With many people abandoning traditional cable plans OTA (Over the Air) TV has made a comeback. You may ask yourself, antenna TV, isn’t that what my grandparents watched? Over the air television is still a thing. There are a lot of broadcasting stations throughout the US. According to NoCable.org there are 2,747 stations in Texas alone.
At Circuit Scribe we are always developing new and innovative projects. After finding a DIY antenna project on HTPG-DIY we decided to try it with silver ink. The antenna worked great; we were able to get 51 channels. It worked even better than a 35 dollar store-bought antenna which only got 38 channels. After some measurements we found that each pen has enough ink to draw four antennas. It only takes a quarter of a gram of silver to pick up 52 channels. For reference, a penny weighs two and a half grams.
Draw Your Own Antenna
Here is how to draw your own HDTV antenna using Circuit Scribe Conductive Ink!
What you’ll need:
- Circuit Scribe Pen ($9.99)
- TV – Matching Transformer ($5.00)
- Coaxial Cable (Prices vary, but you should be able to get a good 15 foot cable for $10 or less.)
- Access to a printer, paper, and tape
The total antenna cost is $15 or $25 if you need to buy a coaxial cable.
- Print the PDF of the fractal antenna design. The PDF can be found here. Thank you to William Ruckman from HTPG-DIY for posting the design
- Trace the pattern on the page and allow a bit of time to dry. (15 min)
- Tape the TV-Matching Transformer to the small two circles at the bottom center.
- Your antenna is ready to be placed in a window.
Bonus steps for those who want to go a little deeper: The longer the conductive ink dries, the lower the resistance*. Generally, with lower resistance there will be less signal loss. After 15 minutes, the ink measured between 3 and 5 ohms. After 24 hours, it measured 2-3 ohms. To get the resistance even lower in a hurry, put the page in the oven at 180 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes. The resistance of the traces of the antennas in the lightly toasted picture and overcooked picture were between 0.3-0.5 ohms.
Where to place your antenna?
The inside of a window will get the best reception. The direction the antenna faces is important. It should be pointing towards a broadcasting station you want to watch. There are different ways to find broadcasting stations in your area. Antenna Web, Antenna Direct, and No Cable all show where broadcasting stations are located. We used a free app called Antenna Point, by Antenna’s Direct Inc. It shows your location and broadcasting towers on a map and works with your phone’s compass. The suggested direction button recommends the direction to point your antenna to get the most stations. For example, our Circuit Scribe office is located south of the river in Austin Texas, so our suggested direction is almost directly North.
Once you find the right direction of the station you want, tape the antenna on the inside of a window facing that same direction, as shown below of the page. Next, connect the coaxial cable from the TV to the antenna. Then, scan for channels. Depending on the TV, you may need to hit input before the channel scan option appears in the menu. The channel scan will take a few minutes. Finally, you can kick back and watch some TV.
Digital and Analog Signals
Since 2009 all TV broadcasting stations were required by law to send digital signals. Digital Signals are transferred in packets of information which means you either get the entire packet or you don’t. When we changed to a station that wasn’t coming in clear the picture would occasionally drop, the sound would go out for a second or two, or we would see grey or green squares on the TV. Analog signal is like yelling to someone across a field. During a windy day you might not be able to hear very well, but you could still hear something. A weak analog TV signal could still come in but with a lower volume or grainy picture.
No matter what antenna you use, you’ll be able to see 1080i or 4k. BUT the TV station has to be broadcasting in 1080i or 4k. After surfing the airwaves in Austin, I found 8 channels that were broadcasting in 1080i. Most were in 480i with only a couple in 720p. Currently there are no stations broadcasting in 4k, but there are plans to do so in the future.
Come back next week to see part 2 where we will explore this antenna design with different materials like Plexiglas and copper tape. We will also be pitting our paper antenna against the Mohu Releaf ($38) and see which one comes out on top.
*Electrical Resistance is a measure of the opposition to the flow of electrical current through a conductor.