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How to take your TV camping

Eric Lai tells you how to take your TV along to your cabin in the woods and get it to actually work.

Published July 27, 2012
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What would a trip to the great outdoors be like without TV?

If you’re out on the road in an RV, or in your car to go camping, you’ve probably asked yourself — or maybe the kids have asked you — this question.

The good news is that even when hi-tech tablets, laptops and iPhones are “out of range” for internet or streaming video, your ordinary TV (provided it has a digital tuner) can still likely pull in a crystal clear channel or two.

Over-the-air TV may be passé for some, but its main benefit over expensive RV satellites or “I-gadgets” with ongoing subscription fees is it’s free.

Yes, free.

You can even make a fully functional digital antenna yourself for next to nothing.

Search “make digital TV antenna” on the Internet for detailed plans. A compact fractal unit would take up less space in an RV, but the bends have to be fairly precise. So I opted to make the larger, “quad-bowtie”-style, antenna.

The parts needed were four wire coat hangers, some wood, wire, coax TV cable and a balun (coax to two-lead converter). The last item can be bought at electronic stores. In my case, I had an antenna-to-coax connector from my old VCR that worked just fine.

Basically, you cut the coat hangers into eight “V” sections, mount them on the wood and wire it all together. The finished antenna array is about a metre tall and about one-third of a metre wide.

It’s not the prettiest thing, but how does it work?

Placing it at car-top height in the wilds of York Region yielded more than a dozen channels (mainstream Toronto stations plus a few from Buffalo).

Depending on the weather, U.S. stations sometimes don’t come in. But that’s the thing with digital TV signals, it’s all or nothing – meaning the channels that you do receive come in perfectly clear with digital sound.

According to my TV, signal strength is three to five bars (out of five) for most channels.

In fact, tech experts say that over-the-air TV yields superior picture and sound compared to “compressed” cable signals.

I’m not a fan of camping, so my TV and I won’t be hitting the road. But I’ve waved goodbye to cable/satellite TV fees — and you can, too.

And if you like the great outdoors, you can take the TV along and feel right at home.

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