Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Feb. 17 is just about a month away. Be afraid!

On that day, all TV stations will turn off their analog signals and transmit digital ones exclusively.

If you're currently watching TV supplied by cable or satellite, you should be fine.

However, it's predicted that 10 to 20 percent of homes are not DTV-ready. And even if your living room set is in good shape, you may have a spare TV in the basement or bathroom that still relies on over-the-air signals.

A wise man once told me, the trickiest part of the transition to DTV involves the antenna. Viewers may underestimate how important an antenna is to reception, even with digital signals.

I learned that the hard way. This weekend, I digital-ized my home TVs. I have DirecTV, but I receive local channels over-the-air to avoid watching compressed HDTV signals. I also have three TVs that aren't connected to satellite; those sets needed a DTV converter box and an antenna.

As predicted by my wise friend, finding the right antenna gave me the most fits. I went through three different antennae before I found the one that worked best.

I settled on a Terk Indoor Amplified antenna model HDTVa ($59.49). This gadget receives both UHF and VHF channels, which is important since Columbus' digital stations are spread over both bands.

The HDTVa looks like an airplane wing, giving it a high coolness factor, yet it only occupies a small footprint.

Honestly, my living room HDTV still doesn't receive every local TV channel, but at least it displays the ones I typically watch.

More important than which antenna you buy is that you not wait until Feb. 17 to find the right one. On that fateful day, you don't want your TV to go dark.

Be afraid - be very afraid!

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Antenna Quick Tips

* The best antenna is the one that produces a picture. With digital TV, you either see a picture or you don't. Period.

* The ability to receive a digital picture depends on how far your TV is from a station's transmitter. Reception will be affected by whether you live in a house or apartment, and whether you live near tall buildings or large trees.

* Outdoor antennae generally work better than indoor. Large antennae are better than small ones.

* Antennae work best when placed at a high level, and they also need to be pointed in the right direction.