With the invention and widespread adoption of cable and satellite TV, it started to look like the days were numbered for TV antennas. Things looked even worse when TV stations stopped broadcasting analog signals back in 2009, meaning you needed a digital receiver and not just a rabbit ears antenna to get free TV. In short, it looked like we were all doomed for a world of paid TV.
However, as cable TV has gotten out-of-control expensive, consumers have been seeking out alternatives, a process known as cord-cutting.
Of course, one solution is to simply not watch TV at all but this is not something most people are prepared to do in this day and age. This is where a digital TV antenna comes into play.
A digital TV antenna will allow you to access all of the free stations in your area. All you need to do is pay for the device itself. This allows you to save a fortune on your TV without having to sacrifice watching your favorite shows or sports teams.
Because of their practicality, there are quite a few antennas to choose from. But they each offer something different and do slightly different things, which makes looking through all the different options and choosing the best one for you a real challenge.
To help you, we’ve put together this list of the nine best TV antennas. Read up on the features and benefits of each so that you can get the most from your free TV experience.
Why Buy A TV Antenna?
In general, there are two alternatives to paid cable TV if you don’t want to ditch the habit altogether. One is to switch to all internet streaming TV services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube TV, etc. This is a great option if you still don’t mind paying for TV but instead are looking for a way to only pay for what you want.
However, signing up for all these services can still cost you a pretty penny, which is still unacceptable for some. This leaves Over the Air (OTA) TV, which requires an antenna.
When you buy an antenna, all you pay for is the device. Everything else is free. Some other benefits of buying an antenna include:
- Get up to 50 channels of TV for free. There are far more channels being broadcast for free today than there were in the past, which means you don’t need to sacrifice entertainment to save money.
- Receive high-definition signals. Many if not all stations now broadcast in high-definition for no extra charge. With cable, service providers compress the signal to be able to send so many, which means lower quality. As a result, if you want high definition, you need to pay more. So while you get fewer channels with an antenna, they will often come in much clearer than with a basic cable package.
Of course, there are a few disadvantages, one of which is that you will not be able to record and save programs, and another is that signal quality will depend on where you live and the weather. But the savings are incredible, and most find these sacrifices well worth it.
What to Look for In a TV Antenna
At first glance, it might seem to you that all TV antennas are the same but this really isn’t the case. Different models do different things, and which one you buy will depend on your specific needs and requirements, as well as where you live.
To help guide you in the buying process, we’ve put together a list of the many different features that one can find in a TV antenna. This will help you narrow your search and make it easier for you to figure out which is the best TV antennas for you.
Indoor vs. Outdoor
The first thing you will want to consider when buying a TV antenna is where you want to put it.
Indoor antennas are similar to the old-style rabbit ear antennas in that they connect directly to your TV and work from inside the home. However, because the TV signal needs to travel through your home and past any other obstacles, such as nearby trees or buildings, it can be more difficult to obtain a clear signal using an indoor antenna. As a result, these options are best for those who live near the broadcast towers and in homes where there are few things blocking signal transmission.
On the other side, outdoor antennas are much better at picking up signals since they can be placed above trees, buildings, and other obstacles. However, for outdoor antennas to work, they need to be placed on your house or apartment building, or possibly even in trees, which can be difficult logistically and can also harm the aesthetic of your home.
In summary, outdoor antennas are best for people who live far from broadcast stations (highly rural areas) or who live in a densely populated area that impedes the signal’s ability to travel freely, i.e. cities.
Indoor antennas, on the other hand, are best for those who live in less densely populated areas but who also have TV stations nearby that are transmitting signals. Examples of such areas would be larger towns or suburbs where houses are spread out but where the population is large enough for it to be worth it for TV stations to broadcast.
There is an in-between, the attic-mounted antenna, which gives you a bit more range than an indoor antenna without you needing to build something on the outside of your home. Depending on where you live, this type of antenna could provide you with exactly what you need.
Directional vs. Multi-Directional
Another thing to consider is whether or not you want your antenna to be directional or multi-directional, and again, deciding which one to choose will depend heavily on where you live.
Directional antennas receive signals when they are pointed directly at the source of the signal. Because of this, they can pick up signals from much further away than other antennas, but they will only be able to pick up a small number of signals. Sometimes, they can only pick up one. As a result, directional antennas are best for those who live far away from broadcast stations.
Multi-directional antennas, as the name suggests, pick up signals from multiple directions, meaning they can usually receive data from more channels and stations. However, because they are not focused on one area, signal strength tends to be weaker. Furthermore, because the antenna is picking up signals in all directions, it’s more likely to pick up noise and other extraneous transmissions, which can interfere with your TV watching experience.
This means multi-directional antennas are best for those living in densely-populated areas where there are multiple strong signals available.
Channels: VHF and UHF
There are two different types of signals TV stations use to transmit data: Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF).
VHF signals are broadcast on channels 2-13 and UHF is sent over 14-51. Within VHF, there is low-band (channels 2-6) and high-band (channels 7-13). However, these channel numbers don’t always match the “virtual channel number” by which we know many of our favorite stations.
Many of these stations have grabbed a past channel number and used it as their branding, but they now broadcast over a different “real” channel. This means 6 ABC in your area might not be broadcast over channel 6 anymore, as this is a VHF channel. Instead, it could be transmitted over channel 28 (UHF), but we still refer to it as channel 6 because that’s what we’ve always known it as. Confused yet? It’s normal.
In reality, most stations now broadcast on UHF channels, which means it’s probably a smart idea to get an antenna that can receive this type of signals. But to be sure, you should find out the frequency used by the channels in your area, which you can do by typing in your address on this handy resource provided by TV Fool.
Here’s a sample results page to help you decipher:
As you can see, in some cases, the “real” channel is the same as the virtual one. For example, WGGB is transmitted over channel 26. However, WWLP is branded as “Channel 22,” yet its broadcast over channel 11, meaning it’s a VFH channel.
Once you get your antenna, you probably won’t think much about this, but it’s an important step in the buying process. As a result, when deciding which antenna to buy, it would be wise to take a look at the channels in your area to see if they use VHF or UHF.
These days, UHF is the preferred mode of broadcasting, so it’s likely most if not all channels will use this type of signal. However, some channels have switched back over the years to try and save money (although this has caused them to reach fewer people), and this means you might need an antenna that can pick up both VHF and UHF signals.
This is often standard, but some antennas no longer pick up low-band VHF channels, largely because they must be larger to account for the longer low-band UHF radio waves, which could be a problem depending on the area in which you live.
Range and Amplification
Another thing to consider when choosing an antenna is its range and whether or not it has an amplification mode. For an antenna to pick up a signal, it must be within its range. Different antennas offer different ranges, with the general rule being that more range costs more money.
However, there are limitations to an antenna’s range, the most significant being the curvature of the earth and the obstacles between your home and the broadcast station.
To know how much range you need, take a look at how far away you are from the nearest stations. This should give you an idea as to how strong of an antenna you need.
TV Fool offers a handy tool that allows you to see how close you are from where local channels are being broadcast. You type in your address and it produces a nice graphic such as this one:
Another thing to consider regarding range is whether or not the antenna has amplification capabilities. This feature works exactly how it sounds: it amplifies the antenna’s strength to be able to pick up more signals coming from further away.
At first, it might seem like amplification is a no-brainer; higher signal strength means more channels, right?
In theory, yes, but when using an amplifier, it’s important to remember that it amplifies everything, meaning you’re more likely to get noise and other interference. So, while you might get more channels, these channels are going to have lower picture quality, which sort of defeats the purpose of the antenna.
Amplification makes sense if you live just out of range of a specific station you want. You can amplify the signal when you want to watch it and then turn this feature off at other times to ensure the best possible signal when watching TV.
The last thing you should consider when buying an antenna is its price. One can buy a basic indoor antenna for as little as $20-30, but the “you get what you pay for” mantra exists in this market as it does in all others.
A good sweet spot for indoor equipment is about $70-90. This will give you a device capable of picking up signals from a good distance and that also provides you with the savings you want by cutting the cord. There are some cheaper options, which we will discuss below, and you can spend a fortune if you want. But don’t forget that the point of cutting the cord in the first place was to save some money.
The Nine Best TV antennas for 2019
Clearly, there are many different factors to consider when buying a TV antenna, and this makes it difficult for us to choose the best overall option. What’s perfect for one person might be silly for another. As a result, what we’ve decided to do instead is create a list of the nine best. You will find both indoor and outdoor options, as well as expensive and budget choices.
Take some time to consider your needs based on the information above, and then choose the one you think is best. But no matter what you require, know that the ones on this list have been carefully vetted and truly represent the best of the best.
1. 1 Byone HDTV Antenna
This is a great budget option for those living in suburbs and other less-populated areas where the directional signal will not be uninterrupted. It’s super easy to set up and takes up little to no room in our home; you probably won’t even notice it. Here are some more details:
- UHF/VHF/FM capabilities
- 80-mile range with a removable amplifier
- High-quality coaxial cord to ensure the highest possible picture quality
- Approximately $25
2. Mohu Curve 30
For those living in highly-populated areas where there are many different channels to choose from, the Mohu Curve 30 is going to be a great choice. It receives data from all different directions, which means you might need to move it around in the house for the best reception, but once you find the sweet spot, you’ll be able to surf more channels than with most other antennas. Plus, it’s sleek, curved design will be a nice addition to any home. Here are some more details:
- High-band VHF and UHF (channels 7-51)
- 30 Mile Range (amplifier available on the Mohu Curve 50 model)
3. Channel Master CM-2020
For those living in remote areas far from where signals are transmitted, the Channel Master CM-2020, is going to be a great choice. It boasts a tremendous range that allows you to pick up channels from up to 100 miles away. It also comes with a whopping 41 elements, which means it picks up the signal better and delivers a higher picture quality than most other antennas.
However, it’s a much larger device than some of the others on this list, which means installation will be trickier. Plus, as this is a directional antenna, this is not the best choice for those who are looking to capture signals coming from more than one direction.
But if all the nearest signals are coming from the same direction and you need a powerful antenna to receive them, this is probably going to be a fantastic choice for you.
Here is some additional information about this antenna:
- High-band VHF and UHF (channels 7-51)
- 100-mile range
4. Amazon Basics Ultra Thin
For those looking for a truly “lite” option, this proprietary Amazon product is a great option because it is effective and affordable.
The first thing you will notice about this product is its paper-thin design. You can stick it to a wall or window and no one will notice. The next thing you’ll notice is its price. You can get this antenna for just $20.
It’s also reversible black and white so that you can match it with your home and blend it well. However, its range is limited and it has no amplification, which means it is a practical option really only for those who live in densely populated cities where there are many stations to choose from. Here’s a snapshot of its main features:
- High-band UHF and VHF (channels 7-51)
- 35-mile range
5. RCA ant751
RCA is a well-known brand in the world of electronics, so it should come as no surprise they make a great TV antenna. It has a more than acceptable range and is capable of delivering high-quality picture signals to your TV device. It also has a relatively small and compact design, which means it stands out considerably less than other outdoor antennas that draw lots of attention and end up being an eyesore on your home. Furthermore, it comes partially assembled, making it one of the easier outdoor antennas to install on your own. Here’s a summary of the most important details:
- VHF and UHF (Channels 2-51)
- 70-mile range
6. Winegard Elite 7550
This is a fantastic option for those looking for an outdoor multi-directional antenna that is powerful. It has a much higher range than many other multi-directional antennas, and it uses a digital amplifier to help extend its range while minimizing noise and other interference, which means more channels and better signal quality.
It’s an ideal choice for those who live far away from broadcast stations but who also want to be able to receive signals from many different directions. Here’s a rundown of its main features:
- UHF/VHF (Channels 2-51)
- 70-mile range
7. Antop Flat-Panel Indoor/Outdoor
For those looking for an antenna that can do it all, the Antop Flat-Panel Indoor/Outdoor antenna might be the option for you. As the name suggests, it can be used both indoors and outdoors, which means you can place it where it’s most likely to get the best reception, maximizing the number of channels you receive as well as picture quality. To make it even more versatile and effective, the antenna comes with a 40ft coaxial cable which means you can place it pretty much anywhere and still connect it to your TV. In many ways, this is the perfect attic antenna.
The basic specifications of this antenna are:
- Indoor and Outdoor
- High-band VHF and UHF (Channels 7-51)
- 65-80 mile range
8. Antennas Direct Clear Stream 2V
This outdoor antenna is great because it has both a great range and, as a multi-directional antenna it is also capable of picking up a large number of channels. Also, it has a rather compact design, meaning it will be easier to hide from sight than some of the other outdoor antennas on this list. And this compact design, which is based around the company’s patented loop, is able to deliver better signals with less interference than the competition.
As such, this is a great antenna for those living in suburban or rural areas where signals are far away but are coming from multiple directions. However, since it is a multi-directional antenna, it’s important to remember that the range will still be less than some similar directional options. Here is a rundown of the important information:
- VHF and UHF (Channels 2-51)
- 60-mile range
9. TERK MTVGLS
- A small, sleek, yet powerful antenna, the TERK MTVGLS antenna is great for those living in densely populated where there are many different signals to pick up nearby. It’s capable of transmitting high-definition video signals over the air and can capture signals in all directions, meaning it never needs to be adjusted to ensure the best possible signal. Plus, the compact design will make it easy for you to find a place for it in your home that is discreet yet effective. Here’s a quick summary of the important information about this antenna:
- High-band VHF and UHF (Channels 2-51)
- 50-mile range (with amplification)
There is clearly much more to the world of antennas than you probably ever thought. And as cord-cutting becomes more and more popular, we can expect more competition and therefore more options. However, as of right now, in 2019, this is everything you need to know about buying a TV antenna, and these are the best nine on the market. Carefully consider your needs and make a choice based on what’s going to work best for you. Happy cord-cutting!