Nowadays, it’s not unusual for people to have more than one television set in their home. In fact, in a recent study it showed that on average there are 2.3 televisions per household in the United States (which is actually down from 2.6). With 33 million cord-cutters in the US alone, this article is going to answer the question,”How to Connect Multiple TVs to One Antenna”, so that you can enjoy crystal clear HDTV programming on all your television sets without that nasty cable bill.
So how do you connect multiple TVs to one antenna? To answer this we are going to look at three different ways this can be accomplished:
- Through the use of a traditional cable splitter.
- Through the use of a distribution amplifier.
- Through the use of a network tuner box.
To Split or Not-to-Split that is the question…
First, just in case it’s not clear what a splitter device is or does, let’s exam it a little more closely. A splitter is a small device that has been deployed for years to connect and distribute cable, satellite and OTA (over-the-air) television broadcasts throughout our homes. It’s an extremely inexpensive device that allows you to bring in one signal (from your OTA antenna) and then split that signal in multiple directions to multiple devices as depicted below.
As you can see in the image, the antenna feed comes into the “line side” of the splitter and then on the output of “load side” of the splitter you can connect multiple televisions. Splitters come in a multitude of configurations:
- a two-way splitter
- a three-way spliiter
- a four-way splitter…and so on depending on how many “splits” you need to make.
This sounds easy right??? Well, the truth is it is extremely to insert these devices and connect multiple TVs to one antenna…but there is a downside…signal loss!
Losses to expect when using a splitter
Unfortunately, when things seem to good to be true it usually means that they are. And while splitting your antenna signal to feed multiple TVs is the easiest and cheapest way to go, it’s not without its trade-offs. Unfortunately the trade-off when using these devices is signal degradation and losses. Let’s take a closer look.
When you place a splitter in between your OTA antenna and your television you are injecting something known as insertion losses. Insertion losses will weaken any signal that you receive distributed beyond the splitter itself. The idea is, splitters are designed to split the incoming antenna signal evenly across its output ports, which is typically measure in decibels (dB). On top of this, you can expect to see a 3.5 dB loss on each port due to the insertion loss previously mentioned.
You can see clearly that with a 100% signal on the input, the splitter will “split” the signal 50% on each port and at the same time incur a -3.5 dB insertion loss on each port. If you increase your number of output ports to three, and insert a three-way splitter, things get a little bit worse as illustrated below.
In this case, an additional two-way splitter is inserted in-line with one of the outputs ports, meaning the top port will see a 50% reduction in signal from the input (similar to the two-way above) and then the 50% signal of the second port get’s split again so there is only 25% of signal left on the other two output ports. Of course the insertion losses in the case are additive which is why you now see an insertion loss of -7 dB on top of this.
As you can see, the more times you split the signal in this fashion the worse things are going to get. If we step this up to a four-way splitter, we will see that it is made up of three combined two-way splitters. In this scenario we will see only 25% of the incoming signal on each of the four outputs ports. In terms of the dB losses that will be incurred, there will approximately 7 dB of signal loss on each output port.
Splitting your incoming antenna signal three or more times is really going to impact the quality of the signal that you’re able to receive at your end-point television sets. The advantages of using a splitter is that they are very inexpensive and they will likely allow you to leverage your homes existing cable wiring to run to your various TVs, there are significant drawbacks. Due to these drawbacks there are steps you may need to take in order to reduce the losses you are going to experience when using them.
When to use Distribution Amplifiers
Often times it may be necessary to install one of a distribution amplifier or an antenna preamplifier or a combination of both. Let’s take a closer look at what these devices are, what their differences are, and when you should consider using them to connect multiple TVs to one antenna.
How a amplifiers works and do you need one…
As already discussed there are many things that will impact the incoming signal you’ll be able to receive from your OTA antenna. Things like cabling, cable lengths, and connectors (check out my articles on coax cabling and RG6 connectors), but none will have a greater impact than splitting your signal to feed multiple TVs.
Check out this YouTube video from Channel Master that goes when you should consider using a distribution amplifier, or preamplifier, or both.
For convenience, here’s a link to check your location using the Antenna Selection Guide mentioned in the video. I’ve also listed all the distribution amplifiers mentioned in the video from Channel Master, all of which are available on Amazon for a great price.
- Channel Master CM-3410 1-Port Ultra Mini Distribution Amplifier
- Channel Master CM 3412 2-Port Ultra Mini Distribution Amplifier
- Channel Master CM 3414 4-Port Ultra Mini Distribution Amplifier
- Channel Master CM-3418 8-Port Ultra Mini Distribution Amplifier
I’ve used these distribution amplifiers in many installation and they are without question the best quality in the business.
What may or may not have been clear from watching the video is that a distribution amplifier is good if your incoming signal is strong at the splitting location, but gets degraded after splitting. If this scenario applies to you, then grab one of the Channel Master amplifiers listed above and put it in place of your splitter.
If on the other hand your signal strength is poor at your house entry point, an antenna preamplifier may be the way to go. As I mentioned above, if you are running your coax cable over large distances this in some instances can degrade your signal to the point where it unusable. In this case I recommend the use of an antenna preamplifier . A distribution amplifier in this scenario will do nothing…if the signal isn’t there to begin with there will be nothing to distribute.
The downside of preamplifiers is that they’re not as easy to install as the distribution amp. It usually comes as a 2-part unit with the amplifier mounted at the antenna mast and a power supply located inside the house.
Enter the Network Tuner…
The network tuner is the final way you can connect multiple TVs to one antenna. If you’ve read any articles on this site you’ll know that I’m a huge advocate of the use of network tuner hardware. Before I assume too much, if you have absolutely know idea what I’m talking about, what these devices are, or what these devices do, let’s get you up to speed right now.
A network tuner box allow you to “untether” from any specific television or device by taking your antenna signal and converting that signal to a stream that can be delivered to any “smart device” over your homes wired or wireless network.
The device is very simple to use. Simply bring your antenna coaxial cable into the ‘Antenna Input’ jack on the network tuner, then simply run an Ethernet cable from the ‘Ethernet Jack’ to one of the switch ports on your home router. That’s it for the hardware installation. For the software piece, depending on the network tuner you ultimately choose, the typical workflow is this:
- Install the software that your tuner hardware comes with.
- Run a channel scan to see the channels your antenna is pulling in.
- Install the app on any Smart TV, PC, laptop, tablet, or cell phone and enjoy!
Of course this is a mild over simplification on the software piece, however, it really isn’t much more involved than this and it’s really getting outside of the scope of this article. I will say that I am a huge advocate and supporter of HDHomeRun Network Tuners. These tuners are simply the best on the market for cord-cutters and I highly recommend them.
Advantages of Using a Network Tuner
Okay so now that you have a good idea what a network tuner is, let’s talk about the advantages of using one and why I almost always recommend their use.
The first advantage is one I’ve already eluded to in that your antenna signal now becomes a stream to any and every “smart” device in your home…with some constraints:
Constraint #1: Depending on the network tuner you purchase, it will have 2, 4 or more tuners built in. This means you’ll be able to simultaneously stream to as many devices as your tuner hardware will support. I recommend SiliconDust HDHomeRun Connect Quatro 4-Tuner. As the link implies, this device has 4 tuners built into it, so you’ll be limited to that many simultaneous streams.
Constraint #2: The other constraint you’ll have to consider is that unless your television is running the official Android TV operating system such the Sony Bravia Android TVs you’ll likely need to place an Android box or similar box at your television. I did an article you can check out here that will help narrow down your choices.
The next advantage comes in the way of shorter cable runs. With a network tuner you can strategically place the device as close to your incoming antenna feed as possible (ties in with what was mentioned above). This will greatly reduce the losses incurred from cable length and thus improve the quality of the signal you’ll be able to receive.
After you place your tuner as close to your incoming antenna feed as is possible, all you’ll have to do is run an Ethernet cable from the network tuner to your router as depicted in the image above.
NOTE: It may not always be easy to get the network tuner as close as possible to your incoming antenna feed and at the same time be able to run a Ethernet cable back to your router. For this job I recommend the use of power-line adapters. A power-line adapter will allow you to leverage your existing electrical wires to get your network tuner box feed back to your router.
This advantage comes by way of a full featured DVR and guide. While SmartTVs are coming equipped with the ability to handle some of this, they fall well short of the feature rich capabilities that a dedicated network tuner and its associated app will be able to deliver.
Referencing the image above, I do recommend that you use a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device to handle the DVR functionality. The alternative is to use an ‘Always On’ PC, however, with a NAS the power consumption is minimal and will likely offset the cost of the device over time. I recommend the Synology 2 bay DiskStation DS218+. This NAS device provides RAID 1 mirroring capability (data redundancy) so you never have to worry about losing your data.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the article and it’s answered the question, “How to Connect Multiple TVs to One Antenna” and maybe a little more. Be sure to check out some of my other equally great articles below!
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