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 $20.
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.
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.
And try to buy from companies with generous return policies in case you need to try different options (like amplified vs. nonamplified).
Other Notable Models
Beyond the editors' picks are several other models that may better fit your location and budget.
- AmazonBasics Ultra Thin Indoor B00DIFIM36
- Lava SquareLeaf Digital Indoor HD-400
- Philips SDV6122T
- Terk FDTV2A Omni-Directional Amplified
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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. However, we never managed to pull in more than 41 channels. It was more typical to receive about a dozen stations 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.