Set-top HDTV antennas, connecting computer to projector

Week 34, 2003

Q:     I recently bought a Hughes Platinum HDTV satellite receiver and everything works fine. I also installed a Terk TV55 antenna to be able to receive local over-the-air HDTV.   That’s when my problems started. I know my local stations sometimes have HDTV programming, but when I try to watch an over-the-air HDTV program, it doesn’t come in very well. Any ideas?

– Bert, South Broward County, FL

A:     I strongly suspect the problem lies in the antenna you are using.     I have personal experience with the Terk TV55, and it was unable to tune HDTV stations when I tried it.   Several other home theater enthusiasts have posted similar complaints regarding this antenna.

When receiving an over-the-air transmission, be it a television, FM radio, or any other kind of radio signal, the antenna is of absolutely critical importance.     A good antenna will provide stronger signals from local transmitters, and may allow you to tune distant stations you were unable to receive before.

The kind of antenna required is determined largely by the area you live in, and how far you are from the transmitting towers.   If you live in an area surrounded by hills or large buildings, or are far from the transmitting stations, you may need a large outdoor antenna to receive strong signals.   If you are close to the transmitting stations, or live in flat terrain, a set-top antenna may be all you need.   Your South Florida location meets both of the latter requirements, so I recommend a high-quality set-top antenna.   You can always return it if it does not work for you.   At that point, you will have to consider an outdoor antenna.

The best set-top HDTV antenna I know of is the Zenith Silver Sensor, available for between $30-$40.   It has received outstanding reviews from those who have tried it, and is designed specifically for HDTV reception.   You can see it at www.zenith.com.

The Silver Sensor is a directional antenna, which means you must manually point it in the general direction of the station you are trying to receive.   I am confident it will easily outperform the Terk TV55, though it is less than half the price.  

HDTV signals run on the UHF band, so any antenna you buy should be a UHF antenna, or have UHF capabilities.   The means if you have a set-top antenna with both VHF and UHF connections, the UHF connection is the one you should connect to your HDTV receiver.   If you enjoy listening to FM radio on a stereo system, an ordinary $10 pair of VHF rabbit ears makes an outstanding antenna- try it!   You will tune distant stations you never received before.
Q:     I do video presentations with a laptop computer and a video projector.   My laptop speakers are not loud enough for my audience (groups of four to ten people) to hear. The projector has an audio input and a speaker for sound.   What connector do I need to connect my laptop to the projector?

– Matthew B. Baker, Upper St. Clair, PA

A:   The connection wire you need depends on the projector you have.   You probably need a male mini-plug to male miniplug connector, or a male miniplug to RCA plug audio connector.

The video projector speaker will have to compete with noise from the projector’s cooling fan.   A better solution would be to buy a small pair of amplified computer speakers and use them with your laptop.   Almost any set of external computer speakers will play both louder and clearer than the small speaker in a video projector, and will include the connection cable that you need.  

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