Types of TV Antennas
Indoor HDTV Antennas
If you live in an area where signals are relatively strong, there are a bevy of effective antennas that earn praise from experts. However, performance in any given location can vary widely depending on how far you are from the broadcast towers, what channels your local broadcasters use, topography, intervening obstacles such as trees and buildings, and phases of the moon (we are kidding about the last one, though judging by the reviews we see, maybe not so much). Still, if you live within 30 miles of the TV towers (and even within 50 miles in some situations) it's possible to find an effective, and even economical, indoor TV antenna that will help you watch local broadcasts in full HD without shelling out a dime to a cable TV provider.
Indoor/Outdoor HDTV Antennas
For distant signals, beyond 30 miles in some cases, and certainly beyond 60 miles in almost all cases, your best bet will likely be a large roof or attic-mounted antenna. However, in between sits a host of more compact antennas that can provide good performance in all but the most marginal of reception areas. Many are designed primarily for outdoor use but can be adapted for use indoors, even in your viewing room -- though they won't be easy to hide É or ignore.
free TV with a television antenna
Television antennas -- and the availability of local over-the-air
programming -- can play a big role in deciding whether to ditch your current TV
provider. Many people are abandoning cable and satellite TV providers in favor
of streaming content online from Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus and more. Networks
are getting into the act as well, offering on-demand content (sometimes free,
othertimes for a fee). Several streaming services, including Sling, DirecTV
Now, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube TV offer live feeds of local channels
in some major markets, though the availability of specific channels varies
widely depending on the market and the service you subscribe to.
In essence, that means that in many cases, an over-the-air (OTA) antenna
and a TV with a digital tuner are still the best, and sometimes the only way to
view local programs and network TV shows at the same time as they're originally
broadcast. That is also typically the only way to see that programming for
However, there's a caveat. Because of the nature of digital TV signals
and the frequencies many digital stations now use, receiving them with a
television antenna is more of a challenge than with the old analog system. Tall
buildings, hills and other obstructions create lots of complications. In
addition, the signals might not cover as wide an area as the old analog ones
did. All of that means you might need to pay special attention to your HDTV
antenna to get the best over-the-air digital TV.
In stores, you'll see many television antennas being promoted as
designed for HDTV, but in reality you don't need a special HDTV antenna design
to receive digital signals. In fact, in most cases, the best antennas are those
based on the same designs used for decades for analog TV reception. If you
already have a good antenna with which you received analog TV, it might be all
One thing to watch for when selecting a television antenna for digital
TV is that many so-called HDTV antennas are only designed to cover the UHF band
(channels 14 to 69), which is where most digital TV signals were found, though
that band was initially cut back so that digital stations were restricted to
the lower part, channels 14 to 51. In April 2017, the FCC completed an auction
of additional spectrum that reduced the available UHF channels even further, eliminating
channels 37 to 51. To accommodate that, some local stations voluntary
surrendered their licenses, some entered into frequency sharing agreements with
other stations, and a whole lot of them, nearly 1,000 nationwide, will be
seeing a forced change in their channel assignments. For the vast majority of viewers,
the result of this spectrum "repack" will be minimal, but in some
markets, a channel or two may be forced from UHF to VHF, making an antenna that
also covers VHF mandatory if you want to continue to receive that station. The
process will start in November 2018 and take 39 months to complete. Fortune has more details, while the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has a searchable database of the new channel assignments.
If you live in an area where all the broadcasters you want to receive
use (and will continue to use) UHF, that's not a concern. In addition, testing
reveals that many popular HDTV antennas are at least decent performers on the
upper VHF channels (channels 7-13). It's on low band VHF (channels 2-6) where
things get a bit problematic. If there's a low-band VHF station you want to
receive in your area, either now or when the spectrum repacking process is
completed, you'll need to select a TV antenna that performs well for those
frequencies as well. If you don't know what stations you can receive and what channels
they use to broadcast on, sites such as AntennaWeb and TV Fool can help. AntennaWeb also has information on which stations will be changing
channels in the future.
Finding The Best TV Antennas
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One problem with finding the best TV antenna is separating marketing
spin from actual results, and that's complicated by the fact that an antenna
that works great for one person because of their geographical location could be
a miserable failure for someone living even a short distance away. The best
reviews of TV antennas come from those who've tested a good number of them, and
have done so under relatively uniform circumstances. For that, we turn to
sources such as HDTVExpert.com, Wirecutter, CNET, Top Ten Reviews, Tom's Guide
Likewise, user reviews can be helpful, especially for antennas that are evaluated
by hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of owners. That helps normalize the
feedback so results aren't skewed by those living in extremely difficult
reception areas or where OTA signal strength is so strong that a bent coat
hanger could work as an acceptable antenna. Amazon is tops for that, but we
also consider feedback from other sources, such as Best Buy. The results are
our picks as the best indoor antennas for most budgets and situations.