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How can I tell my reception before I buy an STB?

820 Views 17 Replies 11 Participants Last post by  Andy238
Is there any way I will be able to figure out what my reception will be like BEFORE I go buy an STB which I'll have to pay a restocking fee on if I have to take it back?

Best Buy does not sell STBs anymore and everyone else charges a restocking fee.

Is there any kind of device I can get that will tell me the reception before I buy the box? Some kind of voltmeter perhaps?

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One indication is to see how well you could recieve analog OTA; particularly UHF channels.

Most DTV transmitters are in the same location of their analog counterpart.

If you get a stable image with little ghosting and no visible RF noise, your chances are really good.

(Don't take my word as gospel though - there are people here in on the west side of l.a. (santa monica) that have unwatchable analog, yet they get a perfect DTV.)

A good way to get more than a SWAG would be to find your lat/long from Terraserver (get to your location and I believe there's an Image Info link above the sat. image that will lay a lat/long grid over the image and you can deduce from there).

Then, take your lat/long and go to the FCC TV Query site and use a range of, oh, 100km (a little over 60 miles) and it will return a list of stations' towers within that range.

Check the descriptions of the digital towers you are interested in and check the directionality of the transmitter (some are omni-directional so it won't matter) and the power level.

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Look at your analog TV off broadcast signal from an antenna is a good determination of reception. Roman is correct about the ghosts, you do not need to worry about a little snow or other noise.

I have more information about pointing the antenna here http://www.dtvconsultants.com/antenna_pointing.htm
Quickest way may be to check for a thread here that relates to your area and what's going on. Roman's advice has some flaws, namely a number of stations have gone to a low power transmitter for their DTV channel that greatly reduce the their coverage area for DTV compared to their analog transmitter. He's maybe correct for LA, but I would get some local info if I were you.

Also, the station engineer possibly has estimated coverage maps that he could check if you get in touch. These ideas will get you a feel for the chance of success you may have.

As far as the meter, I think these are some available that are in the $600-800 range that measure analog TV signals, but you need a spectrum analyzer and antenna ($10K or more) if you want a real answer for DTV.
You can buy a spectrum analyzer for about $1.5K, or buy a Zenith tuner to try and return if you do not like it.

Low power is not a big deal as long as there is not an adjacent channel.
Originally posted by Jim Burns
You can buy a spectrum analyzer for about $1.5K, or buy a Zenith tuner to try and return if you do not like it.

Low power is not a big deal as long as there is not an adjacent channel.
Given distance and terrain are not problems. That's why I posted that link to the FCC site. Should give Peter an accurate distance at least.
You could also say where you are and ask your fellow helpful forum readers. Others in the same area will likely tell you what they receive, and it might be an indicator of what you'd receive, too.
BestBuy does still sell Samsung SIR-T150 if all you need is OTA. $599 on bestbuy.com - that's where I bought mine. Has good receiver & lots of outputs/configurations.
If you go to www.titantv.com, fill in your information, what type of antenna, where you will install, what stations you are trying to pick up, etc., they will provide you with 1: a recommended antenna and 2: the list of stations with your prospect for reception - excellent, good, poor. I found them to be quite accurate for my location. Doesn't cost a thing.

You might be in for some problems if you rely on some online guides-- most of them don't take account of the topology of your neighborhood (i.e. if you live on the wrong side of a hill or you have a 20 story building nearby that acts as a multipath mirror).

I still think viewing OTA analog UHF is the easiest way to gauge it. It sure beats spending several hundred bucks on test equipment- (which in that case you might as well buy the STB on a hunch.)
Originally posted by peter0302
Best Buy does not sell STBs anymore and everyone else charges a restocking fee.
I was in 2 Best Buy's yesterday and they each had three different HD receivers available.

I don't think Circuit City charges restocking fees either.

Does Sears carry HD receivers at all? You might try there (also no restock fee).

Try going to a store where they sell HDTV's and see if they have an OTA setup at the store to see what kind of signal strengths you get there (assuming it's close to your home).
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Interesting about Best Buy. Last time I checked was a couple of months ago. Which ones do they have and how much were they, if you rememebr?
Prices varied on all of them. They had a few new units, and a few open box/returned ones that had been marked down.

I know they had:

Samsung SIR-T150


Toshiba DST3000 (I'm pretty sure it was this model, not 100% though.)

Again, prices varied from retail down to deep discounts for open boxes.
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It may be that the Best Buy in your area doesn't carry any STB becausae there is no HDTV being broadcast in your area. Although, I would think they would still have the DTV/Sat combo boxes. What is your location?

They used to have the Toshiba DST-3000 for the outrageous price of $749. I don't even think they carry that anymore.

Plus, I forgot to mention this - they make you sign up for DirecTV when buying the receiver even if you are only going to use it for OTA. They claim it prevents people from buying it and using pirated equipment to get DirecTV. Haven't figured that one out yet.
that's horsesh*t. I bought a DTC100 without signing anything... though this was a couple of years ago.

Some retailers are implimenting a so-called "non-subscription" tax ... up to $250 added to your STB if you don't sign up to D* upon your purchase.

I've heard it's because the retailers get a $250 kickback from DirecTV if they sign you up with your STB purchase. But they don't get it if you don't sign, so it's a way for them get that $250 regardless. You'll find that the STB manufacturers & DirecTV has no policy for this- it's entirely created by the retailer.

My advice would be to keep shopping for it elsewhere.
I just read that AT&T cable in Chicago is adding HDTV of the major networks. Here's the link to the story that gives the areas where it's available:


Maybe it's available where you are...

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