JP Vossen on 13 Jan 2014 22:59:32 -0800

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[PLUG] Comcast and Antennas

tl;dr: $40 inside antenna, MythTV, SchedulesDirect, 14 "Scan for channels" later, I can probably dump Comcast. But there are caveats, including simple goals and lots of wires... ABC, as a VHF station (per Lee), was a pain and cost hours of moving around and re-scanning.

Long details below...

This is 1 part notes, 1 part tutorial, and 1 part for folks who land on it from Google, so it's long and dense. Unless you really care, you may want to skip or skim this. :-)

Thanks to the recent "Comcast, Cable Cards, Antenna, and HD-Homerun Experiences?" ( thread, and out of fear for when the %!@#$% at Comcast will nuke my ClearQAM I finally looked into an antenna.

My goal was very simple: PBS, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox (I guess), and that's about it. Specifically, I don't care at all about sports[1], Disney[2], HBO or any of that. We have a $20/mo Comcast plan with a very limited number of channels, but I've had problems getting that to work well with MythTV + SchedulesDirect since Comcast will a) change things around periodically and b) they make things as confusing as possible [3]. And as I mentioned, sooner or later they will get around to nuking ClearQAM for me. I do have an HD Homerun with a cable-card slot, so that could be one plan, but I'd rather just cut the cord [4]...

I got the $40 (See the VERY cool if somewhat optimistic I also looked hard at Lee's $93 recommendation but I went with the Leaf because it was cheaper and I wouldn't have to drill any holes in anything. That turns out to have been a great plan for me, because I also have both Cat-5 and RG-6 runs all over the house.

Lee warned that ABC is VHF and the "Leaf" antenna docs stated it is "...optimized for UHF...and will receive VHF but [not] from as far away as UHF..." Sure enough, ABC was a problem child, but WHYY was a bit too (much less).

I started by having my TV re-scan Comcast, which got me an 82 channel baseline (almost all of which are crap). I connected the Leaf and re-scanned as "cable" and got 2 useless channels, as expected. Then I changed to "antenna" and re-scanned and got 37 channels not including ABC or WHYY (PBS). I moved the Leaf around a corner to change the orientation 90 degrees and re-scanned, getting 47 channels including ABC and WHYY. OK, that shows promise. I wrote the channel details into a quick spreadsheet, just to keep track.

FYI the first orientation was more-or-less NE/SW, the second NW/SE. The second works much better for me.

Next I logged in to SchedulesDirect and added "Local Broadcast Listings - Antenna Collegeville LocalBroadcast" which, for a wonder, matched up almost perfectly with my spreadsheet, something that never came even close to happening with Comcast.

Next up was the MythTV config, which for once was simple and basically Just Worked [5]. "Scan for channels" is the trick. That I did 14 times, as I moved the antenna and HD Homerun around the house, which is where the Cat-5 and RG-6 came in handy. Both runs terminate in my server room, so it comes down to the distance between the antenna and tuner. I can have the antenna someplace and the tuner in the basement server room. Or I can put the tuner with the antenna and just plug into Ethernet. Right now I have the tuner and antenna in the master bedroom facing NW/SE, more-or-less. When I had it same orientation but on the opposite side of the house I didn't get ABC at all. Even on the East side it's very spotty, there are only 2 places I found that work, and this is the higher/easier to route one.

The advantage to having the tuner with the antenna is a short run. The disadvantage is that I can't split the signal and connect another tuner or TV someplace else. I'll probably try moving the tuner back into the basement so I can split the signal a bit, since it would be better to be able to bypass Myth and go "live" on the TV, just in case. I'm wildly guessing that might require an amp at the antenna, but that's doable. (There is an amplified Leaf for $65 on Amazon too, maybe I should have gone with that.)

If it matters, the HD Homerun I'm using on the Leaf is my older one with 2 tuners [6]. The newer 3 tuner + CableCard [7] is still on Comcast, for now... Ouch, per it looks like I won't be able to use that because "...over-the-air ATSC support removed and CableCARD support added."

I should note that out of 14 tries, 6 had no ABC, 7 "found" ABC but then Myth couldn't lock it in, and 1 worked. This was a time consuming pain, because 14 times I had to:
	1) Move the antenna and/or tuner
	2) Go into "MythTV Backend Setup" which stops the backend
3) Go into the "Input connection" and "Scan for channels" which takes several minutes
	4) Exit out and re-start the backend server
	5) Fire up the frontend and test ABC

If I hadn't had the ABC problem, this would have been about an hour's work. With that it took pretty much all day. I did have another problem too. A few of the channels the scan found (like "12-6") would hang the Myth frontend. What it's supposed to do is keep the last "good" channel, but these would confuse it so it would think it was good but it would actually get stuck. One way to fix that is to go to the backend server, and change the "default channel" in "Input connections" but that's a giant pain. Another way is to install hdhomerun-config-gui and use that to change the channel. You may still need to exit the Myth FE and/or manually change the Myth channel, but that's still a lot easier than the alternative.
	sudo aptitude install hdhomerun-config-gui hdhomerun-config

The over-the-air broadcast data also includes closed caption and on-screen program info, which is handy. Both work on Comcast too, of course, but I never paid much attention since I almost never watch "live" TV, since that's a big part of the point of a DVR in the first place.

Wow, this got long, so I hope it's useful for someone...
[1] Sports, lack there-of, is a show-stopper for over-the-air, as far as I know. [2] Disney has been quite evil in regards to Copyright laws, but this isn't the place for that. [3] Despite a lot of help from Matt, I've had a very difficult time mapping the channels that my tuners scan to useful name and to the SchedulesDirect data. The last time it changed I only got maybe 10-20 of them right, and it was too much effort to go back and fix later. That's just annoying. [4] I have to admit I was not looking forward to trying to figure out/argue about CableCard pricing, but it turns out that has been sorted out:
[5] MythTV Config:
  Applications > System > MythTV Backend Setup
    4. Video sources
      New video source
        LEAF Antenna
          North America (SchedulesDirect)...
          ID & password
          Data Direct lineup: PC19426
            (Comcast is PA37873:X)
    5. Input connections
      HDHOMERUN : 1031ABBC-0 (MPEG2TS) -> LEAF Antenna
        Display name: HDHR 0 LEAF
        Video source: LEAF Antenna
        Fetch channels from listings source
        Scan for channels   <<<<<<<<<<<<<<
        Starting channel: 3_1
      HDHOMERUN : 1031ABBC-1 (MPEG2TS) -> LEAF Antenna
        Same (more-or-less)
[6] Old $75 [7] New $123 (CC)

JP Vossen, CISSP            |:::======|
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