Ditching cable usually means being glued to your computer and watching shows at least a day after they air on TV. But the latest over-the-air HDTV antennas can get you plenty of crystal-clear high-def channels for less than $100 (assuming you already have an HD-capable TV), and you can see your shows when they're broadcast. Also, given cable companies' difficulties in maintaining good relationships with major TV networks (like the recent spat between CBS and Time Warner Cable), you won't miss your favorite shows or games due to network blackouts.
Consider the math: Cox Cable offers a starter TV package for about $25 a month in our test area of New Orleans, giving you about 20-25 channels. We tested three antennas that would provide the same number of channels and pay for themselves in three months or less.
How to set up an HDTV antenna
You can stick just about any metal object in the coaxial port of your TV set and get minimal reception — we picked up a handful of standard-def channels using a pair of earbuds and a paperclip. So, even a fairly small indoor HDTV antenna can pull in a wealth of programming.
First, find out what stations are near you by visiting Antennaweb.org and typing in your address or ZIP code to see a list of local broadcasters. Antennaweb gives simple info on stations' distance and direction in relation to your home in an easy-to-digest format. (For tons more station info, like signal strength and detailed location data, check out TVfool.com.)
If you live within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of several broadcasters and aren't surrounded by mountains or tall buildings, you'll be fine with a small indoor antenna. If the signals are farther away or there are large obstacles in the way, you may need a signal amplifier with your indoor antenna — or even a larger outdoor model.
You'll get the best reception by placing your antenna as high up as you can and near a window, preferably one facing the direction of most of the broadcasters in your area. Lots of things can interfere with TV signals, including walls, buildings, microwave ovens, hairdryers, cordless phones and lead paint, so keep that in mind when you're choosing a spot for your HDTV antenna. Most indoor antennas are multidirectional, meaning you won't have to turn them in any particular direction — though, in our anecdotal testing, we did find that turning the antenna occasionally helped lock in a weak signal.