If you’ve decided to ditch cable or satellite service in order to save upwards of $1,500 per year, then you should consider investing in a reliable antenna for your home. A quality antenna can pick up free, over-the-air high definition programming from popular networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, the CW, and a host of others. While a whole house, outdoor antenna system is ideal for getting HD programming distributed to all TV’s at once, rental properties discourage tenants from mounting outdoor antennae on the roof, or running cable lines from an outdoor antenna to various rooms. Also, not everyone needs a full-on outdoor antenna rig. This being the case, the indoor antenna has seen a giant resurgence over the past several years.
But before you cut your cords and opt to splurge on an antenna, we recommend taking a look at TV Fool’s TV Signal Analysis tool to view the available stations within your area. TV Fool’s analysis provides crucial data such as direction of the transmitters, distance from each transmitter, and transmitter signal power. TV Fool makes reading the analysis simple by color coordinating the probabilities of stations available in your area. For instance, green transmitters work with standard indoor antennae, while yellow or red transmitters might require an attic antenna or larger hardware mounted to your roof. It’s also recommended you take into account the building materials used in your home or apartment, as well as the surrounding terrain, which may block incoming signals. For instance, if you have metal siding on the outside of your home, lack windows, or have several walls between your TV and the outside world, an indoor antenna might not work for you.
When shopping for a suitable indoor antenna, it’s easy to only pay attention to the claims of manufacturers. While these occasionally help when buying, making an informed decision based on actual performance is always best. To help with this, we’ve combed through the sea of available indoor antennae and found eight of the best — plus one outdoor antenna just for fun — which promise to bring crystal-clear HD programming straight to your home. With a few of these selections, you’ll even have the ability to receive quality broadcasts from transmitters 40 to 60 miles away. So get ready to cut those cords for good; here are our picks of the best available indoor antenna.
Why should you buy this: The highest-rated flat HD antenna comes in various models to suit your needs
Who’s it for: Those who don’t mind paying a little extra for the best possible reception.
How much will it cost: $50
Why we picked the ClearStream Eclipse:
The ClearStream Eclipse is a powerful antenna, with some of the best-rated performance when it comes to flat, multi-directional HD antennas. This is true of all four available models, which feature 35, 50, 60, and 70-mile estimated signal ranges. The antenna is two sided — a black side and white side — that can be mounted to suit your decor. The material is not only adhesive on both sides (meaning no tape), it also can be painted over, so it can easily become a discreet addition to any room. Even better, the multidirectional nature of the ClearStream Eclipse means it can be mounted virtually anywhere, and doesn’t require precise aiming to catch a signal. Unlike many indoor antennas, most of which use a square or rectangular design, the circular design of the ClearStream Eclipse is better at picking up UHF signals, which many indoor antennas struggle with.
We’re recommending the 35-mile-range model, which runs about $50, but if you live further out from a tower and need a wider range, the amplified models might be what you’re looking for. These cost progressively more the wider the radius becomes. Keep in mind, however, that we’ve found amplifiers to have a minimal effect on signal reception
The best flat antenna
Why should you buy this: The Winegard Flatwave, when in the optimal setting, is one of the best performing antennas on this list.
Who’s it for: Those in urban areas who don’t mind skipping budget options.
How much will it cost: $32
Why we picked the Winegard Flatwave:
The Flatwave antenna boasts some of the strongest performance of any antenna on our list — provided you can mount in an area with minimal interference and as direct a line of sight as possible. Capable of receiving broadcasts from towers approximately 30 miles away (depending on the surrounding terrain), it comes with a 15-foot coaxial cable making it easy to install the antenna near the best possible signal reception area. However, should you live in a more remote area or be mounting in a sub-optimal location, you may not get as great of performance as we did in our downtown Portland, OR office (and if this is the case, fret not; we’ve got plenty more on this list to suit your needs).
Another helpful aspect of The Flatwave is its simple and diminutive design. The antenna measures in at just 2/100 of an inch in thickness, making it incredibly inconspicuous no matter where you install it.
The best metal antenna
HD Frequency Cable Cutter Mini
Why should you buy this: Being metal, this antenna works well both inside and outdoors.
Who’s it for: Those who want a sturdier design suitable for either indoor or outdoor use.
How much will it cost: $30-$40
Why we picked the HD Frequency Cable Cutter Mini:
Frankly, we’ve been shocked by what this little antenna can do. It may not look like much more than just a few metal bars stuck together, but the HD Frequency Cable Cutter Mini is a very capable antenna, matching up with the better-performing antennae very well in many of our location tests. It’s super affordable, easy to hide behind a television, and is suitable for outdoor use as well.
As the name implies, the Indoor/Outdoor Mini works both inside and outside. Unlike other antennas on this list, it features a solid metal design. While this makes it a sturdy device, it’s also larger, heavier, and bulkier than most every other antenna listed here. It may also be worthwhile to look into the larger $100 full-size version of the antenna, should you need something more suitable for long-distance signals.
The best budget antenna
Channel Master FLATenna
Why should you buy this: It’s cheap, small, and works nearly as well as more expensive competition.
Who’s it for: Those who want the cheapest, though still reliable, option available.
How much will it cost: $10
Why we picked the Channel Master FLATenna:
You likely cut your cable in order to save yourself some cash, so why not look for the cheapest (yet still reliable) option out there? Thankfully, one of the cheapest antenna around — the Channel master FLATenna — works almost as well as others on this list. While testing the FLATenna at our downtown office locations, we found it to routinely beat out a handful of older, more expensive antenna options. During the test, it pulled in almost all of the available stations in our area (albeit from within 3 miles of the broadcast antennae), and proved itself a worthy upgrade over traditional rabbit ear antennae. Better yet, this impressive product costs just $10 making it the most affordable way to broadcast HD television on our list.
In terms of design, it’s small, simple, and will likely fit well in any setup thanks to its flat shape and all-black color.
The best tiny antenna
Why should you buy this: The Leaf Metro is the smallest antenna of the bunch, but no less capable of providing quality HDTV signal.
Who’s it for: City apartment dwellers who need something compact.
How much will it cost: $20-$25
Why we picked the Leaf Metro:
Though admittedly weaker than the larger Mohu Leaf antenna, the Leaf Metro is the perfect fit for compact living spaces. Mohu designed the Leaf Metro for discreet installation in homes located close to broadcast towers, so those living in downtown or urban areas are most likely to get the best use of the Leaf Metro. Though its range only reaches approximately 25 miles, the Leaf Metro still delivers full 1080p HD broadcasts straight to your TV.
To compound the versatility enabled by its tiny size, the antenna also come in either black or white, or users have the ability to paint it to match any interior. Plus, its adhesive coating means it’ll stick to most any surface and can be moved to other locations with ease. An included 10-foot coaxial cable allows for fairly flexible installation.
The best adaptable antenna
Why should you buy this: The Terk Trinity is packed with technology that will make the best out of whatever signal you receive where you live.
Who’s it for: Those who don’t mind having an obvious antenna visible in their room
How much will it cost: $40-$55
Why we picked the Terk Trinity:
The Terk Trinity may not look as elegant as the slimmer antennae on our list — actually, it’s three-pronged design may look downright goofy — but what the Trinity lacks in style, it makes up for in engineering and power, pulling channels from up to 60 miles away.
The Terk Trinity uses what Terk calls a “trimodal” approach, adding amplification to weak stations when needed, and leaving strong stations alone. This is a bit different than the other antennas we’ve listed, which are either unamplified models that present the signal as received, or amplified models that artificially “boost” the signal. It even filters out cell signal interference. This adaptability makes it useful in especially challenging reception situations.
The Terk Trinity is a strong, inexpensive device, and though you may want to hide it out of sight from guests, remember that the better the exposure, the better the reception.
The best free-standing antenna
Why should you buy this: The Mohu Curve can hide in plain sight while it tunes into HDTV signals.
Who’s it for: Those who are concerned about decor as much as they are performance.
How much will it cost: $50
Why we picked the Mohu Curve: If inconspicuous and discreet locations are at a premium in your residence, then you might as well opt for a good-looking antenna. Enter Mohu’s Curve line of antennae, which look as good as they pull in HD broadcasts — and they excel at that task. This free-standing antenna can sit on tables, entertainment centers, or on shelves without drawing much attention. The curved design is simple and attractive, and the fact that it doesn’t require mounting means it can be moved to wherever the signal gets picked up best.
With performance similar to Mohu’s Leaf, the Curve model comes in either a 30-mile range edition, or a 50-mile amplified option. An included 10-foot coaxial cable aids in placement flexibility.
The best amplified antenna
Why should you buy this: The Flatwave Amped has the best signal amplification we’ve tested.
Who’s it for: Those who need some help boosting the signal they receive.
How much will it cost: $55
Why we picked the Flatwave Amped:
While we’ve found amplifying (or “boosting”) to have varying degrees of success (these amps are best in cases where the signal must run over long lengths of coaxial cable) we still feel it’s important to include a model that has built-in amplification features. The strongest indoor antenna of the bunch, Winegard’s amplified Flatwave claims the ability to pull in broadcasts from as far as 50 miles away. This kind of reception range proves perfect for those of you living in smaller communities far from antennae.
Furthermore, the included 18-foot coaxial cable is the longest of any on our list, allowing for placement in the best possible location in your home. The Flatwave Amped also features a razor-thin design — like the standard Flatwave — making it both functional and discreet.
An outdoor antenna
Why should you buy this: Does your home fall outside the reception range of the antennae listed? Worry not, Mohu’s Sky60 model might do the trick.
Who’s it for: Those who need an outside antenna.
How much will it cost: $130
Why we picked the Mohu Sky60:
Most of the time, using an indoor HDTV antenna will nab you the channels you desire with great picture clarity. However, there are times when an outdoor antenna will do the job better — whether because of location or because mounting inside isn’t an option for whatever reason.
With a reception range of approximately 60 miles (sometimes more depending on your location), the Sky60 provides incredible performance and crystal-clear signal quality, thanks in part to its FM and cell signal filters. With its 30-foot precision low loss cable and easy-to-use mounting bracket, this model installs easily either on a rooftop, an upstairs attic, or in a tree. It’s also smaller and lighter than outdoor antennas of the past, which means it’ll be easy to find the proper location for mounting. Users also have the ability to power the Sky60’s amp using either a USB connection or the provided power cube.
How we test
For the majority of these antenna, we tested in our downtown Portland, OR offices, as well as in residential locations, to get the best possible impression on the signal pick-up capabilities of each antenna. We then cross referenced our findings with the findings of other experts and consumers to assess any differences and gauge the relevance of inconsistencies (if there were any to begin with) on our final ranking. For the few antenna on this list we did not get hands-on time with, we based our appraisal on the opinions of fellow tech publications, expert outlets, and user comments, and judged their purported quality against what our research uncovered.
A word on signal strength and quality
As much as we’d love to tell you there’s an ideal location in your home in relation to a signal tower, but the truth is there isn’t. In reality, like so many other things in life, the process of finding the best spot for an antenna requires trial-and-error, some finesse, and maybe even a little luck. This inconsistency is true not just of different geographical regions, but in variations between antenna models. What may be the best location for one antenna may not be effective for others.
Furthermore, there are differences in the signal types that your antenna will be picking up, and different antennas may be better tuned to picking up certain signal frequencies than others. The two main signal types are VHF and UHF. The basic difference between the two is the channels broadcast in those frequencies. Channels 2-13 are broadcast in VHF, while channels 14-51 are UHF. Most antennas can pick up both VHF and UHF, but some can only pick up one or the other. This will be noted in an antenna’s product description.
However, there are some tips to ensure the best possible reception.
- Face antennas directly towards towers, if possible,.
- Place your antenna with as minimal geographical interference (mountains, hills, trees, buildings, etc) as possible.
Try to keep interference from radios, cell phones, or other electronics to a minimum. This doesn’t necessarily mean keep the antenna away from your TV, however; in some instances, we found the best location for an antenna to be directly behind or under the TV.
In general, the ranges listed by manufacturers are simply estimates and shouldn’t be taken at face value. While it’s still best to opt for antennas listed with longer reception ranges for locations far from broadcast towers, there are no universal testing criteria for establishing what an antenna’s operating range is. Plus, environmental factors will impact just how accurate that number is anyway.
Finally, while we’ve mentioned amplified antennas, we aren’t entirely sold on the efficacy of that technology. Despite the name, “amplified” antennas or in-line amplifiers do not boost the signal reception itself. Rather, they strengthen the signal that is being picked up, meaning if you’re getting a slightly fuzzy signal, the amplifier will try to artificially boost the quality on the TV. We’ve found this to have varying degrees of success, but in general there isn’t going to be an appreciable change in quality. It’s also important to note that amplifiers should not be used in areas where signal strength is stable. This can cause noise and other picture quality problems.