mohu Sky 60, plus Netflix and Amazon Prime, our TV cable cord is well cut.

According to my calculations, we will save about $1750/year! And we didn’t even have any premium channels like HBO, etc.

(Full disclosure: Mohu sent me the antenna for free to review.)

In Cord-cutting status report #1, I said:

HDFury Gamer 2

HDFury Gamer 2 HDMI-to-component converter

“I have considered replacing the TV in our den, a 2002 vintage 36″ flat tube HDTV without digital tuner, since it can only handle component, S-video and composite video inputs, not HDMI. To get around this, I have tried two different HDMI-to-component video converters without success. An HDFury Gamer 2 Component likely would work, but at a cost of $160, I may hold off until I reach a decision.”

Since then, we did make a decision (Cutting the TV cable with TiVo Roamio OTA), and it was a success.

But like all newer electronics, the TiVo outputs HD video via HDMI rather than as component video (we have been watching composite, i.e., under VIDEO1 on the TV, for the last month). So to see HD, we need to either get a new TV or go with the HDFury Gamer 2 HDMI-to-component converter.

Pros for old TV+HDFury:

  • Cheaper than a new TV, which would easily cost $300+ to get equivalent size and quality.
  • I don’t have to move and get rid of a 217 lb. object.

Pros for new TV:

  • Longer life expectancy.
  • HDMI ports for newer Roku boxes, PCs, and any new devices that come along.

If you have been reading here for awhile, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I opted for the old TV+HDFury. But the decision is causing me some cognitive dissonance.

Best case is that we get a few more years out of the old Panasonic, then it blows up spectacularly.

1st worst case: we get less than a year.

2nd worst case: we get way too many more years out of it, and the increasing kludge factor forces me to revisit this decision.

Time will tell. The HDFury arrives today.


(Later) It’s plugged in and the TV looks great! Thumbs up for the HDFury Gamer 2.

I had a moment of perplexity when I saw no picture for KTUL-8.1, KOKI-23.1, KMYT-41.1 and KTPX-44.1. What these stations have in common is that they transmit in 720p. Our old TV can only accept 480i, 480p and 1080i resolutions as inputs, even though the HDFury can handle any resolution up to 1080p. I went into TiVo settings and excluded all but those three from the list of Video Output Formats to fix it.

So we will be seeing those four channels in 480p, same as non-Blu-ray DVDs (Enhanced-Definition). While our TV has a 36″ diagonal, a widescreen 16:9 picture on it has a 33″ diagonal, due to the set’s 4:3 aspect ratio (black bars at top and bottom). At that size, I can’t honestly see much difference. The color saturation, contrast, and smoothness of component trump resolution (he rationalized).

But even 480i MeTV looks great in component video vs. composite, plus it fills the 36″ screen. The Panasonic Tau Series TV, top of the line in 2002, still has stunning blacks. Just saw some on “Star Trek” episode “Dagger of the Mind”, guest-starring Lee Woodward’s brother, Morgan.

(No, I wasn’t referring to Lt. Uhura, though she is stunning… no, I don’t mean Uhura armed with a phaser. I’m talking about the color of space…  “the final frontier”, not H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” …nevermind.)

Other notes: Volume is noticeably lower on COMPONENT1 than VIDEO1. Same was true with the Cox cable box. Compensate by turning the TV up.

When changing channels with Channel Up/Down, it takes the HDFury converter a couple of seconds to negotiate the resolution for each channel. There was a bit of this with the Cox box, too. Not a problem if you use the Channel Guide to pick your channels as my wife does.

No artifacts at all in the picture. My cognitive dissonance has mostly abated. I am eager to show this to my “client” (the TV, not this post).

Our 2002 36" Panasonic TV in the den.

2002 36″ 4:3 217# TV, remote A|B switch, TiVo Roamio OTA, Roku, VCR/DVD, HDFury Gamer 2 (behind).

So long, Jerrold.

So long, Jerrold, it’s been good to know you.

In Pt 5: Tears for tiers (August 21, 2014), I said:

“(Analog) is an unadvertised (Cox) feature, and works for those with at least the Essential level of service. But there is no guarantee how long this will be available. The cable company will no doubt delete this anachronism without warning at some point, could be a year, could be 5 years.”

It will be just under a year from that statement; see the Tulsa World, 3/17/2015:

Cox Communications will soon require customers to use boxes for cable”
by Robert Evatt, World Business Writer

Excerpts:

“As technology marches on, the time has finally come: Cox Communication’s analog signals are being phased out, and as a result cable subscribers soon won’t be able plug their TVs directly to the wall.

“Instead, subscribers into Cox’s TV Starter pack, or those with higher packages that plug secondary TVs into the wall without a box, will need to get mini boxes in order to keep getting a signal after August 4.

“Bruce Berkinshaw, director of product operations at Cox Communications, said this move could affect up to 70 percent of all subscribers.

“’This is the biggest change we’ve ever done,’ he said.”

and

“The good news is that one new, palm-sized hardware per household will be available at no initial cost for one year; some Cox customers may qualify for an extended use plan. After the first year, Cox will charge $1.99 per month for each box in a household.”

and

“That’s the carrot. Here’s the stick — customers without a box will begin to lose their channels five at a time starting Tuesday, May 26.”

 


Sure and begorrah, St. Patrick’s Day could be a fine day to begin the savin’ o’ the green.

Previous blog entries about Tulsa cable TV

Software-defined radio (SDR) is a technique for turning a computer into a radio. But not just an AM/FM radio...

(Click to enlarge) Free SDR# software playing KWGS using a USB tuner. But it’s not only an FM radio…

Last week, I set up a Free DIY internet radio recorder on my PC to record “All This Jazz” on KWGS in .mp3 automatically.

In that post, I mentioned that I had ordered an $8 USB FM tuner from Hong Kong on eBay. It arrived yesterday.

RTL2832U-R820T USB stick

RTL USB dongle. You won’t need the remote or the disk.

More precisely, it is an RTL2832U+R820T DVB-T SDR+DAB+FM USB 2.0 DIGITAL TV Tuner Receiver HT.

(If you can’t wait the week or two it takes from Hong Kong, here is an equivalent from Amazon: KEEDOX® RTL-SDR, FM+DAB, DVB-T USB Stick Set with RTL2832U & R820T)

The RTL2832U part of the chipset is a TV tuner, which is useless, because it works on the European standard, not ours.

R820T refers to the radio tuner part. Unlike a normal tuner, it has a vast frequency range of 24MHz to 1850MHz.

With the dongle plugged into my computer and free SDR# software installed, my “software-defined radio” tuned in FM stations and NOAA weather radio (162.55MHz in Tulsa).

Ham radio including CW (Morse code), unencrypted police and fire radio, aviation, etc. should also be receivable with the right antenna. Of course, the antenna supplied was inadequate, but good enough to verify the product works. (A 2’9″ piece of wire, alligator-clipped to the jack, does much better for FM reception.)

I saw regular spikes in the police and fire band, but I presume their communications are encrypted.

I have also been able to record KWGS in .wav format. I converted the .wav file to .mp3 with free Audacity software, at about 1/20 the size.

If you acquire one of these RTL2832U/R820T devices, here is a complete tutorial on setting up software-defined radio on your PC:

Getting Started with RTL-SDR and SDR-Sharp

Caution: try this only if you are careful and fairly knowledgeable about Windows. It is an excellent tutorial, but I still shot myself in the foot last night, while trying to swap the USB stick’s standard driver for a special low-level access driver (I was in a hurry to get it working before our Date Night started.)

Today, I was able to extract the bullet, cauterize the wound, and finish the job, but just be advised, it can be a risky operation if you aren’t super-careful.

I opened Windows Media Center to see if it would recognize the tuner, but it didn’t. I will investigate later; this is our Sci-Fi Saturday!

(3/15/2015: I don’t think this device can integrate into Windows Media Center, unless you are on a European version of Windows. As it is, the SDR radio/recorder is cheap, fun and useful; it lacks only a scheduled recording capability. SDR-Radio.com offers software that does scheduled recording, but with different hardware, such as FUNcube.)