Free TV

Free Radio Berkeley recently announced that they have designed and developed “low power VHF and UHF transmitters by the creative use of off-the-shelf technology.” They have planned workshops to teach people how to build and operate these transmitters.

There’s a short video demonstrating a basic setup posted to Indybay.

I think it’s a cool idea to branch out into free/pirate TV broadcasting, though I’m disappointed that FRB hasn’t made any tech details available. According to this Indybay post by FRB’s Stephen Dunifer, they’re employing commercially available TV modulators connected to home-brew VHF and UHF amplifiers. The modulators are sold for use in closed circuit TV and small cable operations — such as when a hotel has its own channel on in-room TVs. They’re perfectly legal to buy or own, since they don’t put out significant power. Apparently they’re available new for around $500.

The reason to use these commercial modulators is that they’re designed to be amplified, and so put out a clean signal that is less likely to interefere with adjacent channels. You could use one of the cheap TV modulators designed to connect DVD players and video games to old TVs, but those would not put out a clean signal. It’s sort of like the difference between nice, well designed low-power FM transmitters and the cheap mini-transmitters used to broadcast audio from PCs and iPods around the house.

Due to the predominance of cable and satellite, broadcast TV has been in decline, and outside of the biggest metroplexes, there is a surplus of available channels on UHF, and sometimes even VHF. Of course, the problem is that with so many people using cable and satellite, there’s a much smaller audience for broadcast TV than for broadcast FM.

But, because cable and satellite are not free, I’d guess you’d reach a predominantly less affluent population with a pirate TV broadcast. Additionally, you’d probably reach audience more accustomed to watching TV than listening to radio.

If TV and video are your medium of choice, then I think it’s worth doing. Every little crack in the armor of the media giant is worth chipping away at. Every hour spent broadcasting your own free TV station is better than an hour wasted watching one of Sinclair’s.