From analog to DTV: A look into television DXing in Virginia

logo_postI recently resumed DXing television after a four-year absence, and I thought it’d be interesting to note my observations on how different DTV DXing is today vs. how it was in the analog days.

I started to DX analog signals in 1999 at the same time I discovered FM DXing.  My interest in TV DXing was rooted in a childhood interest of seeing local news from unfamiliar TV stations while traveling around the U.S. east coast.  Prior to May 2013, the last time I DXed television was about a week after the 6/12/09 U.S. transition.  I took the 4-year break because my only DTV-capable device, a 2008 Samsung HDTV, required a 45-minute channel scan to receive new stations—a downside which made it largely impractical for DXing as weak signals were often gone before the scan was complete.  I recently obtained a Zenith DTT-901 conversion box with manual tuning and have so far pulled in stations as far away as Greenville, NC, at 216 miles.  View my analog and digital TV screenshot gallery.

Click to enlarge. Analog reception of 55 WLNY Riverhead, NY @ 277 miles on 6/20/01.

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Analog reception of 55 WLNY Riverhead, NY @ 277 miles on 6/20/01.

In the analog days, non-local television signals received at my home in Northern Virginia, 19 miles southwest of Washington, DC were largely from Baltimore, MD (56 miles NE), Philadelphia, PA (144 miles NE), Richmond, VA (82 miles S), Salisbury, MD (90 miles E), and southern New Jersey (~150 miles NE).  Strong tropo brought in NC and NY stations up to 300 miles away to the NE and S, respectively.  I typically only picked up UHF signals from Norfolk, VA, at 135 miles.

I occasionally DXed DTV before the 2009 transition.  This was mainly due to the aforementioned limitations of my HDTV.  Even with the issues, I did log Baltimore, Richmond and Norfolk and a few NC DTV stations.

There are major differences with how DTV signals are received locally than how it was when TV was all-analog.  Before 2009, I often got the Baltimore and Richmond analog TV stations 24/7 in the warmer months, often with stable pictures.  Now, even Baltimore only comes in during tropo enhancement.  I only get local Washington stations during deadband conditions.  Before 2009, Norfolk analog UHF TV came in largely with weak, static-filled signals even during strong tropo openings, while the city’s DTV signals are strong and often decode easily with minimal tropo into the area.  Additionally, for the past few years since the 2009 transition, FM tropo has largely favored the S, SE and E more than N and NE, and likewise I’ve noticed this on the DTV band.  To date, I have not logged any DTVs to the N or NE further than Baltimore (hopefully Philadelphia, NJ and NY will come in this year!)

Click to enlarge. DTV reception of 13 WVEC-DT Norfolk, VA, at 135 miles on 6/20/13.

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DTV reception of 13 WVEC-DT Norfolk, VA, at 135 miles on 6/20/13.

One aspect I’ve noticed since resuming DTV DXing is that stations are typically easier to decode the further away they are—a phenomenon quite the opposite for analog TV.  Being the closest market to the NE, Baltimore should be an easy decode most nights, but it isn’t so.  In the three months that I’ve been DTV DXing, I’ve only decoded the city’s WJZ-DT 13 once.  Other Baltimore stations, such as WBAL-DT 11, WMAR-DT 38 and WNUV-DT 40 have decoded a handful of times, but the signals are very short-lived and typically have heavy pixilation.  I never decoded Baltimore’s WMPB-DT 29 or WUTB-DT 41, the latter of which has never even produced a subdecode.  In contrast, the Richmond DTVs have come in at least twice a week, often with local-grade signals for hours free of pixelation.  Norfolk, the furthest major market received since my return to the hobby this year is another very common decode.  Norfolk’s WVEC-DT 13, WHRO-DT 16, WAVY-DT 31 and WTKR-DT 40 have decoded at least once every two weeks in the past two months, with other market signals also decoding depending on tropo strength.

Quite peculiarly, Charlottesvile, VA’s WVIR-DT 32, at 81 miles to the southwest, pops in occasionally on its own accord without any obvious tropo enhancement (TV or FM) from the city.

Another change I’ve seen since resuming DTV DXing is that FM radio is a good indicator of possible DTV enhancement – an ironic opposite to the tried-and-true analog TV Es usage as an indicator of impending FM Es.  I’ve noticed that for a DTV station to decode video from any given area, FM stations from the same locale must be coming in strong enough to decode RDS.  The ‘digital cliff’ which results in a full decode or a subdecode (with PSIP calls showing or not) usually mirrors the occurrence of RDS appearing or not.

Click to enlarge. A subdecode from an unID DTV station on TV 4 via Es on 7/5/13.

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A subdecode from an unID DTV station on TV 4 via Es on 7/5/13.

I have not yet logged a DTV station via Es.  I’m at a slight disadvantage for receiving DTV Es, as most stations received by DXers elsewhere are within tropo or meteor scatter range of me.  It is a shame since I have no local TV transmitters on channels 2-5.  I have a weak LPTV on 6 locally, which used to always be overpowered by analog Es.  Most of my VHF DTV targets are to the Midwest, while most of my Es openings are to Texas and the deep south, areas where there aren’t many strong VHF signals nowadays.   I have received subdecodes on TV 2, 4 and 5 during Es openings this year, but there were no PSIP decodes or video seen.

Although I’m sure this will soon change, I am still very unfamiliar with the post-2009 DTV allocations outside of my locals.  I frequently get subdecodes on unfamiliar channels and have to look at channel listings to determine which stations are likely coming in—something I haven’t done for TV since about 2004.  Even though this can be frustrating, it is also fun because it makes the hobby challenging once again.

Overall, I have really enjoyed returning to DXing digital television.  Hopefully my DTV logs will soon mirror, or even rival, my analog TV logs!  Stay tuned for new DTV logs.