What Is The Best Digital Aerial?
You are reading this article because you’re interested in getting the best possible signal, most reliable and best quality signal so you have decided to look for the best digital aerial to use or most appropriate aerial for your use. There are lots of items that can affect which aerial you should use for your property for the best signal and this blog will help you pick the right aerial for yourself, together with recommendations of aerials and manufacturers that we use ourselves for professional aerial installations. I recommend once you finish reading this blog to head over and read our other blog on a guide to picking the right TV aerial.
It's worth noting that there is no perfect one for all aerial. There is a manufacturer call “One For All” aerial or something like that, but this is complete nonsense (or clever marketing). What works perfect in one scenario may not be optimum in another or completely inappropriate in another. Like Harry Potters wand where the wand chooses the wizard, the aerial chooses the job and not the other way around. Well, not exactly the aerial chooses the job. But the aerial should be decided based upon the individual requirements of the job and not the other way around. To choose the aerial first would be doing it the wrong way around. Fortunately, this article will help you pick the right TV aerial with recommendations and awards for the best aerials for digital Freeview reception in weak, moderate and strong signal areas.
What Makes an Aerial “Digital”?
First things first, there is no such thing as a digital aerial, there never was and never has been anything that makes an aerial “digital” or digital compatible. This is confused even further by the fact that in the build-up the digital switchover, during and immediately afterwards many aerials were branded with a digital benchmarked logo which includes a big digital tick on the aerial packaging. This was even included on TV advertising, broadcasting and marketing material. It didn’t really help to be honest, it fact it added to confusion and led to many people replacing what they believed to be old analogue aerials for new digital type aerials when the only thing that needed to contain a digital tick was the television receiver itself to show that it was compatible with the new digital signals.
This whole scenario led to complete miss selling of products, conflicting of information within the media and between aerial installation companies. Another common misconception is that aerials with the big back reflectors were the digital aerials and the ones without this were analogue aerials when it is simply a technical advancement on the design which improved the antenna front to back ratio and slightly improved signal gain. This in itself is largely unnecessary, and many aerials can work fine without the back reflectors even attached, (I’m not recommending this however). I still get asked the question when I install log periodic aerials in strong and medium strength reception areas which do not have as part of their design a back reflector, whether the aerial is digital or not? For your reference, because of the way that log periodic aerials transfer the signals to the coaxial cable they do not need a back reflector, I even caught a customer checking the aerial packaging after I had already told them this.
Another funny situation I was in when a customer who had BT out told them that they needed a digital aerial, I turned up and told me that he didn’t after the checking the aerial signals which were perfectly fine but not working on the BT Vision box. To cut a log story short the customer was telling me that he needed a digital aerial and I was telling him that he didn’t and that replacing the aerial would not fix his issue, he would just be pouring money down the drain. In the end it turned out top be a funny issue with Youview boxes that I had encountered many times since and fixed with a bandpass filter that didn’t look like it should work, please read more information on this from a previous blog on funny issue with BT Vision & Youview boxes.
Best Aerial For Digital Reception
As I already said above. “There is no such thing as a digital aerial”. All the aerial is doing is picking up radio waves that are in the air and relaying them down the connecting coaxial cable to the TV. It does not matter whether the signal has been digitally modulated onto the carrier wave or whether it is analogue. What does matter is the frequency. An aerial is designed to receive a broadcast frequency or frequency band. Most TV aerials that are installed these days are designed to pick transmissions from the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) band. That is the most important thing of all. If you are trying to use a Very High Frequency band aerial, like is used for FM and DAB radio for TV reception then you’re going to get a very poor TV reception indeed.
I’m going to throw a spanner in the works and adjust my statement so that it now reads:
“There is no such thing as a digital TV aerial, but some aerials are more suited towards digital TV reception than others”
Which begs the questions “What should I look for when buying a digital aerial?” With digital TV reception, whenever there is any sort of problem. This will always result in picture pixilation and/ or complete loss of TV signal. Both of which are completely unwatchable. With analogue signals although the TV signal could become very poor, this may result in the picture becoming a bit snowy or some lines on the screen, but it would still be possible to watch the TV programmes, if you could put up with the snow and lines of course! So, it’s important that the effects that what would normally cause lines or snow with analogue reception are completely removed as these could cause complete loss of TV picture. I recommend if you want to know more about what can cause TV pixilation and loss of signal that you read our blog ‘Why Does My TV Freeview Signal Keep Breaking Up & Pixelate?’
Here are the things that can maximise you digital TV reliability and what you should look for when choosing your digital TV antenna.
Aerial Band – Grouped & Wideband Aerials
This is the most important thing when choosing a TV aerial. As I already mentioned above this must be a UHF compatible aerial. Advise really does depend who you listen to whether to choose a grouped aerial or a wideband TV aerial. A grouped aerial will only cover a proportion of the overall TV spectrum and a wideband cover it all.
Which would lead to the question why would you use a grouped TV aerial? Well because they are only designed to pick a smaller range of frequencies, it helps maximise signal gain with a far smaller aerial and reduce unwanted signals outside that aerial group which it is designed to serve. If you had unwanted signals drifting in from nearby transmitters which you are not using, then a grouped aerial can dramatically reduce these signals and any problems they may create. The big downsides of using grouped aerials is that you would have to know what aerial group your transmitter is before you buy the aerial, plus often they can’t be used to be re-aligned to other transmitters in your area if you’re having issues with the transmitter that you’re using which is common here in the South East of the UK where we get interference from the continent so if you wanted to re-align your aerial from the Hastings transmitter to the Heathfield transmitter you could not do this when using a grouped antenna as the Hastings transmitter is a group A transmitter and the Heathfield transmitter is a group B.
The final problem is that using a grouped aerial wouldn’t allow from any frequency changes in the future which has already happened with the introduction of 4G and soon 5G when rolled out as they operate on frequencies which used to be reserved for TV services. I’m going to use my local main transmitter again as a reference, before the digital switchover which took place in May-June in 2012 the Heathfield transmitter used to be a group C/D band transmitter and so large amounts of aerials installed beforehand were group C/D aerials. This changed after the digital switchover where it became a group B transmitter. Because there are overlapping between the two groups many services were not affected, but many services were pushed to lower frequencies than what the aerial is designed to receive. In practice this isn’t always the end of the world it would normally just mean that some channels were stronger than others but with a further frequency band clearance which is due soon for 5G mobile broadband, it will push these services to even lower frequencies making a group C/D band a very poor choice indeed for reception from the Heathfield transmitter and this effect is happening across the county with different transmitters. A group C/D band aerial will make for a very poor aerial of choice regardless nowadays as it will primarily be designed to pick up frequencies now used by 4G and 5G, which when received themselves through a TV aerial and become too strong can overload your TV equipment and can cause very poor TV reception, loss of signal and pixilation.
Wideband aerials (WB) offer more flexibility, if you’re installing aerial professionally it’s far easier stocking and keeping wideband and 99% of our installations now utilise wideband aerials. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I prefer them, I still on occasion use group A aerials and it’s good to know that if you’re in a spot where you are struggling for signal that you can swap your WB aerial for a grouped aerial for a bit more signal.
Signal Gain – Forward Gain
The amount of signal that an aerial picks up when compared to other aerials is referred to the forward gain and it is represented in dB. Signal gain sounds great and something that would always want but this isn’t always the case as there is such a thing as having too much signal, yes that is a thing! The aerial types with the highest forward gain maximise the signal that is being received and are referred to as high gain aerials. This is done by adding more elements to the aerial, which in turn can make the antenna itself considerably larger so when installing large high gain aerials, you need to also consider upgrading the supporting fixings so that the aerial doesn’t fall down. It’s very common for the aerial mast to snap where a high gain aerial has been installed onto a mast that it too slim or have supporting brackets that can’t support the length of the mast and weight of the aerial with wind loading.
It's worth noting, that when using the forward gain figure to choose whether you will install that aerial is that the figure is given on the frequency where the signal gain is that it’s strongest, this is usually towards the highest end of the frequency spectrum until the signal reaches the 4G band which new aerials are designed to reject.
Here is a scenario that will help explain what I’m talking about in the above.
1) A Vision V10 48LF TV aerial, which is a high gain wideband aerial and is advertised of having a forward gain of around 14dB. But this is only where the frequency response is at its highest at around 750Mhz. In the lower frequency part of the UHF, the “A band” the frequency response forward gain is around 8dB.
2) Contrast this with a Vision V10 28L TV aerial, which is a wideband log periodic aerial and not considered high gain. Log periodic aerials work differently to other Yagi types of antenna and deliver a much flatter response across the whole of the UHF frequency band. Although the forward gain is advertised as being around 10.65dB in the lower part of the frequency band, the “A Band” the forward gain is still around 8-10dB so can actually beat a high gain aerial in terms of performance on the lowest frequencies.
So, you can on occasion be better off by choosing a log periodic aerial instead of using a high gain aerial, especially when aligning the aerial to group A transmitter like the Crystal Palace transmitter in London or the Rowridge transmitter on the Isle Of Wight. These are far smaller and far less expensive and of course a group A aerial would trump both of these in terms of performance when using a group A transmitter.
Front To Back Ratio
Even when you point an aerial in one direction, it will not completely limit the signal pick up from other directions. So, care should be taken to reduce the signals from neighbouring transmitters which are not in use as these also could problems. One of the best ways of doing this, especially when the interfering signal is behind the aerial when it’s aligned is pick an aerial with a good front to back ratio which again is represented in dB. To improve the front to back ration modern aerial designs have implemented large back reflectors which help improve the front to back ratio of an aerial. Although it’s good to choose an aerial with a good front to back ratio is isn’t the end of the world, as depending where you are geographically located you may not have any interfering transmitters near you that can cause a problem.
What’s Important To Look For In Digital Aerials?
I would say personally that the most important features that a good suitable TV aerial for digital TV has is an integrated balun, a screened connection, 4G rejection, 5G rejection (in the near future) and a double screened connecting coaxial cable.
A good quality double screened coaxial cable will minimise interference pick up and signal loss to help preserve a good reliable digital TV or Freeview reception.
A screened connection on the aerial will also prevent interference from entering the system at the aerial itself. It’s good practice and most common to choose an aerial that has an F screw on connector.
A balun, which is short for balanced to unbalanced transformer matches the balanced aerial to the unbalanced coaxial cable. Because the cable screen which is protecting interference from reaching the centre conductor of the coaxial cable is still picking up interference. This has the ability at the aerial to feed back into the system. The balun will help fizzle most of the out and really help improve the reliability of the signal and potentially get rid of any pixilation. I would say that if you are buying a new aerial than you should check to make sure that it has an integrated balun before purchasing UNLESS it is a log periodic type aerial which doesn’t need a balun, or large back reflectors for that matter.
4G rejection is built into pretty much all new aerials and going forward so will 5G rejection. Picking an aerial that has either 4G rejection and 5G rejection will help reduce the effects the 4G an 5G interference which could cause loss of TV signal. Please follow the links below to read our previous blogs on 4G and 5G interference and how it can affect your digital TV reception.
Relevant Standards / Certifications For Digital TV Aerials
As I already mentioned earlier in the blog, the digital tick that featured on many digital aerials before, during and immediately after the digital switch over that caused so much confusion has disappeared. So here are some of the relevant standards that you may want to look for when choosing a digital TV aerial. The Confederation of Aerial Industries are the people to trust in these situations and here are some of the standards that you should look out for:
CAI Standard F – This is the standard for weak signal aerials
CAI Standard S – This is a “standard” aerial which is suitable across the whole of the DTT coverage area.
There used to also be the following standards that have been removed since the introduction of 4G, 5G and other LTE services, personally I preferred these standards as you can easily what beats the others (excluding standard 4) A 2 beats a 3, a 1 beats a 2 and so on, It’s not so clear with the F standard and S standard, these sound more likes type of performance car. But if you come across them will know what they are for:
CAI Standard 1 – This is the highest performing aerial for the very weakest signal areas. In all my 11 years installing aerials I have only ever installed 1x standard 1 aerial. This is because they are massive, expensive and usually completely unnecessary.
CAI Standard 2 – This again is for use in weak signal areas and are high gain aerials. Again, in medium and good signal areas these are usually completely unnecessary.
CAI Standard 3 – The most common aerial I used to install. Although these are still considered high gain, they are usually much smaller, less expensive and a lot less unsightly.
CAI Standard 4 – This was a special category which gave product certification to log periodic aerials only.
To completely contradict what I have just said in this section, it’s not the end of the world if the aerial you choose hasn’t been certified with a CAI Standard F or CAI Standard S product approval as many designs of aerial and manufactures that deserve this certification have yet to receive it at the time of writing this.
Recommended Digital Aerials – Best Aerial Awards
Taking all this blog into consideration and together with some other qualities which include quality of construction & cost and I am please to recommend the following aerials for digital TV and Freeview reception in the UK.
Best Budget TV Aerial – For Good Signal Aerials
Optima L 20 F Element Log Periodic Aerial
Some may say that this is a controversial choice given that most log periodic have more elements and slightly more signal gain. But that’s why I love this aerial for good strong signal aerials. Whereas some log periodic are quite long this aerial is a good length (which also makes them easier to store on the van), is super light and comes with an F easy to make F connection at the end of the aerial. You will need to water proof this with the self-amalgamating tape included but other than that the construction is completely done for you. Just attach it to the mast and align. Because it is a log periodic aerial it also has a super flat response across the UHF TV band making it perfect for most TV transmitters, especially those that broadcast in the A band.
Best All-Round Aerial – Medium Signal Aerials
Vision V10-32LF-5P F (Vision 32)
I install Vision 32 aerials more than any other aerial type, you can rarely go wrong with Vision products as they are always high quality (except for their 12V Power Supply units). The thing I like most about the Vision 32 aerial is that for a high-performance aerial it’s very compact and light. It’s a high gain aerial making it perfect for medium and moderate signal aerial strength areas and comes complete with an integrated balun and screened F connection. Constructing aerial can be done with out any tools and only takes a minute or two, I do recommending tightening the bolts with an adjustable spanner or pliers however as it is difficult to get these as tight as needed with just your hands.
Best High Gain Aerial – Fringe & Weak Signal Areas
Antiference Extra-gain F 10 Bay T (XG10)
I admit I don’t install many of these nowadays as the signal coverage is so much better with digital TV opposed to analogue but, this is my aerial of choice for weak and poor signal aerials where a high gain antenna is required to maximise the amount of signal that is received. I admit it was very close between the XG10 and the Wolsey HG10 with the HG10 being slightly more cost effective, but I opted for the XG10 owning to the superior construction strength which is very important with large aerials. As the aerial is large and relatively heavy I recommend installing slightly larger fixings to accommodate this, the aerial does come with a centre mounted boom arm which allows you to even distribute the aerial weight. Many high gain aerials like some of the Vision models don’t allow this and they tend to tip towards the ground over time. The XG10 again comes with an integrated balun and a screened F connection to protect against outside interference. Assembly takes a little bit longer than other types of aerial and will require a 10mm spanner, 13mm spanner to attach to the mast. I also recommended tightening the back-reflector screws with a phillips screwdriver and pliers. Once this is all done you have a near perfect aerial for fringe reception areas.
Just so you know I haven’t intentionally picked 3 different manufacturer aerials, it just worked out that way. Optima is actually a slightly lower quality range made by Vision, but they got it right with their log periodic aerial. I regularly install the aerials above and I’m happy to recommend them to my customers and readers of my blog.
As always, I hope that you liked this article, if you have any questions or would like recommendation or other aerial and satellite equipment, like grouped aerials please do LEAVE A COMMENT and I will get back to you in the soonest.
Until next time,
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