Will a TV Signal Booster Improve My Reception?
This is probably one of the most common questions we get asked by our customers and there is never a ‘one size fits all’ answer. So firstly it’s important to try and understand the different products that are on the market and what they do. Then you will be able to make an informed decision on what works best for you in your setup, as this will be different from one person to another.
What Is The Difference Between A TV Amplifier and A TV Signal Booster?
Again this is a very common question and the answer is a fairly simple one – There is no difference. They function in the same way. Normally it is just down to the manufacturer’s preference. However, from a technical standpoint, there is no difference. They both set out to ‘boost’ or ‘amplify’ your existing terrestrial signal using various different products. So a TV signal booster that has 4 outputs on, will do the same as a TV amplifier that has 4 outputs on it.
The term booster makes you think of perhaps giving your signal, which may occasionally break up, the lift it needs to achieve stability. This may well be the case, however an amplifier will do exactly the same thing. The important figure to look at when you are considering what type of amplification device to buy, is the amount of gain that it gives you.
TV Signal Booster/TV Amplifier Gain
On any TV signal booster or TV amplifier it will tell you what gain to expect from it. Products will give a relatively low gain, high gain or variable gain, which lets you adjust your gain accordingly depending on how much you need. Variable gain amplifiers or boosters are extremely useful in a touring setup as depending on where you are staying at any given time, it is highly likely that the aerial signal you receive from the local transmitter will vary greatly from one to the next.
The variable option means you can turn up the gain in low signal areas and turn down the gain in areas of high signal…. Yes believe it or not, too much signal is just as disruptive to your TV receiving equipment as not enough! Without getting too technical and scaring off the DIY’er, too much signal from a distribution system will result in picture break up as it allows lots of other signals that you don’t need, to be injected into the system and therefore cause picture break up.
Unfortunately without a signal meter to see exactly what signals you are receiving this is quite a tricky one to diagnose ‘in the dark’ so to speak and quite a bit of trial and error adjusting the variable control on the booster/amplifier will be needed. If you’re still having problems, then in a touring situation it’s always a good idea to ask the owner of the site as it’s a problem that they will have experienced before.
How Do I Know If I Need A Signal Booster?
If when you are watching your TV, your signal is constantly breaking up, or indeed you have no signal at all, this would indicate that you need some kind of amplification in your system. The next big question is…
Which Signal Booster/TV Amplifier Do I Need?
At this point it’s important to tell you the different amplifiers that are available in order for you to make the correct choice.
1-4 Way Plug In TV Signal Booster
This product will give you a fixed gain to amplify your aerial signal from one to four TV outlets. It is mains powered and plugs directly into the mains socket with no trailing lead to worry about. These amplifiers can be used directly behind a TV or at the source of where your TV signals are split if they go to multiple points in the home. However it is important to note that they are mains powered only so would need a direct 240V input from a conventional mains socket.
4 or 8 way Distribution Amplifier
This product will again give you a fixed gain level to amplify your signals from your aerial to your TV outlets. This unit is used primarily in homes where there are 4 or more TV outlets in the home. This particular amplifier has a bit more flexibility in how it is powered, which can be extremely helpful in situations where it can’t be sited next to a mains 240v supply.
This product is 12/24V powered so if it was being installed into a loft where the splits of the aerial were and there were no mains outlets there, you can install this product and power it remotely by having the 12/24V power supply situated at one of the TV outlets. The power supply powers the amplifier by sending the required voltage up through your coax cable to the amplifier which turns it on.
1 or 4 way Masthead Amplifier
This amplifier is by far the most powerful option when it comes to amplifying a TV signal domestically, however, it does come with a few caveats. A Masthead amplifier requires a power supply to power it (sold separately). The most important thing to consider when purchasing a Masthead amplifier is its location.
It needs to be located fairly near the aerial itself. Ideally on the pole between 1-2 metres away from the aerial. This amplifier will not work if located on one of your outlet sockets. It has to come before any splits in the setup or it will not work. The benefit of a Masthead amplifier is that it gives you a much higher gain (typically up to 25db) so for areas of very low signal, these are certainly the answer.
The Masthead amplifier that we offer also has a variable gain control on it which is hugely beneficial in this setup. The masthead amplifier is again powered remotely with a separate power supply located at any of the TV outlets which sends the required voltage up the coax lead to the Masthead amplifier, turning it on. This amplifier is usually installed by a professional as it’s extremely helpful when installing, to have a signal meter at hand to judge what gain you need to achieve to get the best possible results.
1-4 Way High Gain Signal Booster
A high gain signal booster is designed for areas of particularly poor reception and is designed to be installed behind the TV or in the loft. This product does come with a switch so that you can turn the gain down to the low gain setting if you go to an area where the signal level is that much better.
Whilst then, this is similar to a variable gain amplifier, it differs in the fact that the maximum gain that you can achieve from it is higher than that of the variable gain option. So in areas where you may be far away from a transmitter or in an area with lots of trees blocking the path of the signal, this signal booster could be the best option for you.
1-2 way Variable gain TV Signal Booster
As stated earlier, this little booster is ideal for the touring community for 2 reasons. One being that signal levels change depending on what location you’re in, so the variable gain control gives you the flexibility to adjust as required. Secondly it is 12/24V powered, so if you’re in an area with no mains hook up you can still utilise the unit.
If you do have 240V mains available then this unit can also be powered by a power supply (sold separately). As mentioned before, every system is different, but hopefully this guide has helped you a bit further with your setup.
The Importance of Gain
Throughout this article we have talked about gain and the different levels you can achieve using different products, but why is gain so critical? All of our TV signals are now digital and are therefore far more sensitive to interference. Whereas in the past, if you had a bit of a weak signal, you would see on your screen ‘snow’ or fuzziness, but the picture would still be watchable, with digital the picture is either there or not. That fuzziness now translates into picture break up or complete loss of picture.
There are all sorts of things that can interfere with our TV reception, from the environment around us, i.e. Trees, to other man made problems like mobile phone masts, 4G/5G interference. To alleviate these problems we can use our knowledge of amplifier gain to help us. So in areas of poor reception, a high gain amplifier might well be the best option, however, too much gain and what you will also do is increase all of that other ‘noise’ along with it, which will then interfere with the channels you are looking to receive.
This is why, certainly in the motorhome/caravanning community, variable TV signal boosters are, more often than not, the best option. Using those types of products means that wherever you go, whether it be right next to the transmitter on the Isle of Wight or buried in a forest in the depths of Dorset, you should be able to get a good result for your TV signals.
Finally, another question we are often asked is, “How do I know if my amplifier is working?” Again without a signal meter to determine your input signal versus your output signal, this can be a bit tricky, however there are a few basics that we as end users can do to check if the amplifier is in fact working correctly.
● If the TV amplifier has a light, is it on? If not, check the power source. If that’s ok then the amplifier is most likely faulty or you may have a short circuit on your aerial cable. Check to make sure on your aerial connection that the outer copper/aluminium braid isn’t coming into contact with the solid copper core that runs through the middle of the wire. If there is contact, remove it.
● If the picture is breaking up badly, does it improve when you plug the aerial in direct to the TV, bypassing the amplifier/booster? If so, again the chances are that your amplifier is faulty or you have too much gain.
● And finally, your booster/amplifier should always produce a small amount of heat, this is normal, however if it’s very cold and you have no signal, this is a pointer towards the amplifiers power supply having failed. Similarly if the unit feels overly hot to the touch or discolouring then this again is an indication that the unit is working sub optimally.