Tips for Amplifying a Digital TV Signal

Put a little electricity back into your digital TV signal

If you use an antenna to receive over-the-air (OTA) television broadcasts, then you've probably noticed some differences between analog and digital signals. For starters, digital provides a wider screen, channel numbers with decimal points, the use of DTV converter boxes, and so on.

Another invisible difference can also cause lost or inconsistent reception: Digital signals are a lot weaker than analog.

An illustration of how to improve signal range with an amplifier.
Lifewire / Miguel Co

This information applies to amplification for televisions from various manufacturers, including LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, and Vizio.

Analog vs. Digital TV Signal

Given identical broadcast conditions, a digital TV signal won't travel as far as an analog one because terrestrial constraints impede digital more than analog. Things that affect reception include roofs, walls, hills, trees, wind, mountains, and other barriers.

A digital signal is so sensitive that a person walking in front of it can knock it offline. In comparison, an analog signal takes more interference to drop.

To receive a quality over-the-air picture, you need a good signal to enter the TV tuner, whether it's within the TV or a digital converter box. In some circumstances, you can do everything right and still not get a signal. Or you may experience too much signal loss while the digital TV signal travels from the antenna to the tuner.

Whatever the case, amplifying or boosting the signal is a potential fix to your reception issue.

Do You Need Amplification?

The critical criteria for amplification are that you have an existing signal that your TV antenna is receiving. If the antenna has a signal, then amplification could be a cure for intermittent signal loss. If the antenna is not picking up a signal, then amplification won't fix your problem.

How Amplifying a Digital TV Signal Works

An amplifier uses electricity to harness the TV signal and send it on its way with an electrical boost. The DTV signal can travel farther with more power, which should provide a consistent picture.

Amplification is not guaranteed to fix every instance of poor reception, but it is an option. It also isn't a fix for getting a TV signal when there isn't one. In other words, an amplifier doesn't extend the range of the antenna; it merely gives the signal a push along its way from the antenna to the digital tuner (TV, DTV converter, etc.). Hopefully, this push is enough to get a good signal to the TV tuner.

Amplified products typically cost more than non-amplified products. It's always good to troubleshoot some scenarios that can lead to signal loss before going to the store and spending money on a product that may or may not fix your problem.

Troubleshoot Reception Issues First

Do you use a splitter, RF modulator, or A/B switch? These are standard components, especially if you are trying to watch and record two channels with a DTV converter box. The problem, however, is that they reduce the strength of the digital signal. Amplification could boost the signal above the minimum level your components need to produce a good picture.

If you use an outdoor antenna, look at the type of coaxial cable connected between the antenna and line going into the house. Your coaxial cable could be the cause of a poor signal coming into the house. This type of signal loss is attenuation, a measurement of signal loss over a distance. In the case of coaxial cables, we're referring to RG59 and RG6.

RG6 is generally more digital-friendly than RG59, so this kind of cable could be the cause of your poor signal. Changing your cable to RG6 (preferably quad-shielded RG6 with gold-plated connectors) could fix your reception problem without using an amplifier.

Of course, buying an amplified product is probably easier than changing out the coaxial cable in your house. Your current antenna could be the reason for a poor picture. You may also try realigning the antenna.

Buying an Amplifier

Amplifiers or TV signal boosters are often in antennas, but you can also buy them as a standalone device. Product packaging usually advertises a product as amplified or powered. If you see a dB (decibel) rating, then you know it is amplified.

Just as you can over-water plants, you can over-amplify a digital tuner. It's similar to blowing out stereo speakers by turning the volume up too high.

The hard part is that it's difficult to gauge what's too powerful for your tuner. Some experts we've spoken to recommend amplification around 14dB. If you can, buy a product with an adjustable dB setting.

If you buy an amplified antenna, make sure you have your antenna correctly aligned before connecting the power.

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