How to Amplify 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.

There is another, invisible difference that is the cause of lost or inconsistent reception, as well as a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) translator program. And that is that 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 a variety of 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 TV signal 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 is like a roach. It'll take more than someone walking in front of the antenna to drop the signal.

In order to receive a quality over-the-air picture you need a good signal to enter the TV tuner, whether it's located 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 key criteria for amplification are that you have an existing signal being received by your TV antenna. 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.

Amplifying a Digital TV Signal

Amplification is a tricky concept. CEO of AllAmericanDirect.com, Mike Mountford, explained it best when he compared amplifying a digital TV signal to connecting a nozzle at the end of a hose to get better spraying power.

In his story, the antenna without amplification is like the hose with a light trickle coming out of the end. Alone, this trickle isn't very powerful, but since it's a trickle you can use a nozzle to increase water pressure by limiting the amount of water coming out of the end. The nozzle will give you a more powerful spray than without.

In this example, the nozzle is the amplifier and water is the digital TV signal. The amplifier uses electricity to harness the TV signal and send it on its way with an electrical boost. This allows the DTV signal to 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. So, 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 Before Amplifying a Digital TV Signal

Do you use a splitter, RF modulator, or A/B switch? These are common 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 signal loss is referred to as attenuation, which is 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. That means RG59 attenuates more or has more signal loss than RG6, so RG59 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. Visit Antenna Web and use their online tool to analyze TV transmission specifics for your location. You may also try realigning the antenna, but you should still first go to Antenna Web to get your exact coordinates.

Buying an Amplifier

Amplifiers or TV signal boosters are common in antennas themselves, 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.

As far as buying advice, 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, be sure to go to Antenna Web to make sure you have your antenna properly aligned before connecting the power.