On its flat rectangular surface, the $40 RCA ANT3ME looks like any number of other indoor models from our best TV antennas list. However, the amplified TV antenna boasts a 65-mile range and offers several advanced features that should make it easier for cord-cutting neophytes to get into the broadcast TV game.
Range: 65 Miles
Channels Received: 33
1080p Reception: Yes
Cable Length: 12 Feet
Size: 12.5 x 13.2 inches
The antenna's built-in signal amplifier includes a signal strength meter, with easy-to-read LED indicators and a free smartphone app that tells you where the major stations and towers are in your area. The whole package performs reasonably well and is priced comparably to, or even less than, much of the amplified competition, including the recently reviewed $80 Antop HD Smart Antenna SBS-301 and the Editor's Choice Mohu Curve 50 (although the Curve 50 pulled in many more stations in our tests).
Like scores of other indoor antennas, this RCA-branded model has a flat, plastic, rectangular design. Measuring 12.5 x 13.2 inches, it can be tacked onto a wall or stuck to a window (stickers included), and comes with a 12-foot cable for flexible positioning. With one white and one black side, the antenna can be flipped to make it as inconspicuous as possible given your home décor.
The RCA ANT3ME is also, like most, a so-called 360-degree, multidirectional antenna (also known as omnidirectional). So you don't need to point it, per se, at a particular tower. It does, however, have a built-in signal strength meter, and finding the ideal spot for an optimal signal is easy thanks to a quintet of indicator LEDs that show a range from weak to strong.
To help pick up stations, especially in suburban areas where signals may be weaker, the antenna includes an amplifier that the manufacturer says has an LTE filter to help block interference from cell towers. The two-stage amp has a preamp on the base attachment of the antenna and an inline amp that's about the size of a pack of gum with LED signal strength indicators. The cables to the antenna and the amp are permanently attached, so you can't replace them if they wear out or Fluffy chews through them.
The RCA antenna includes an easy-to-follow setup sheet that walks you through the process of getting the free signal app, plugging in the antenna and scanning for stations. For physical placement, there are two 3M sticky pads included if you want to plaster the antenna to a wall or a window. A couple of tiny holes in the flat plastic antenna can accommodate thumbtacks — not included — if you want to stick it to a wooden backing.
The free RCA Signal Finder app (iOS and Android) uses your GPS location to show you nearby broadcast towers and the associated stations transmitting from those towers. (Antennaweb.org also provides a list of local broadcast stations but relies on ZIP code information rather than your GPS location.) It does not actually sense the signals and their strength from where you are standing. So while informational, it's not an indication of what you might ultimately be able to watch.
For example, during our setup the Android app indicated 13 stations were available, but there are over 70 within our purview. On the other hand, it was handy to note where some channels were coming from — such as the fact that the ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC stations are all based on a tower to the south of us — but that turned out not to be predictive of what we could receive. (We still couldn't tune in the CBS channel.)
Furthermore, because the RCA ANT3ME is an omnidirectional antenna, there's no need to point it at a tower indicated on the map. What is more helpful for actual reception are the five LED indicators on the attached small amplifier. Although we still used our standard test position (to ensure that our benchmarks are comparable), you can use the LEDs to make sure the antenna is getting the maximum signal strength in your area by trying different spots (on a window, say, versus a nearby wall).
It turned out that our test location lit up all five of the RCA ANT3ME's LEDs, indicating that we had maximum signal strength.
In signal reception tests, the RCA antenna did well enough. With a full strength signal, it got reception numbers as good as many other antennas costing the same or more. Initial scans from our standard urban test location returned a total of 39 stations. However, not all of those stations were watchable.
We always spend time viewing each station to assess its reliability and quality. After doing so we found that only 33 channels were clear and consistent, which is par for the course. Several other amplified antennas deliver similar performance, such as the Antop SBS-301, which pulled in 31 watchable stations. However, our Editor's Choice, the Mohu Curve 50, pulled in more than 50 watchable stations. But readers should note that those results occurred before the FCC began reassigning approximately 1,000 stations to new frequencies across the country. The FCC move is the result of accommodating 5G wireless systems that are using frequencies in the 700-MHz band.
The local Fox and NBC affiliates tuned in without a problem, which is typical in this area, as did popular Spanish language networks like Telemundo. And using the Samsung KS9000's tuner revealed that we could enjoy plenty of retro nostalgia stations, as well, like MeTV with The Waltons and Grit with its old westerns. But if you don't remember who Mrs. Beasley was on Family Affair, you may find the RCA ANT3ME antenna lacking.
For example, two major stations, the nearby CBS and PBS affiliates, could not be tuned in. Somewhat appropriately, the Couples Court program on a midband channel was too broken up to watch, and Court TV had similar picture problems. So six stations in all turned out to be unwatchable, bringing the actual total of tuned-in channels to 33. That's a reasonable but not outstanding result in our New York metropolitan test area.
The RCA ANT3ME offers a reasonable balance of price and performance. It has some helpful features, such as the signal finder and LED signal strength indicators, for beginners as well.
It also does as well as other amplified antennas, such as the Antop HD Smart Antenna SBS-301, which costs twice as much. However, the Mohu Curve 50 remains our Editor's Choice as the best amplified indoor antenna due to it's significantly better performance.
But you may not need an amplifier where you live; the Mohu Leaf Metro did almost as well in testing without the power boost, for example. The RCA ANT3ME may have also done well without the amplification, but you don't have a choice because it is permanently attached to the antenna.