Cable and satellite TV subscriptions are getting more expensive, so more and more households are ditching pay TV in favor of free over-the-air broadcasts. Digital TV typically offers 20 to 60 channels depending on where you live, and can save you at least $1,000 a year, based on a typical pay TV subscription.
People who do are often surprised by the higher picture quality they get from broadcast television. This is because cable and satellite services compress the video signal to reduce the bandwidth required to transmit it to your home, all so they can pack in more channels that you’ll probably never watch anyway.
So, cut that cord, get rid of that dish, and join the growing number of American households they are free of monthly bills for the TV service.
Installing an antenna is easy, but before you buy one, you’ll need to find out what channels are available where you live, how strong the signals are likely to be, and which direction they’re coming from. Check out TechHive’s guide to choosing an antenna to find out all that.
As a general rule, indoor antennas are suitable for areas with strong to very strong signals, attic/outdoor antennas work for areas of medium signal strength, and larger outdoor antennas for areas with weak signals.
Once you have determined your needs, this article will help you with your antenna purchase. But before you get to the results, watch this video that explains how to determine which free TV channels you can get where you live.
best indoor tv antenna
If you live close enough to the broadcast towers of the stations you want to watch, a less expensive non-amplified antenna like the Channel Master Flatenna might be all you need to cut the cord. At the time of this review, we found that Channel Master himself was offering the best price on this antenna – only $19 at Amazon.
best amplified indoor tv antenna
This antenna impressed us with its ability to pull in more broadcast channels than the competition. Also, the ones he received were a bit stronger than our runner-up, which should make TV happier. (Read our full review.)
The word “smart” gets thrown around a lot these days, but it’s more than hyperbole in the case of Channel Master’s Smartenna+ over-the-air TV antenna. This amplified antenna has a small built-in tuner that can virtually change your reception pattern to pick up as many stations as possible. We like it a lot.
best tv antenna for roof mount
The Direct DB8e AntennasThe reception of it is as impressive as its appearance. This is a large and heavy antenna cleverly designed to receive weak signals with two sets of antennas, or in areas of better reception to point towers in different directions. (See our full review.)
The Antennas Direct 91XG it is a classic antenna design that has worked well for years. This antenna is quite directional and good at rejecting interference from the sides while detecting weak signals from noise. It narrowly missed out on the top spot and would also be a great option for people who deal with long-distance reception. (See our full review.)
best tv antenna for attic/outdoor
The Winegard Elite 7550 was immediately impressed with its ability to pick up more broadcast channels than the competition at higher signal levels. It has a built-in amplifier and works well on the VHF-High and UHF transmission bands. Due to its size you will want this in the attic or outside your home. (See our full review.)
The Clearstream 4 max. it’s a bit larger than our top-ranked pick and wasn’t as good at pulling in stations, but it’s still a solid antenna. Its unique double figure eight design is sure to look distinctive and it can receive signals from different directions, which is useful if you live in an area with stations in multiple locations. (See our full review.)
How we test
TechHive tests TV antennas at a location in the Washington, DC metro area. (As of 2020, we tested in the San Francisco Bay Area, so you may see references to that location in previous reviews.) The DC location receives strong signals from local TV stations, but presents several challenges: there are a lot of trees around which influence reception; some of DC TV’s independent stations are weak and difficult to receive; and with a good antenna, distant reception of Baltimore market stations is possible.
Indoor antennas are tested indoors and outdoor antennas outdoors. Every time we test a new antenna, we retest our current best selection to ensure a fair benchmark.
We use a decoder to scan for channels and record the number of RF channels received by each antenna and their power. Each RF channel carries a number of digital stations, but the number is different per channel and can change, so received digital stations is not such a useful measure. We scanned multiple times and adjusted the direction of the antenna on a few scans.
Our picks are the antennas that receive the most stations with the highest signal level on both the UHF (channels 14 to 51) and VHF-Alta (channels 7 to 13) bands, which are the main TV broadcast bands. .
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