The Future of Antennas

As many consumers will attest, it is notoriously difficult to find a high performance indoor TV antenna. Consumers using even well designed models often need to get out of the easy chair and re-adjust their antenna to receive certain channels. The CEA-909A Antenna Control Interface standard however has laid the groundwork that could make the "antenna dance" a welcome distant memory. The 909 standard defines an interface that allows the television receiver to communicate with the antenna and opens the possibility for having the antenna configured automatically while the consumer channel surfs from the comfort of the easy chair!

As amazing as that is, CEA-909 brings yet other options to the antenna engineer's table. In the old days, the engineer was forced to design for the full instantaneous bandwidth of each television band. Given the width of the bands in those days that meant a lot of performance compromises or a big antenna or both! With CEA-909A, the antenna can be made to resonate over a narrower band of frequencies that is tuned as the user channel surfs. This is referred to as "tunable bandwidth". By using tunable bandwidth, many of the design compromises relating to size and efficiency are relaxed and a smaller, higher performance antenna can be produced. This is particularly important for indoor antennas where size and aesthetics are key to adoption. Not only will CEA-909A eliminate the antenna dance, it should make it easier for engineers to design the high performance, aesthetically pleasing small antenna everyone wants.

To date, the CEA standard has not been widely adopted, but the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and others are pushing forward new antenna designs in an attempt to stimulate a market for CEA-909A enabled antennas and receivers. To help encourage adoption, the July 2007 draft of the standard allowed power and signaling for the smart antenna to be multiplexed over the RF coax whereas the previous version specified power and signaling be sent only over a separate 6 conductor cable with Offset Latch Modular Jacks at each end. The newer spec should make it easier to get manufacturers and consumers to adopt the standard for indoor antennas. The NAB is particularly interested in the CEA-EIA-909A technology because the "antenna dance" was one of the factors that drove millions of consumers to cable or satellite in years past. With more free content, superior video quality and viable indoor antenna options on the horizon, the broadcasters may finally be in a position to begin stealing viewers back from cable and satellite.