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How To Choose A TV Antenna

By Jeremy Evans / August 2, 2017 / Tags: ,

Choose the right antenna for your location by answering two simple questions. Then start watching dozens of free TV channels in crystal clear HD.

If you’re entering the brave new world of life without cable, you want to reduce (or eliminate) your monthly TV bills. At the same time, you want access to your favorite channels in high-quality HD. A television antenna will give you the latter without adding to your monthly expenses. It’s an important part of your cord-cutter journey.

To know which type of antenna to get, you only need to answer two simple questions:

1) How far away do you live from the broadcast towers in your market?

2) How far apart are these towers from each other?

To quickly get the answers to these two questions, just use the Broadcast Tower Search below. Simply enter your zip code, and you’ll have both answers in about 10 seconds.

In this guide, I’ll help you choose the best antenna for where you live, based on your answers to those two questions. First, I’ll explain the differences between indoor and outdoor antennas (besides the obvious). Next, I’ll discuss the directional issues that both indoor and outdoor antennas must resolve. Then, we’ll put it all together by addressing your particular location. Finally, I’ll give you my recommendations for the best antenna to get for your unique situation.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Antennas

Indoor Antennas

There are two different categories indoor antennas: set top antennas and attic antennas.

Set Top Antennas — Set top antennas are great because they’re less expensive and easier to install than the other kinds of antennas. With a set top, all you need to do is connect it to you TV and place it near a window, or upright behind your TV set. (No, you don’t actually have to put it on top of your TV.)

Set top indoor antenna
A slim, sleek set top antenna.

Set top antennas are great signal receivers and nothing like the old rabbit-ears from back in the day. Also, they’re slick little devices that fit the decor of any room. Set top indoor antennas are ideal for people who live in a city, or in an apartment where putting up an outdoor antenna is not an option. Indoor antennas work best if you live near the TV broadcast towers serving your market. The problem with set top antennas is that they may not work in certain suburban settings, and they almost definitely will not work for rural folks. Our Broadcast Tower Search below will help you find the location of the towers near you.

Attic indoor-outdoor antenna
An attic antenna (also called an indoor/outdoor antenna).

Attic (Indoor/Outdoor) Antennas — If you live in a suburban area, but you don’t want an outdoor, rooftop antenna, then an attic antenna may be your best option. An attic antenna is more powerful than a set top indoor antenna. You’ll need to place it in an elevated location (like your attic). But, you can still use it indoors. Many merchants refer to attic antennas as ‘Indoor/Outdoor Antennas.’

Outdoor Antennas

Outdoor antennas pick up more channels–but they’re more expensive, harder to install, and can be impractical if you live in an apartment building.

Outdoor antennas are typically installed on rooftops, but they can also be mounted on decks, onto the side of your house, or even on a tripod on the ground if roof access is unavailable. As you might expect, outdoor antennas get better reception than indoor antennas because they have a more direct line to local broadcast towers.

If you live in a rural setting, or are more than 40-50 miles from your favorite channels’ transmission towers, you’ll want an outdoor antenna.

Outdoor antenna
A modern-day outdoor antenna.

The most important factor when considering whether to get an indoor or outdoor antenna is your distance from your local broadcast towers. The Broadcast Tower Search below will tell you how far you are from the various towers in your area. One thing to remember as you conduct your search is to account for the terrain of your locale. Do you live in a valley? Are there mountains or significant hills between you and your towers? Is the region around your home heavily wooded? If so, then even if you live within 40 miles of the broadcast towers you might still want an outdoor antenna as your geography has obstructions.

Another point to keep in mind when evaluating outdoor antennas is that they will always provide better reception than their indoor counterparts. Not only do outdoor antennas tend to be more powerful, they also avoid interference from your home’s walls, roof, or internal wiring. The only reason I don’t always recommend outdoor-only antennas is that they’re more of a hassle to install, and don’t always look so good sprouting from the rooftop. If those issues don’t bother you, then you’re better off with an outdoor-only antenna.

Directional Antennas

In addition to the distance from your broadcast towers, you also need to consider direction. There are two types of directional antennas: the single-directional antenna (also called a ‘uni-directional antenna’), and the multi-directional antenna. You can get a single-directional indoor antenna, single-directional outdoor antenna, multi-directional indoor antenna, or multi-directional outdoor antenna.

Personally, when I was deciding on which antenna to get, I started to get annoyed at this point in the process. Indoor vs. outdoor…single directional vs. multi-directional–enough already! I thought about scrapping the whole plan and just sticking with cable.

If you feel the same way, don’t worry. The Broadcast Tower Search below makes the process very simple. I’m giving you some background because it will help you make a more informed decision.

Single-Directional Antennas — If all the towers in your market are in one general direction from your home, you will do better with a more focused, single-directional antenna. For example, if you live outside a major city like Los Angeles, and all your broadcast towers are clustered there, get a single directional antenna. Single-directional antennas are available as both indoor (attic) and outdoor antennas.

Multi-Directional Antennas — If the towers in your market are scattered in distinctly different directions, then you want a multi-directional antenna. These antennas are especially useful near twin-city environments like Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dallas/Fort Worth, or DC/Baltimore. Multi-directional antennas are available as both indoor and outdoor antennas.

Antenna Amplifiers

Before we get to the Broadcast Tower Search, I want to address whether you’ll need an antenna amplifier. An amplified signal is not necessarily a better signal. In fact, if you don’t need an amp, but you use one anyway, your reception will be worse. The reason is that using an amplifier when it’s not needed will only serve to increase the noise in your signal. Bigger isn’t always better when if comes to your TV signal.

You only need to get an amplifier if you’re getting spotty reception from just one or two channels. There are many reasons why you could have trouble with a particular channel, including the fact that it’s located further from your home than the others, if there’s an obstruction in the way, etc. Boosting those particular signals with an amplifier will improve your reception markedly. But the key point here is that if the reception of most of your channels is inadequate, then an amplifier probably isn’t the answer. You’re probably going to need a different antenna instead.

Broadcast Tower Search

Several websites will help you figure out what type of antenna you’ll need. I like the one below. Here’s what to do to get your answers to those two important questions above, and see what kind of antenna you need:

1) Click here to open the Broadcast Tower Search in a new tab.
2) Enter your zip code.
3) Get your answers to the two questions by looking at the map showing you the direction of the towers nearest your home, and whether they’re in a single group or clustered in more than one place. To the left, you’ll see the info for each station in your market, along with an easy-to-read color code specifying whether you can get by with a set-top indoor antenna, or whether you need a more powerful attic or outdoor antenna.

If you want to double-check the results from the first search, you can try the FCC’s Broadcast Tower Search.

The Best Antenna For Your Location

Now that you have your answers to those two critical questions, you’re ready to shop for an antenna. Here are my recommendations of the best antennas for each possible result of the Broadcast Tower Search you just did.

1. Green Signals From Most Stations — The Best Set Top Indoor Antenna

If almost all the stations you care about have a strong green signal, you’re in luck. A simple set top indoor antenna should work fine.

This ClearStream antenna is my favorite and the one I use. This model is multi-directional, incredibly easy to install, and highly regarded by other users as well.

The Blimark HDTV indoor antenna is also excellent, as is the Wksy.

If you tend to have more than two TVs going at once, you should consider Marathon’s Amplified Indoor/Outdoor antenna, as it’s deemed to be the best for larger households with multiple TVs.

2. Yellow Signals, Single Cluster — Best Single-Direction Attic (Indoor/Outdoor) Antenna

If several of the stations you care about have a medium-grade yellow signal, and they’re located in a single cluster (within 90 degrees of one another), then a set top antenna probably won’t work. In this case, you’ll want a single-direction attic antenna–at a minimum. A single-direction attic antenna will probably be your best choice if you live a little further out from a metropolitan area, but not so far that you are considered a rural resident.

Here’s the best single-direction attic antenna.

3. Yellow Signals, Multiple Clusters — Best Multi-Direction Attic (Indoor/Outdoor) Antenna

If several of the stations you care about have a medium-grade yellow signal, and are located in more than one cluster in different directions from each other, then you will want–at a minimum–a multi-directional attic antenna. As with any attic antenna, the multi-directional will probably be your best choice if you live a bit outside a metropolitan area, but not so far you’re considered rural.

My favorite multi-direction attic antenna for DIY types is the GE Compact Attic Antenna. This antenna does an excellent job of retrieving signals, and it’s less expensive than other antennas in its class. If you’re handy around the house, installation will take about 30 minutes. But if you’re not a DIY-type, then it’s a pain to assemble and you should get this ClearStream indoor/outdoor model.

4. Red Signals, Single Cluster — The Best Single-Direction Outdoor Antenna

If several of the stations you care about have a weak red signal, and are located in single cluster (within 90 degrees of one another), then the indoor/outdoor antennas probably won’t work. In this case, you’ll want a single-direction outdoor-only antenna. These outdoor-only antennas are stronger than their indoor counterparts, and the lack of walls and interior interference will allow you to retrieve broadcast signals at greater distances. A single-direction outdoor-only antenna will be your best choice if you live in a rural area, or a mountainous region outside a single metropolitan area containing all your TV stations.

Here’s the best single-direction outdoor-only antenna. Note that this is a UHF-only antenna. If you also want VHF, I recommend getting the 1Byone Outdoor Antenna. Even though it’s multi-directional, it works exceptionally well if you’re within 50-60 miles of your towers.

5. Red Signals, Multiple Directions — The Best Multi-Direction Outdoor Antenna

If several of the stations you care about have a weak red signal, and are located in more than one cluster in different directions from one another, then the indoor/outdoor antennas probably won’t work. In this case, you’ll want a multi-direction outdoor-only antenna. As with all the outdoor antennas, they are more powerful than the indoor models, and the lack of walls and interior interference will allow you to retrieve broadcast signals at greater distances. A multi-direction outdoor-only antenna will be your best choice if you live in a rural area, or a mountainous region where your TV stations scattered in multiple directions.

Here’s the best multi-directional outdoor antenna.

Wrap Up

At first, trying to figure out what kind of antenna to get seems overwhelming and way too complicated. Hopefully this guide simplified the process for you. All of the antennas recommended above are excellent quality and will give you great results. You’ll be watching dozens of free TV channels in beautiful HD in no time.

Obviously, the precise installation will vary depending on the model you choose. Nonetheless, these videos do an excellent job of showing you key pointers in how to install both attic and rooftop antennas. Plus, checking out the videos will give you a better idea as to whether you’ll be comfortable installing them on your own.

Here are the best available prices for the TV antennas I recommend in this post.

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