Best Indoor HDTV Antennas
Cord cutting — casting off the yoke of your cable or satellite TV provider — is ever-more popular these days as people binge watch shows available online. But Netflix and Hulu won't get you everything. To receive free local and live network HDTV channels (including news and sports), simply attach an HD antenna to your TV for as little as $40.
We tested HD TV antennas in New York City and judged quality based on several factors: total number of channels received, number of major channels (such as network affiliates) received and audio-visual quality. See How We Tested for more details.
Our favorite amplified antenna is the Mohu Curved 50 Amplified Designer Edition, and our favorite non-amplified antenna is the Mohu ReLeaf. Both were not only easy to set up, but pulled in the largest number of channels, and were reasonably attractive, too. Our favorite budget antenna is the Holisouse 50-Mile HD Antenna, which costs less than $30, yet picked up nearly 50 channels in our tests.
Generally, amplified antennas have better reception, but you may be fine with a nonamplified, aka passive, model depending on your location. If stations broadcast within a 20-mile radius of your home, you can probably make do with a passive antenna. If not, an amplified model may help. These antennas usually promise reception within a 50-mile radius. Check the site AntennaWeb.org to see the position of broadcasters in your area.
Buy from companies with generous return policies in case you need to try different options (like amplified vs. nonamplified). Want to watch live TV over your Internet connection? Also check out Sling TV or PlayStation Vue.
Mohu recently announced the Airwave, which combines an antenna and streaming services in one device; while pricey at $149, it's a smart new avenue for cord-cutters.
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How We Tested HDTV Antennas
We tested HDTV antennas in a New York City apartment and then in a rural Vermont home. In both settings, the antennas were identically situated to replicate a typical home installation alongside a living-room television. We followed each manufacturer's instructions; we didn't go to extraordinary lengths — such as stringing additional cables or hanging them out a window — to find optimal reception areas. However, we did determine a position where stations could be consistently received in a convenient and repeatable installation.
With each antenna, we conducted a new scan of available channels, repopulated the program guide, and then checked each station's reception for video and audio quality. Some stations listed as captured proved to be unwatchable when we checked them individually. Many channels suffered from pixelated video artifacts and stuttering soundtracks, the sort of distortion experienced on satellite services when there's a major storm.
In the New York City location, there were more than 100 possible channels (including subchannels) available in our ZIP code, but were never able to receive all of them clearly. In urban areas, there are many obstacles that thwart reception, so there's no guarantee you'll even be able to get all the major networks that are available over the air. The local ABC affiliate, for example, rarely came in clearly in our Manhattan location. Conversely, several Spanish language channels were consistent performers.
Your experience may differ from our test results. In Vermont, for example, we were unable to pick up any channels, even using amplified antennas that claimed reception distances of 60 miles. Given the mountains and other impediments, this was not unexpected. However, in a more level rural area with few obstructions, owners may be able to pull in stations 30 or more miles away. The point is to be realistic about your cord-cutting expectations.
What to Look For When Buying an HDTV Antenna
Amplified vs. Nonamplified
Typically, HDTV antennas are divided into two categories: those with amplifiers and those without.
Nonamplified antennas don’t require any additional power source; simply plug it into your TV and you’ll be ready to go. However, these antennas typically aren’t as good at receiving signals from longer ranges, so they’re better suited for cities and more urban areas, where the broadcast signals don’t have to travel as far.
Amplified antennas are best for the suburbs and rural areas, where a TV signal has to travel a greater distance. They also tend to perform better in rainy or stormy conditions, which can also affect how well a signal travels. However, amplified antennas require their own power source, which will require you to plug them into an outlet, or in some cases, a USB port in your TV.
When buying an HDTV antenna, you want to first determine how close you are to broadcast signals, so you can see what range antenna you’ll need. Sites such as www.nocable.org and www.antennaweb.org will let you enter your address to see how many stations are within your area.
HDTV antenna makers will advertise an effective range for their antennas, which can go from 25 miles up to as far as 85 miles. The larger the range, the longer the reach—and the more expensive the antenna.
Most HDTV antennas look like, and are about the same size, as a sheet of paper with rounded corners. They’re designed to attach to an interior wall or window, and blend in with their surroundings.
Antennas with a greater reach (more than 50 miles), such as the 1buyOne 85-mile, are designed to be mounted outdoors or in an attic, and tend to look like the old-school roof antennas from before the days of high-def TV.
Indoor vs. Outdoor
For most people, an indoor 25- or 50-mile indoor antenna will suffice. These are typically mounted on the inside of a window, and come with double-sided 3M tape. You need to consider how far the window is from your TV, and get an antenna with a longer coaxial cable.
If you live in more rural areas, you may need an antenna with a longer range, or one with an amplifier. Long-range antennas are mostly designed for outdoor installation, so you’ll have to think about their placement, as well as how you plan to run a wire from the antenna to your TV.