Broadcast television channels, like local ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC affiliates, public television stations, and many others, were intended to be free. With a TV antenna you can get up to 20 channels—or potentially even more—of free TV reception over the airwaves. This could be a nice supplement to streaming services or a replacement for cable or satellite subscriptions. Today’s digital over-the-air signals provide screen quality as good as, or even better than, cable or satellite and include many channels that broadcast in high-definition. To get them, you’ll need an antenna.
However, an antenna isn’t a one-size-fits-all product. Read on to learn what to look for in the best TV antenna for you.
- BEST OVERALL: GE Ultra Edge Indoor TV Antenna
- RUNNER UP: 1 BY ONE Indoor TV Antenna
- BEST AMPLIFIED: GE Amplified HD TV Antenna
- BEST FOR RURAL AREAS: RCA TV Antenna
- ALSO CONSIDER: GE Pro Outdoor TV Antenna
- ALSO CONSIDER: Antennas Direct 4-Element Bowtie TV Antenna
Types of TV Antennas
If you’re looking for the best possible reception of over-the-air (OTA) television, you’ll need the right kind of antenna for your particular setup. Read on to learn more about some of the most common options and which type of TV antenna may make the most sense for you.
Dipole antennas, sometimes referred to as “rabbit ears,” are one of the most common types of indoor TV antennas. Two antenna “poles” work together to receive the broadcast signal. Although they often look like rabbit ears, where both poles stick up and out from a television set, this isn’t always the case. The configuration allows them to be aimed in the direction from which the signal is broadcast so they receive the signal on a plane, which makes it come through stronger and clearer than would be the case with a monopole. This type of antenna most efficiently receives very high frequency, or VHF, channels (channels 2-13).
The loop antenna is another popular indoor TV antenna. A loop antenna is a modification of the dipole in which the two poles are folded back to meet one another. A loop antenna is often configured in a circle but can also form a square or even a series of circles or squares. Loop antennas are especially good for receiving ultrahigh frequency, or UHF, channels (channels higher than 13). The flat, rectangular indoor antennas that have become quite common since broadcasters switched from analog to digital signals are made with a metal loop antenna embedded in conductive plastic.
Yagi antennas receive VHF and UHF channels well. A Yagi antenna is an outdoor directional antenna that concentrates signal reception in a single direction at the expense of all others. They are known for high gain, which means that they are capable of receiving low-strength signals far better than other types of antennas. A Yagi antenna can be a good option if you live in a rural area where maximum gain is required to pick up a faint signal.
A log-periodic (LP) antenna, or log-periodic dipole array (LPDA), is a multielement attic or outdoor directional antenna that is built to operate over a wide band of frequencies. It works like a series of linked Yagi antennas, each tuned to different frequencies. The difference is the Yagi has a single driven element whereas the LP has multiple driven elements. While the Yagi provides more gain for a single frequency, the LP handles a range of frequencies more efficiently. LP antennas are a good choice for suburban and rural areas where the signal is weak.
A reflective array antenna is a type of attic or outdoor antenna that uses signal reflectors to focus directional reception and block out signals coming from other directions. The antenna is pointed in the direction of the desired broadcast tower. When the signal reaches the reflective array, it is bounced back toward the dipole element, increasing gain. At the same time, signals that approach from other directions are reflected away from the element. The reflective array can help sort out the noise in areas with lots of signal traffic.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best TV Antenna
When shopping for the best TV antenna, you’ll want to consider distance, direction, frequencies, and obstructions between your home and the nearest broadcast tower. You’ll also want to learn more about your local TV broadcast signals and which channels are available.
Before choosing an antenna, find out from where the local stations broadcast. AntennaWeb has a helpful search tool that lets you find your local broadcast towers based on your ZIP code.
Signal strength corresponds to distance from the broadcast tower. If you are close to the tower, within 20 miles, a small indoor antenna will work just fine. If you are farther away, up to 35 miles, choose a more powerful outdoor, omnidirectional antenna. In rural areas, where the signal is weak, a directional antenna may be the best choice.
Directional vs. Omnidirectional
Directional antennas receive signals only from the direction in which they are aimed. Omnidirectional antennas receive signals from all directions. In suburban and rural locations, or where the signal is weak, choose a directional antenna that will boost the weak signal. In areas where there are multiple towers located in different directions nearby, consider using an omnidirectional antenna.
Learn which channels broadcast over the air in your area. Note which frequencies they use and the location of the broadcast tower. VHF signals are typically the easiest to receive, as long as the broadcast tower is within 35 miles or so of your TV antenna. UHF signals are disrupted by hilly terrain, large buildings, and other obstructions. You can work around these obstructions by placing an antenna in the attic, on the roof, or in another elevated outdoor location.
VHF vs. UHF
Each TV station is given a frequency on which it may broadcast its OTA programming. The frequency will occur within either the VHF or UHF band. Channels 2 through 6 are considered low VHF frequencies. Channels 7 through 13 are high VHF. Channels 14 through 69 are UHF.
Low frequency VHF signals feature a relatively long wavelength, while high frequency UHF wavelengths are much shorter. The VHF channels’ longer wavelengths suffer less disruption from obstacles. They can bend over and around mountains and hills. The shorter wavelengths of UHF channels are more reliant on a clear line of sight between the transmitter and your TV antenna. They are subject to disruption by mountains, buildings, and even heavy foliage.
Different kinds of antennas are used to receive these signals. Dipole antennas pick up VHF signals, while loop antennas capture UHF signals. Many antennas are constructed with multiple technologies to receive both VHF and UHF frequencies. Outdoor antennas are capable of picking up both VHF and UHF signals.
Within 20 miles of the broadcast tower, most indoor omnidirectional antennas provide good reception. The farther you are from the broadcast tower, the weaker the signal becomes. This is where you may benefit from an outdoor or amplified antenna. Outdoor antennas use a variety of technologies, such as directional reception and reflective arrays, to improve signal gain and make the most of a weak signal.
An antenna amplifier is an electronic device that is either included in the circuitry of an antenna or may be added to an antenna to improve its performance. It boosts the signal coming in from the broadcast tower, improving upon a weak signal. Amplifiers help reduce signal loss if the antenna is wired to multiple TVs or if the cable from the antenna to the TV is extra long.
It is important to know that antenna amplifiers do not filter out noise; whatever the antenna picks up gets amplified. In some instances, amplified antennas may work better with the amplifier turned off.
TV antennas use a coaxial cable connection. If your TV was manufactured after 2006, it likely has a digital tuner built in. In this case, simply connect the coaxial cable from your antenna to the “antenna in” port on the back of the TV.
Older TVs, as well as some newer ones, do not have digital tuners, so the antenna signal must be “translated” by an exterior digital tuner (sold separately). Use a coaxial cable to connect the antenna to the “antenna in” port on the tuner, then connect the “out to TV” port on the tuner to the “antenna in” port on the TV with a second coaxial cable.
Installation varies based on the type of antenna you choose. Indoor antennas may simply sit close by or attach to the TV, or they may mount on a wall or nearby window with adhesive. Plug them into the TV, and they’re ready to go. Long range antennas must be assembled and mounted inside the attic, on the roof of the house, or on a pole outdoors. A coaxial cable will then be run from the antenna into the house where the TV is located.
Our Top Picks
If you’re ready to take advantage of free OTA programming, you’ll need a good antenna. This list of the best TV antennas is based on the above shopping considerations and their ability to improve reception of digital OTA broadcast signals.
A truly versatile TV antenna, this indoor option from GE offers excellent reception of both VHF and UHF signals, is capable of receiving an uncompressed 1080p signal, and is 4K ultraHD ready. It works with all brands of HDTVs and converter boxes. The powerful encased loop antenna receives signals from any direction up to 40 miles away. With its sleek, modern appearance, you can display either the black or white side to seamlessly coordinate with home decor. It can be used either horizontally by laying it on a flat surface or vertically by mounting it to a wall or window with the included adhesive strips.
Another indoor option, the 1 BY ONE Indoor TV Antenna features a lightweight, flat design that conveniently attaches to the window or wall and can also be used lying flat. It comes with an inline antenna amplifier to increase signal strength, allowing for a whopping 180 mile range reception. The amplifier operates independently of the antenna and may be turned on or off as needed for best performance. The unit is powered by a USB connection to the TV or with a USB wall adapter. The kit includes the antenna, 17 feet of coaxial cable, antenna amplifier, and power adapter.
The GE Amplified HD TV Antenna is capable of receiving full 1080p HD signals from broadcast towers up to 55 miles away. Updated technology boosts the signal at the antenna while filtering electronic noise, blocks 4G/5G LTE cellular interference, and reduces dropouts. Set it up anywhere in the home. This unit boasts superior reception for both VHF and UHF signals. The sleek new design can be set-top mounted, wall mounted, or used as a tabletop device.
This RCA antenna is compatible with 4K, 8K, and 1080 HDTV for the highest-quality picture and sound, including both VHF and UHF stations. It has a long reception range of up to 70 miles or more, making it a great choice for remote locations. It is built for tough outdoor conditions but can also be mounted in an attic. It comes pre-assembled with an easy-lock, fold-out UHF reflector and snap-lock elements. The kit also includes the mast, locking mast clamp, mounting hardware, and 75-ohm matching transformer. Coaxial cable is sold separately. Use the free RCA Signal Finder app as your digital compass to find the most high definition channels for perfect antenna alignment.
By using directional reception with an array of signal reflectors to intensify a long-distance signal and block out competing signal noise, the GE Pro Outdoor TV Antenna is able to receive broadcast signals from up to 70 miles away. It receives both VHF and UHF signals, including uncompressed 1080p HD. The kit comes with an adjustable mounting bracket, mast, and hardware with assembly instructions for convenient installation in the attic, on the rooftop, or on a pole out in the landscape.
If you live in an area with heavy foliage, consider this bowtie antenna from Antennas Direct. It uses patented technology to receive TV signals from up to 60 miles away from broadcast towers and, when installed in an attic or outdoors, can eliminate interference or a reduced signal caused by obstructions. Multidirectional elements receive signals from a wide area. The reflector focuses the antenna’s power for added range while protecting against interference. All-weather mounting hardware and instructions are included with the antenna, but the mount and cable are sold separately.
The Advantages of Owning a TV Antenna
A TV antenna is a great way to get free, over-the-air television programming. An investment in an inexpensive device could save you hundreds of dollars or more per year on the cost of cable, satellite, and streaming. But it is important to do the research to be sure you’re getting the right antenna.
TV antennas receive a spectrum of electromagnetic radio wavelengths from broadcast towers, typically within a distance of 35 miles. Signals are most effectively delivered in a line of sight, with obstacles such as mountains, large buildings, and even dense foliage depleting or blocking the signal. Viewers who are farther away, and those who are not within a line of sight of the broadcast tower, need more powerful equipment to receive these signals. By researching the location and frequencies of your local broadcasts, you will get the information required to choose the best antenna for your TV.
- A TV antenna will allow you to watch free, over-the-air television programming.
- Choosing the right TV antenna will provide the best possible picture quality from the greatest number of available stations.
- A TV antenna gives you access to local and network programming that is not available on streaming services.
FAQs About TV Antennas
Still have a few unanswered questions? Continue reading for more tips and information about TV antennas.
Q. Are outdoor antennas better than indoor ones?
Indoor antennas are inexpensive, easy to set up, and work best for areas with strong broadcast signals, typically within 20 or 30 miles of the broadcast tower. Outdoor antennas are significantly more expensive, more complicated to install, and powerful enough to capture weak signals in areas farther from the broadcast source.
Q. What indoor antenna has the longest range?
While antenna marketers claim that their antennas capture signals from 200 miles away or farther, the truth is less exciting. Because TV broadcast signals require line of sight reception, the maximum range for an antenna is about 70 miles. After that point, the curvature of the earth blocks the signal.
Q. Does a smart TV need an antenna for local channels?
A smart TV, like other TVs, receives the signal over the air. In close proximity to the broadcast tower it may pick up the OTA signal without an external antenna, but in the vast majority of cases reception quality and number of channels will be greatly improved with the addition of an antenna.
Q. How do I aim my TV antenna?
It varies with the type and model. Omnidirectional antennas do not need to be aimed, although they may need to be mounted on a vertical surface such as a wall or window. Directional antennas should be pointed in the direction of the broadcast tower. Use a tool like the one on AntennaWeb to learn which direction that is.
Q. How can I make my antenna signal stronger?
You can do several things to improve your signal. Make sure your TV antenna faces the tower, even if it’s omnidirectional. Add a longer RG6 coaxial cable to reach a more favorable window. If it came with RG59 cable, replace it with RG6. Experiment by moving it to a higher location, or outside, or by positioning it horizontally rather than vertically. If the antenna came with an amplifier, try turning it off. Rescan regularly to ensure it’s up to date.