For distant signals, beyond 60 miles, your best bet will likely be a large roof or attic-mounted antenna. While we don't cover those in this report, we touch upon how to find the right choice for your location at the end of this section. But before you go there, and as long as you are willing to put up with an antenna that won't be as easy to hide or ignore in your viewing room, there are some good alternatives that are worth a look.
Its size is certainly an issue for those that plan to use it indoors, but if that's not too much of a concern to you, we saw some good feedback for the Antennas Direct ClearStream 2V (Est. $100). This is a large two-bay UHF loop and scatter-plane reflector antenna, coupled with a VHF dipole antenna for complete coverage of all HDTV channels. The UHF loops are the same receiving elements used in the Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse (Est. $40), profiled in the section on Best Indoor HDTV Antennas.
Despite being able to receive signals over a fairly large angle, the design is fairly directional, so it's not the best choice for those looking to receive signals from widely spaced bearings. However, the chief drawback to this antenna is its size. Measuring 20 inches long by 35.5 inches wide by 6.5 inches deep, there's no missing this antenna in a typical viewing room. Some rationalize that with this (and similar antennas) if you look at it just right, it could be passed off as a modern art sculpture, but still… Another alternative is to place the antenna in your attic and run cabling to your set, an approach favored by many.
At the end of the day, however, if you can live with this antenna's aesthetics, it outperforms just about anything short of a large rooftop mounted antenna, at least within its specified 60-plus-mile range. This antenna gets tons of user reviews at sites like BestBuy.com and Amazon.com and enjoys high levels of satisfaction -- at least in comparison to other TV antennas. Solid Signal reviews this antenna on its blog, comparing it to its own HD-Blade indoor antenna (Est. $30), and reports excellent results.
Feedback is more limited, but the Channel Master STEALTHenna 50 (Est. $30) gets a shout out from Peter Putnam at HDTVExpert.com. It's tested with and without an accessory amplifier, and either way scores well (albeit tied with a UHF only bow tie antenna -- see our discussion of Best Indoor HDTV Antennas for more information). The antenna includes receiving elements for all current TV bands, including low-band VHF. It uses a Yagi design -- similar in appearance to many UHF/VHF roof antennas, but smaller -- and is somewhat directional, taking in signals over a 90 degree arc.
Though called compact, at 23.5 by 22.6 inches will be hard to miss if used indoors. "It's small enough to sit in a closet or attic space, or even in a room -- think of it as functional art," Putman says. It's rated for a range of 50 miles.
As noted user reviews are good, if limited. Price is certainly a selling point, but most are pleased with performance. In just over a dozen reviews at Amazon.com, it earns a 4.8 star rating.
While a small (or relatively small) indoor antenna can do the trick for many if not most TV viewers, that still leaves a good number for which there's no alternative except a large outdoor HDTV antenna. They're more costly and difficult to install, but in nearly every case an outdoor antenna mounted as high as possible will outperform an indoor one. For viewers located more than 50 miles or so from the transmitters, an outdoor antenna is virtually a necessity. Those who are closer but surrounded by hills, buildings or other obstacles that reduce signal strength might also need to choose an outdoor antenna.
The CEA has developed a color-rating system that identifies outdoor television antennas by type and receiving strength. Antenna types range from small, multidirectional models coded yellow that are suitable for use in high-signal-strength areas to large, directional TV antennas coded violet that may be your only hope if you want to pull in a distant or weak signal. Reports by address generated at AntennaWeb.org includes that color code information.
Choosing an outdoor television antenna is relatively easy: Match up the reception prediction with the color code rating of an antenna, and a good chunk of the work is done. You also need to make sure the antenna is a good performer for the channels available in your area, especially if some broadcasters have elected to remain on VHF.