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Connecting an Antenna to Multiple TVs

For more information on watching your favorite TV shows without a cable subscription, check out our guide on watching TV without cable.

While you can watch local TV online, the best way is with an OTA antenna. Connecting one antenna to multiple TVs can sometimes be an ordeal depending on the signal strength in your area.  I’ve seen situations where all the TV’s work fine with their own indoor antenna, but once the outdoor antenna is installed, no TV can get reception.

These issues mainly result from improper installation of the coaxial cable and antenna cable splitters running from the antenna to the TV’s within the house. While simply connecting a bunch of coaxial cable might result in HDTV, often times it increases the installation time due to all the unnecessary signal troubleshooting.

This article takes you through the steps you should take to avoid the common mistakes people make when installing their antenna for HDTV. It took me years to learn this, but taking the time to install something properly will save time fixing mistakes in the future.

Step 1: Position the Antenna Properly

Before you worry about connecting the antenna to multiple TVs, make sure there is optimal signal strength on one TV. Connect the antenna to one television. Ensure there are no coaxial cable splitters in the line. A grounding block should be the only thing between your TV and the antenna.

Properly position and mount the antenna to capture the most TV stations on the one TV. TVFool.com can provide you with this bull’s-eye map indicating where the TV towers are located in your area. I’ve also put together an episode of the Grounded Reason Podcasts that walks you through using TV fool.

If they are positioned in multiple directions, you may want to use an omni-directional antenna like the Mohu Sky. I found the Sky to be the best small multi-directional antenna I tried, and personally use it myself.

However, if stations are situated in a single direction, perhaps a Yagi style antenna like the 43XG may be better for your situation.

Once you’ve ensured the antenna is properly set up, and the TV is capturing the channels you need we can move on to getting all of the TVs in your house on over the air high definition signals.

Step 2: The Coaxial Run

The first time someone installs an antenna, they typically think they need an amplifier. I made that mistake myself.  It’s not always the case, and in fact an amplifier can sometimes overload a strong signal causing reception issues.

So forget about the amplifiers for now. Consider it a tool for fixing reception issues should we encounter them later.  For this step,  we simply need  coaxial cable and a splitter.

Use RG-6 Coaxial Cable

The length of the Coaxial cable contributes to signal loss.  The longer the cable, the more loss the signal can incur. In the U.S. cable installers used to use RG-59. This cable is still sold and can be found within many houses in the U.S. I recommend staying away from this older coaxial cable and opt to use the RG-6U standard.

Use RG-6U for TV antennas

RG-6U cable has been shown to cut signal loss almost in half compared to the old RG-59 standard.  These cables look very similar. The cable type is typically printed on the outer sheath of the coaxial cable . The RG-6U cable is slightly thicker in diameter compared to its RG-59 counterpart.

Use the Correct Antenna Splitter

Each output of the cable splitter degrades the signal regardless of whether it’s connected to a television or not. A splitter with 4 outputs will roughly divide the original signal strength by 4 or 25%. Therefore, it’s wise to get a splitter where the number of outputs exactly matches the number of TVs you are hooking up. For more information check out my post on choosing the right coaxial splitter.

Avoid daisy chaining splitters.  In other words, if you are hooking up 3 TVs use a 3-way splitter instead of connecting the output of one 2-way splitter to another 2 way splitter. A 3-way splitter provides 33% of the signal strength to each TV.

However daisy chaining 2 splitters will provide 50% of the signal  to the TV connected to the first splitter in the chain, while the 2 TVs connected to the second splitter only receive 25% of the signal strength. This leads to an unbalanced configuration that can make troubleshooting difficult and create issues if you expand in the future.

Also be careful when buying a 3-way splitter. Some Are unbalanced where one output has less loss than the others. For example 1 port will has -7dB while the other 2 outputs show a -3.5dB. This is because the internal workings of the splitter essentially daisy chain a pair of 2-way splitters. A balanced splitter will show the same loss on all outputs.

Connecting The Televisions to the Antenna

By this point we know there is decent signal strength coming from the antenna from when we set up the first TV. Any reception lost from this point on is due to the equipment, namely the coaxial cable, splitters and digital TV tuners.

Before connecting any televisions, draw with pencil and paper where the splitter and cable will be run in your house. Then, measure how much cable you we need for each run.   Keep your cable lengths as short as possible as the longer the length, the more signal is lost.

Now it is time to install the first TV with the splitter. We will install the TVs one at a time and test.  This will give us an idea of what point the signal drops out for a given channel. Connect the line from the antenna to the splitter input and one output to a TV. Now test to make sure the TV can receive all the channels it could before introducing the splitter.

Continue Adding  one TV at a time to the splitter and test for channels. Keep adding televisions until they are all installed or, you aren’t receiving all the channels you should on each TV.  If at any time the TV can’t receive the same number of channels we may need to look at amplifying the signal, which I cover in the next section.

Do You Need an Antenna Amplifier?

Antenna Gain vs Amplifier Gain

Antenna amplification can be a confusing topic.  There are generally 2 types of signal amplification in regard to antennas.  The first is usually called “antenna gain.” This is amplification inherent within the antenna. It is a term mainly used when discussing directional antennas.

The gain being discussed with “antenna gain” isn’t really adding any power to the signal. It’s more of a representation of how well the antenna converts the signal wave to an electric current. Directional antennas concentrate that ability in one direction, hence sacrificing gain in other directions.

The other type of amplification, amplifies the signal after it is received. This typically referred to as “amplifier gain” and will not make the signal better than what it received by the antenna. Only antenna gain will improve  picking up a  signal from the TV tower. Amplifier gain is used to overcome loss in the line and noise from the digital tuners on the TV.

This distinction is important. If you can receive all the channels you need when hooking the antenna directly to one television, then amplification is only needed to overcome loss in the line.  However, if you were having issues before any splitters were introduced then we may need to look at purchasing a directional antenna with higher gain.

Which Amplifier to Use?

Amplifier gain is mainly delivered from 2 devices, a preamplifier or a distribution amplifier.  They essentially perform the same function with a slight difference. A preamplifier is installed at the antenna and amplifies the signal. A preamplifier should be used to overcome a long coaxial cable (over 100ft) in between the antenna and the splitter (or the lone TV).

A distribution amplifier is installed just before the splitter and is used to amplify the signal for splitting to multiple TVs. Some distribution amplifiers, like the one pictured below, also function as a splitter.

These amplifier both have similar function, but generally if there is a long cable run before the splitter, try installing a preamplifier to see if it fixes the issue. On the other hand, if you see loss not from the line but the splitter, you will want to try using a distribution amplifier.

Some situations may even require both if you are installing multiple TVs with a very long run of coaxial cable between the antenna and splitter.

To Much Signal Can be a Bad Thing

The reason we want to first try installing without amplifiers first is signal overload.  If the signal is strong from the tower, too much amplification can overload the tuner and cause the TV tuner not to receive the channel. Amplification should always be  seen as  a way to improve reception, not installed by default.

If you have any other questions on topics addressed in this article please leave them in the comments. I will address all questions and us them to expand the article in the future.

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