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Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. government flipped the switch on television broadcast signals across the country, getting rid of Standard Definition (SD) and converting everything to High Definition (HD). But because not everyone owned an HDTV, new digital antennas were made available to the public so they could pick up an HD signal on their older TVs.
Since then, many people have switched to HDTV. But a significant portion of the population elects not to buy a cable or satellite package. These viewers are content with the standard broadcast channels available in their area. With the improvements constantly being made to those channels and signals, it’s wise for these viewers to have the best antenna possible.
A digital antenna works rain or shine to bring you access to the news, weather, sports, events, and other entertainment provided by local broadcasters in your area.
What’s more, digital antennas don’t suffer service outages like cable and satellite sometimes do. This makes their content a great backup in case of emergencies.
Rafe Needleman has been testing and writing about technology products for over 20 years. He has evaluated hundreds of products as editor of CNET and reviews/editorial director of Yahoo Tech.
At BestReviews, we want our readers to enjoy the best products they possibly can. To that end, we spent hours compiling this TV antenna shopping guide and product recommendation matrix.
We don’t accept “free” samples from manufacturers. Our goal is to provide consumers with the independent, unbiased product reviews they need to make the right purchasing decisions.
So toss out those old rabbit ears; we’re here to help you figure out which TV antenna will bring you the best reception today and in the years to come.
Not every station has bonus “.2” channels. Some smaller broadcast companies and affiliates are content running one station on their equipment. Consult a local television guide to see what’s available in your area.
An antenna is a device that you hook up to your television to pick up localized signals in your area. These devices are a spinoff of older tech in which users would place an antenna on the roof or “rabbit ears” on top of the TV.
All of the TV antennas on our shortlist are digital, though each has its own unique design.
The Mohu Leaf can reach up to 50 miles and has been designed to pick up any signal with 4K broadcasting properties. It also filters out FM radio signals.
The AmazonBasics Ultra Thin Indoor TV Antenna also has a 50-mile range. It comes with CleanPeak filter technology so it can be pointed and adjusted in any direction you see fit.
The lightweight 1byone Amplified HDTV Antenna can be placed almost anywhere in your home. It constantly scans for new channels as they’re made available for broadcast.
The RCA picks up DTV signals that other antennas may not, but the antenna’s design is strictly for in-home use near the television itself.
While the technology may differ, a broadcasted signal is actually much stronger than a satellite signal, and it often has a better picture than cable.
You don’t have much control over what channels are available to non-cable subscribers in your area. There may be a large selection, or there may be just a few. This depends largely on your state, your local terrain, and what each available station offers.
The standard channels you should be able to receive, regardless of your location, are ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and The CW. The availability of everything beyond that is based on location. Check your local listings to see what’s available.
Many PBS affiliates offer a foreign news network from South America or Europe. Your antenna designates the PBS programming channel as “7.1” and the foreign one as “7.2.” Major networks usually have a .2 channel — and sometimes .3 and .4.
Because you can’t control the free channel offerings in your area, it’s wise to choose an antenna with a great range.
Most, if not all, of the antennas on our shortlist can pick up channels from 50 miles away.
The only model that doesn’t go into specifics is the RCA Flat Digital Amplified Indoor Antenna. Even if it doesn’t cover 50 miles, however, it should be able to receive programming from at least 30 to 40 miles away.
A range amplifier is a device that hooks onto your antenna through your wiring to give your antenna a boost of power. Makes and models vary, but the essential purpose of a range amplifier is to increase the distance your antenna reaches out for a signal.
The average antenna scans a 50-mile radius from where it’s positioned. An amplifier makes that radius bigger and attempts to pick up signals outside the antenna’s normal range.
If you’re not sure where all the antennas are in your area or even your state, NoCable.org is a great resource to search any area in North America and see what’s closest to you.
Gone are the days of bunny ears and circle-shaped receivers. Today’s TV antennas are flat, rectangular surfaces. This broad shape acts like a large, invisible net that’s designed to “catch” a wide range of transmissions. Professionals in the industry comically refer to it as “the fly swatter.”
Each rectangular antenna has its own weight and dimensions, and many of the plastic ones are breakable. If you’re concerned about breakage, consider the Winegard FlatWave. It’s made from a bendable, flat polymer much like a mouse pad.
An issue you may grapple with as a new TV antenna owner is that of installation. Most antennas plug into the TV with a coaxial cable, and most TVs have this installation.
However, newer televisions on the market only contain HDMI inputs. Double-check your own television to make sure you can hook up an antenna like this.
While there are no official adaptors by TV manufacturers, there are third-party companies that make HDMI adaptors that hook into coaxial ports. Be sure to research these brands before purchasing.
Because modern TV antennas are more sophisticated than their predecessors, there’s little need to mount them on the roof or any other elevated location. However, there are certain steps you can take to ensure that your signal has the best quality at all times:
Keep the antenna near a window so the signal has an easier time reaching you.
If possible, aim the antenna at a broadcast tower in your area. (You may need a longer cable to do this.) A Google search can help you locate nearby broadcast towers.
Keep your antenna in a high, flat, horizontal position for the strongest signal.
A digital signal can be affected by physical objects. Buildings, trees, hills, and cell towers can warp and bend a signal, causing reception problems.
Sometimes, TV picture quality hinges on your signal and the placement of your antenna. There are no special features in any of these devices that guarantee a crystal clear signal across every available channel; that depends on your location and your tower signals.
If a specific channel isn’t coming in clearly, you may need to experiment a bit with the placement of your antenna.
In some areas, the picture quality isn’t the fault of the antenna, but of the broadcaster’s signal and their tower. If you’re having issues with a particular station while the rest come in fine, it may be helpful to contact the station’s engineering department to see if they know how to position your antenna or check to see if there’s a problem with their signal.
Much like picture quality, there’s no way around the fact that you’re going to encounter static at some point. Plenty of potential causes exist, but the most likely culprit is audio interference.
If you’re looking for an antenna that minimizes your chance of sound interference, consider the AmazonBasics or Winegard FlatWave. Both offer audio filtering tech that is supposed to eliminate things like radio station signals, wireless radios, and cell phone signals — the elements that commonly cause interference.
Most in-home signals have little to no impact on an antenna’s reception. A single cellphone is not capable of scrambling a signal. Interference that causes static usually comes from being near some sort of transmission or broadcast tower.
Thankfully, digital antenna technology has become so commonplace that you won’t have to break your wallet to get a great deal.
One of our pricier models, the Mohu Leaf, currently sells for $59. That price tag reflects the fact that it’s a sleek design with some filtering tech that other products don’t have.
The Winegard FlatWave, at a cost of $54, is somewhat of a “radical” design. As discussed above, it looks and feels more like a mouse pad than a typical antenna. People who move furniture frequently (including their TV and accessories) might appreciate this durable design.
A search on Google can help you learn more about the broadcast towers in your area. You can then determine which channels would reach your location with the help of an antenna.
Some antennas need a brief internal software setup that requires you to find the signal. Look for a spot where the signal is “present.”
Connect your antenna directly to the TV, and avoid as many split connections as possible. The greater the connection, the better the quality.
If you choose outdoor installation, check to see how durable your antenna is. Will you need to do anything special to ensure that the antenna withstands the elements?
Q. Will my antenna be able to pick up everything in my area?
A. This depends on your location. In smaller areas, it may be possible to pick up everything you’ll ever see on broadcast television. In larger areas, there are some channels you’ll never be able to reach.
Q. What if I want to pick up TV channels from farther away?
A. There’s only so much a digital antenna can do. But if you really want to see how far your capabilities stretch, shop for a range amplifier.
Q. Will a digital antenna work on an older TV?
A. No. You must have a television made after 2009 in order for the signal to work. Any television made prior to this date does not have the right technology to receive digital signals from the antenna.
Q. How do I connect an antenna to a TV that already has cable/satellite box?
A. You have two choices here. The first is to select a secondary input for the antenna and switch to it using your remote, like you would a DVD player. The second is to use a coaxial splitter, which would require more installation and some new wiring.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.