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Square Shooter antennas

Fortunately this antenna is out of production, but there may be some left in stock at distributors.  I have been replacing them for several years now, just replaced two last week.  It was manufactured by Winegard, called the “Square Shooter“.  Terk also distributed this antenna with their name on it.

Winegard makes excellent antennas, my favorite brand overall, but this was a design that just doesn’t work very well.  It will work on the UHF band at short ranges, and on the VHF band at very short ranges.  It actually has negative gain on the VHF band, meaning that it has less gain than a single dipole element, like rabbit ears.  Another problem is that the peak VHF reception is aligned 45 degrees to the right from the UHF reception.  For UHF reception, you point it straight at the transmitter.  For VHF reception, you point it 45 degrees to the left of the transmitter!  In the picture above, the Square Shooter on the left is aimed for VHF, the one on the right is aimed for UHF, at the same transmitting towers.  If you want good reception on VHF and UHF channels, you need two of these antennas fed through a VHF/UHF combiner.  Even then, VHF reception is very weak.  I measured signal strength on channel 9 with my reference dipole at 1.1 dBmV.  The Square Shooter measured -19.6 dBmV on channel 9.  A metal coat hanger would work better!

This is an excellent example of choosing form over function.  The marketing department wanted an antenna that looked good.  Most people think a traditional TV antenna is ugly, but a small satellite dish is less ugly.  The Square Shooter was designed to resemble a satellite dish, about the same size, same color.  It would have been a great idea if it had worked.  I am sure the engineering department did the best they could, but the aesthetic goal was too restrictive for good function.

Another company, Antennas Direct, has been successful with a better compromise between form and function.  These antennas are not as clean-looking as the Square Shooter, but they work much better, and most people would say they look better than traditional TV antennas.  I replaced the Square Shooters with a ClearStream5 for VHF and a ClearStream2 for UHF.  I measured the signal strengths for some of the Dallas/Ft Worth local broadcast channels before and after intstallation:

Channel

Square Shooter

ClearStream5

Increase

8 (8.1)

-16.1 dBmV

8.2 dBmV

24.3 dB

9 (52.1)

-19.6 dBmV

4.4 dBmV

24.0 dB

11 (11.1)

-27.0 dBmV

7.1 dBmV

34.1 dB

Channel

Square Shooter

ClearStream2

Increase

14 (13.1)

-1.9 dBmV

2.7 dBmV

4.6 dB

18 (21.1)

-14.0 dBmV

-9.7 dBmV

4.3 dB

19 (11.1)

1.3 dBmV

5.2 dBmV

3.9 dB

32 (33.1)

2.1 dBmV

3.5 dBmV

1.4 dB

35 (4.1)

-6.4 dBmV

-1.6 dBmV

4.8 dB

36 (27.1)

0.9 dBmV

5.1 dBmV

4.2 dB

41 (5.1)

-4.1 dBmV

0.9 dBmV

5.0 dB

42 (68.1)

-2.4 dBmV

3.6 dBmV

6.0 dB

43 (2.1)

-3.4 dBmV

1.2 dBmV

4.6 dB

45 (58.1)

-5.2 dBmV

-0.4 dBmV

4.8 dB

61 (6.1)

-18.5 dBmV

-13.1 dBmV

5.4 dB

ClearStream5, ClearStream2

While these ClearStream antennas work well, there are some drawbacks. You still need two antennas to cover both the VHF and UHF channels.  They cost a lot more than a traditional TV antenna.  They also take twice as long to install as a traditional VHF/UHF TV antenna.  Finally, they are still classified as a small antenna.  If you need a medium or large antenna according to antennaweb.org, these probably won’t work.

The small antenna I recommend is the Winegard HD7694P.  It performs better than the combined ClearStream antennas, it is a lot less expensive and easier to install.  If you don’t mind the looks, or install in an attic where it is not seen anyway, this is the way to go:

Winegard HD7694P

Winegard HD7694P combined VHF/UHF antenna

Many factors should be considered when deciding what the image size should be for a new HDTV.  Viewing distance is the most important factor.  But quite often the least important factor, cabinet size, is used to override all other considerations.  For a typical example, a few years ago a long time client moved in to a new home and called to get pricing on a 42″ plasma HDTV.  I asked what the viewing distance was and they measured it to be 18′.  I explained that 42″ would be a very small image size from that distance and asked how they arrived at that number.  The family room had a built-in cabinet, and 42″ was the largest size HDTV that would fit.  I stopped by for a visit and took a look at the family room.  It was very large, and the viewing area included the dining room and kitchen as well.  The cabinet was a typical built-in from the 1990s, made of particle board and painted white with latex wall paint.  It was designed for a TV installation before the days of HDTV, and had a 4:3 aspect ratio instead of the 16:9 ratio for an HDTV.  It was also sized for the largest TV of the day, about 32″. 

In their previous home, this customer had a 60″ diagonal HDTV with a 12′ viewing distance.  I asked them how long they planned to live in the new home.  They said they hoped it was the last home they would have to buy, so they hoped to live there for many years.  I asked where they would most often view television and movies.  Since there was no dedicated theater room in the home, the family room TV would be used most often.  

I recommended a 72″ rear projection TV for the family room.  I explained that the built-in cabinet should not limit their decision, since it was designed for television sets that were obsolete.  It was also built of inexpensive materials and in a very ordinary design and it could easily be modified by a good cabinet carpenter to fit the correct size HDTV.  They were going to spend many years watching TV in that room, why not start with the correct size and make the box fit the TV, not the other way around? 

Unfortunately I could not get this customer to think outside the particle board box, so I delivered and installed a very nice 42″ Panasonic plasma HDTV.  It looked great from 6′ away, but from 18′ away most of the incredible detail of a 1080p image was lost.  It was a very ho-hum image in a very ho-hum cabinet.  The customer said it was OK, but I know they were disappointed.  I know cost wasn’t the problem, but I will never understand why they let cheap particle board prevent them from many years of enjoyment of a Wow! video system. 

I see this all the time, but please don’t let this happen to you.  Think outside the box!  Pick the image size first based on all the right criteria, then figure out how you are going to make it fit.  Be creative, there is always a way. 

Think outside the box.

Think outside the box!

Even if you are not having a Super Bowl party, it is a great time to make sure you are getting the best possible picture on your TV.  It is amazing how much better the image will look when the basic controls (contrast brightness, color, tint, sharpness) on your TV are adjusted properly.  Ideally, you should have your TV calibrated by a professional, but here is a simple procedure that anybody can do without any special test equipment or tools.  This method works for any TV ever made, it doesn’t matter how old it is, what size it is or if it is digital or analog. 

If your TV has more than one video input, be sure to adjust these controls for each input.  You will notice that when you change video inputs, the settings for these controls are different.  Select the input (ANT, VIDEO 1, etc.) you are going to watch the Super Bowl on before making the adjustments.  Back in the 1950s, TV stations used to sign off at midnight, and they would broadcast a static Indian head test pattern until sign on early the next morning.  This was the ideal time to adjust the video controls on your TV. Those days are gone, but there is one channel, HDNet, that does broadcast a series of test patterns every Saturday morning at 5:30am central time.  You can make your adjustments at this time, or if you have a way to record this show you can play back the test patterns at a more convenient time and make the adjustments then.  But you can make these adjustments just using normal program material, it just takes a little longer.  If you have a way to pause live video it does make things a bit easier. 

Indian Head test pattern

 

Every TV has a contrast and brightness control, even a 60-year-old black and white TV.  Adjust these first.  Some TVs label the contrast control “picture”.  They are both misnamed.  The brightness control should be called the darkness control, and the contrast control should be called the brightness control!  The brightness control adjusts the black level.  It sets how dark the darkest parts of the image are.  The contrast control is the opposite; it sets how bright the brightest parts of the image are.  There is some interaction between these two controls, so go back and forth between the two adjustments a few times.  On a color TV, color information may be a distraction during the adjustment of contrast and brightness, so you might want to turn the color control all the way down and make the adjustments with a black and white image. 

Contrast

Let’s start with the contrast control.  Ideally you would use a test pattern, but for a simple adjustment, find a scene with some very bright areas, like a white football jersey or clouds in the sky.  The goal is to get the brightest areas of a scene to be as bright as possible without loosing detail in those areas. Concentrate on just the brightest part of the image while you make the adjustment; ignore any other part of the image.  While moving the contrast control back and forth, try to find the place where the brightest part of the image stops getting any brighter as you increase the control.  Then move the control back down until you just notice the brightest part of the image getting darker.  Leave it there.  Most TVs will look best and have the most accurate image if they are turned down just a bit from maximum light output.  As a bonus, the TV will also use less energy as the contrast control is turned down. 

Brightness

Next adjust the brightness control.  Find a scene with some black or very dark areas.  The goal is to get the darkest areas of a scene to be as dark as possible without loosing detail in those areas. Concentrate on just the darkest part of the image while you adjust the brightness control.  (Sounds strange, doesn’t it?)  Start with the brightness control all the way down.  Increase the brightness control until you just notice the darkest part of the image start to get brighter.  Turn it back down until it stops getting any darker.  Go up and down a few times and try to find the spot where the darkest area just starts to get brighter and then back it down a notch to where it just stops getting darker. 

Readjust the contrast control, and then readjust the brightness control.  Go back and forth a few times.  Turn up the color control to mid scale if you turned it off before. 

Color

The advent of color TV introduced two more controls, color and tint.  Color is sometimes labeled saturation and tint is sometimes labeled hue.  Start with these controls at the midpoint on the scale.  Adjust the color control all the way down and notice that all the color goes away and you have a black and white TV.  Adjust the color control all the way up and notice that the colors become garish, and may bloom, or cover a larger area.  Now that you understand what the color control does, go back to the midpoint of the scale and move it back and forth slightly until you see something you like.  This is a subjective adjustment, but that is all you can do unless you have a SMPTE color bar test pattern and a blue filter to look through.  Faces should not look sunburned and should appear natural.  Grass on a football field should not glow.  You will probably find that the image looks best with the control at or just slightly above mid scale. 

Tint

The tint control is also best adjusted with the SMPTE color bars and a blue filter.  A very good subjective setting can still be achieved by looking at faces.  Starting with the control at the midpoint, move it back and forth while looking at a face.  In one direction the face will start to have a green tint, in the other direction it will start to have a purple tint.  Find the setting that gives the most natural flesh tones on a variety of faces.  This will usually be very near the mid scale of the tint adjustment. 

Sharpness

The sharpness control is a holdover from the old days of bad TV reception and simple vacuum tube sets.  It should have been removed long ago, but the manufacturers are afraid to take it off for fear that consumers might avoid a set that is missing the sharpness control.  On almost every set this control should be turned all the way down or off.  Looking at a scene with fine detail, or black text on a grey background, turn the control all the way up and look for white fringes around the black text or around the edges of black lines.  Turn the sharpness control down until those white fringes disappear.  In general, turn it all the way down or off unless the image gets blurry at a low setting.  On many sets, this control doesn’t do anything, just a vestigial remnant from days gone by 

Now you are ready to watch the Super Bowl commercials in all their glory!  The game should look pretty good too.

NEW PRODUCT ANNOUNCEMENT­

 

The LIRPA CD Enhancer/LP Record Simulator:

A revolutionary new device for all those who believe that CD players produce “mid-fi” results, and that analog recordings (LPs) are superior to CDs.

PURPOSE:

This device allows you to tailor the signal produced by the Compact Disk medium to more closely resemble that of LP records. It can be placed between the Compact Disk player and your receiver, in a tape monitor loop or external processing loop, or between the preamp and power amplifier of your stereo system.

STANDARD FEATURES:

  • HARMONIC DISTORTION GENERATOR:  Adjustable from 0% to 100% THD (total harmonic distortion).  This allows you to increase the total harmonic distortion of the Compact Disk from 0.01% to levels found on typical LPs played with “top-of-the-line” stereo cartridges (commonly 1% THD or more).  An additional benefit is found in that this control also contributes to that ultra-sonic information above 22 kHz which was lost in the digital process.
  • SEPARATION-REDUCTION CONTROL:  Permits variable blending of left and right channels over a range from 90dB separation (found on Compact Disks) to full blending (monophonic sound).  Adjustment of about 30dB separation is recommended to simulate the typical “state-of-­the-art” stereo cartridge.
  • DYNAMIC RANGE COMPRESSOR:  Now you don’t have to worry whether your power amplifier or your speakers are “Digital-Ready”.  This knob allows you to reduce the dynamic range of the Compact Disk from 90dB to as low as 45dB.  This is a definite “must” for those who prefer the TELARC 1812 LP to the TELARC 1812 CD (suggested adjustment for this recording: 65dB).
  • SUB-SONIC DOPPLER DISTORTION GENERATOR:  Superimposes sub-sonic information on top of the “music” from the Compact Disk (variable in the 4Hz to 8Hz bandwidth from “slight warpage” to “fully warped”).  This re-creates that breath-taking (and amplifier power-robbing) Doppler distortion created by those subtle warps found only on analog records but missing from all known Compact Disks.
  • SURFACE NOISE GENERATOR:  Creates that “sea shore” sound so familiar with LPs, especially between tracks.  Allows you to know whether there is more music to come or if the CD has come to the end.
  • RANDOM POP GENERATOR:  You could never tell where that next “pop” was going to come from when playing your favorite LPs, despite meticulous cleaning on your part.  As the Compact Disk does not contain this useful “pop” information, this switch can be turned on to produce that familiar noise while listening to your CDs.  The variable adjustment allows simulation ranging from “virgin vinyl” to that wonderful noise found only on your favorite, well­ played LPs.
  • PREDICTABLE POP GENERATOR:  This can be set at 33 1/3, 45 or 78 to generate repetitive pops, simulating scratches on an LP at the various standard speeds.
  • WOW, FLUTTER & RUMBLE GENERATOR:  Everyone knows that there is no measurable Wow, Flutter, or Rumble on a Compact Disk, and what a bummer to not get something like that after paying $16.95 for a CD!  Now you can return to the sounds of yesterday with a simple adjustment of this knob — GET WHAT YOU PAID FOR AND BE ABLE TO MEASURE IT TOO!

 

OPTIONAL ACCESSORY PACKAGE:

 

  • MOVING COIL CARTRIDGE SIMULATOR:  Introduces a 6dB peak at 19 kHz, simulating those energetic resonances at very high frequencies typical of MC cartridges.  This causes the music to sound bright, with added “definition and detail”.
  • “KA-CHUNK” SIMULATOR:  Adds an assortment of interesting sounds to the information contained on the Compact Disk, including familiar sounds of dust covers closing, needle hitting the groove, and end of record ‘thunk’.
  • ACOUSTIC FEEDBACK LOOP PROCESSOR:  Allows your speakers to howl when the volume is turned up.  Especially good for simulating the effects of a turntable mounted on top of a speaker cabinet.
  • DIRT BALL SIMULATOR:  Muddles the music from the CD to mimic the sound of a dirt ball clinging to the diamond stylus during the playing of an LP.
  • MANUAL RECORD PLAYER SIMULATOR/END OF CD ALARM:  This useful accessory emits an audible alarm at the end of the playing of a Compact Disk. The alarm sound resembles this: “kathwoosh, kathwoosh, kathwoosh”.  It is programmable for the usual 33 1/3, 45, and 78 RPM.
  • FLOOR VIBRATION SENSING UNIT:  It is very difficult to get a Compact Disk to skip, but with this deluxe addition to your LIRPA Enhancer you can actually sense when people walk by your CD player.  Features a sensitive accelerometer which can be mounted to the floor with a few simple household tools.  Movement of the floor near the sensing unit causes a small electrical signal to be transmitted to the motorized unit (included) which mounts to the CD player directly.  The motorized unit can then shake the @#$%& out of your CD player until it causes the CD to skip, simulating some of the finest analog equipment available.

 

PRICE INFORMATION:

 

100% Solid State Model:

STANDARD PACKAGE:   $2,499.95 (U. S.)

ACCESSORY PACKAGE:  $1,499.95

Vacuum Tube Model:

STANDARD PACKAGE:   $6,499.99

ACCESSORY PACKAGE:  $4,499.99

I occasionally hear from a customer that they are having problems hooking up a turntable to their sound system.  They use the AUX or TAPE analog audio inputs on their system and can’t get any sound.  What is the problem?

The problem is that the analog audio inputs on most current amps, receivers, etc., require a “line level” input signal.  A line level signal is about 1 volt.  The phono cartridges found on most turntables output a much smaller “phono level” signal, around 1 milivolt.  The exception would be a ceramic cartridge, but these aren’t found too often since the 1950′s, and don’t have very good sound quality anyway.  Before CDs came out and pretty much did away with turntables, all audio amplifiers had a phono level input.  But these days it is hard to find any audio gear with phono level inputs.

To convert the phono level output from a turntable to line level compatible with the analog audio inputs on today’s gear, you need a phono preamp.  This device boosts the phono level signal to line level and then you can hear your old LPs once again.  The phono preamp also shapes the signal from the phono cartridge according to the RIAA equalization curve to compensate for equalization added during the recording process of LPs.  Prices start at about $20 and go up from there.  I saw one listed for $6,500!

A simple internet search on “phono preamp” should get you all the information you need.

Several customers have asked me recently about refresh rates on LCD TVs.  They wanted to know if the extra cost for 120/240 Hz refresh rates is worth the money, would they see the difference.

The short answer is no, you won’t see an improvement.  In fact, if you already have a TV with this feature, turn it off!  The higher refresh rates just add annoying artifacts to the image.  If I calibrate your LCD flat panel TV, I will turn off the higher refresh rate as a matter of course.

Why would the manufacturers of LCD TVs add a feature that makes the image worse?  This goes back to the early days of LCD technology.  The early liquid crystals used in video equipment had a very slow switching time.  For relatively static images this was OK.  For video, anything that changed or moved rapidly would appear to blur.  The competitors to LCD used this as a knock against LCD TVs.  (By the way, this applies to all the variants of LCD, like LCOS, D-ILA, etc.)

Over time, the technology of LCD improved to the point where the grey to grey switching times can now keep up with the 60 Hz video refresh rate of progressive scan TV.  However the perception of LCD motion blur hung around, so the LCD TV companies added 120 Hz refresh rates as a gimmick.  Now we have a feature war and 240 Hz refresh rate is available on some LCD TVs.  Expect even higher refresh rates to follow!

The best reviews I have seen by the most professional reviewers on LCD TVs agree that this gimmick is a step backwards.  Testing has shown that 60 Hz is more than fast enough to prevent the human eye from seeing motion blur.  After all, refresh rate of film used in most movie theaters today is only 24 Hz, and that has been the industry standard.  Do you see motion blur in a movie theater?  Interlaced scan updates at 30 Hz (480i, 1080i) and this is what most HDTVs are driven with.  Progressive scan is 60 Hz (480p, 720p, and 1080p) and no source material has a higher refresh rate.

So how does a TV get to 120 Hz or 240 Hz when the source material only has 30 Hz or 60 Hz?  Where do the extra frames come from?  A video processor in the TV interpolates or “guesses” at what video information should be in those extra frames.  This is a very complex process and requires expensive hardware to accomplish effectively.  A professional quality video processor that could do this would more than double the cost of an LCD TV!  So the commodity grade video processors in massed produced LCD TVs use gimmicks and tricks to create these extra frames to keep the cost of the hardware down.  Unfortunately they don’t do a very good job and the end result is an image that suffers from artifacts.

My recommendation is to compare other features to make your decision and ignore the refresh rate specification.  If you do happen to buy a TV with higher refresh rates, be sure to turn that off in the Picture Menu.  If your TV has a 24 Hz refresh rate, use that for watching movies on Blu-ray players that output 24 Hz.  That way you get frame for frame what was on the original film and this will look better than the 2-3 pull down used to convert 24 Hz film to 60 Hz video.

I installed a couple of Magnavox brand DTV converter boxes for a customer in Dallas Friday.  This was the first time I had seen this brand.  So far, all of the different brands I have installed worked pretty much alike.  This Magnavox unit however had one missing feature that all the others had.  It had no means to set up the remote to control the TV.  The customer had to use the TV remote to turn the TV off and on and control the volume, and then use the Magnavox remote to change the channels.  On every other converter I have installed I have been able to set the new remote to control the TV as well, so you can get by with only one remote, a major advantage.  If you are in the market for one of the government approved DTV converter boxes, I would not recommend the Magnavox unit for this reason.

I was doing a quick calibration of an HDTV today and I noticed the Nintendo Wii was hooked up using the Composite Video cable (yellow/white/red) that comes standard with the game.  The Wii video will look a lot better on an HDTV if you use the optional Component Video cable (red/green/blue, red/white) available just about anywhere Wii’s are sold.  Fry’s had one advertised this weekend for $14.99.  After you hook up the cable, use the Wii’s settings menu to enable 480p and 16 x 9 aspect ratio.  Thank me very much.

I was doing a quick calibration of a TV today and I noticed the picture from the Dish Network receiver looked a little soft.  I checked the cable and the installer had used HDMI so that was good.  I brought up the video settings menu on the satellite receiver and it was set to output 480p!  I switched this to 1080i and the picture sharpened right up.  I see this all the time.  I wonder how many HD cable and satellite boxes are installed with HDTVs and aren’t set to output HD video?  I had one customer that had been paying for HD for over a year and had never seen real HD before.  They were amazed when I changed the setting to output 1080i.

A new customer called recently about a problem he was having with a new 50″ Samsung plasma TV.  He had it installed in a dedicated theater room and it was putting out so much heat that they had to leave the door to the theater open and put a fan in the door to stay comfortable.  He said he couldn’t hold his hand on top of the TV for more than 30 seconds.

That is very unusual.  These TVs consume about 480 watts when operating, but I didn’t think that was enough to heat up a room.  I stopped by to check it out.  The Contrast control determines how bright the brightest areas of the screen are, and to some extent how much energy the TV consumes. This is usually turned up pretty high from the factory so it will look “brighter” in a showroom display compared to the competition.

On this TV the Contrast control was turned up to 95 out of 100 on all the inputs.  I changed the Picture mode to Movie and then calibrated the Contrast control with a 100/95/90 IRE test pattern by turning it down until the 100 IRE patch just started to dim.

We ran it for almost an hour after that and the room never warmed up.  I could hold my hand on top of the TV indefinitely; it wasn’t very hot at all.  The picture looked better too.  Problem solved and I have another happy customer with a lower energy bill!

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