If there's one thing that really chaps my ass it's the scare tactics cable companies have taken to convince anyone who will listen that the only way you'll be able to watch TV once we finally switch over to digital TV is to get cable. Bullshit! Basic television is free and that's our god given right darnit! Just like as with analog TV, you can still get basic channels for free with an antenna. All you have to do is upgrade to a digital antenna. I did just that recently and I've been so psyched with the results...
The kind folks at RCA helped me figure out what kind of antenna I needed. My Samsung CRT is HD ready, but doesn't have a digital tuner built in so I got a converter box (the same kind you can buy with your $40 coupon from the gov) that allows me to plug in a digital antenna.
One of my favorite things about the $30 antenna, an ANT1500, is that it's flat. No more rabbit ears sticking out into the air and taunting my cats to knock it over. (Proof of feline/antenna cohabitation in the photos above). This 10.4-inch square and 0.78 inch-thin panel can sit on top of the TV with a small metal stand, or can be installed to hang flat against your wall. I've even experimented with tucking it between my speaker and TV as well as between books.
The multi-directional antenna has a bunch of miniature and electrically steered antennas within it that each search out channel signals from different angles. This offers more opportunity to find channels that will come through, which is good since one of the hiccups of digital TV is that either you get a channel or you don't (no more snowy channels). With so many more antennas working for you you'll find that you may get multiple versions of channel four, for example, each coming in from different main antenna around the county, city, and state.
I had a tall order in that my neighborhood in Brooklyn is compact and has tons of tall buildings, I'm in a brick and concrete apartment building, on the ground floor, with a city bus that comes by every 20 minutes or so. I was barely getting channels with the rabbit ears, so in my opinion it couldn't get worse.
When I plugged in the antenna, I ran a channel search, which took about 10 minutes. I then adjusted the antenna and had the channel search add stations. This stored the maximum number of channels that can be accessed by simply moving the antenna, rather than being limited to the channels that I can get with the antenna in one position.
While my rabbit ears didn't get NBC or CBS, the RCA antenna did, along with all the other channels I expect with basic over the air signals. The coolest part? How crisp, clear, and detailed digital TV is. When you're used to cable it's no biggie, but when you usually get fuzzy channels it's pretty amazing. Plus every time you change the channel an info bar comes on to let you know what is currently on and what is coming on in the next hour (just like cable!). There's even an info menu with info on all the channels you have access to and what is on and coming on. You can tell it's the simple things in life that excite me.
Now I don't want to sound like I've totally chugged the digital antenna Kool-Aid. If I had a choice, i.e. if cable was cheap, I'd dump the antenna and plug into the wall, but since it's not I deal with the inevitable pitfalls of any antenna. There are days when I can barely get certain channels. What's worse is when I watch Lost and a bus goes by at a crucial moment. There's nothing more frustrating than that moment when you're about to get the answer to a five season long mystery and losing the signal. Damn you Dharma Initiative!