There are so many TV antennas on the market today that it can get pretty overwhelming. Enter your zip code in the station finder tool page to see how many stations you can get in your area. If you get a lot of strong (green) and medium (yellow) level channels, an indoor antenna will work fine. If your location has only weak channels, you will need an outdoor or attic antenna.
In general, you should try to get an antenna that is optimized for both UHF and VHF. My favorite is the Mohu Leaf (see below).
I don't recommend purchasing a old style cheap "rabbit-ear" antenna, because there are much better options which I will describe below. But, if you have one already, give it a try. Just to show you what these look like, the one here is the one I had lying around in a closet from years ago.
The Indoor Antenna I Use
The Mohu Leaf is a super-flat indoor antenna made in the U.S. with performance on par with or better than much bulkier metal antennas. (I live in an an apartment, so I can't put an antenna on the roof or attic.) I use the Leaf and it's fantastic in terms of performance, and hide-ability. You can simply hang it on a wall. You can read my full review here, or find it at Amazon. I highly recommend it.
If you are not able to put an antenna in your attic or roof, this is a good option. (In full disclosure, I have received free Mohu Leaf antennas for review. But, I also receive lots of other antennas for free which I don't recommend.)
Powered Indoor Antennas
(not recommended for most people)
Powered (amplified) antennas seem like a great idea. If a channel is weak, the amplifier will make it strong so your TV can receive more channels.
However, after doing extensive testing, I personally have seen no improvement in performance by using powered antennas over non-powered antennas. I am not the only one. Many people online have found the same thing. If you want a detailed explanation why, check out my blog article on amplified antennas. But it could be that I just don't have any weak channels in my area, so there is no difference in performance. I live in a medium-sized city. If you live in or near a medium or large city, I don't believe an indoor powered antenna will give you any better performance than a passive (non-powered) antenna. Save your money and get the passive version.
Having said that, there are some circumstances where an indoor powered (amplified) antenna can be beneficial:
- If you live in the middle of nowhere with no close stations, a powered antenna might help. If you enter your zip code into the Station Finder and all of your stations are yellow and red, you might benefit from an amplified antenna. If you have any green stations, I wouldn't recommend it. That's because when you amplify a signal, a strog station (green) can actually drown out weaker ones, resulting in worse performance than a passive antenna.
- If your cable run is long (like 30 feet or more), an amplified antenna might be beneficial. If your antenna is in the attic or roof, you probably want an amplifier.
- If you are driving more than one TV, an amplified antenna might be beneficial.
If you fall under one of the three categories above, here are three amplified indoor antennas that I would recommend: Winegard FlatWave Amped, NorthVu NV20 Pro, Mohu Leaf Plus.
(In full disclosure, I have received free review samples of the FlatWave Amped, NV20, and Leaf Plus).
An outdoor or attic antenna will give you the most channels, hands down. That's because it's both higher up and above the walls of your home. But, I would say they give you a little better performance than an indoor antenna. You might get a few more channels, but please don't expect to get a huge number of channels with your outdoor antenna if you can't get very many with your indoor antenna.
Outdoor antennas also are more of a chore to set up and tweak, and you probably can't use one if you live in an apartment (like me). You'll have to run a long cable to your TV, then you'll need someone watching the TV while you tweak the antenna on the roof or attic. If you live far from the TV stations however, this is your best (and perhaps only) option.
Here are some good outdoor/attic antennas. The more expensive they are, the greater range they will have.
I've also heard good things about the Clearstream outdoor antennas:
If you have a long cable run from your roof or attic, or if you are driving multiple TVs, you should consider getting a TV Signal Distribution Amplifier.
Do you live in an apartment or condo? Worried that your landlord or HOA won't let you mount an outdoor antenna? By Federal law, a landlord or HOA cannot prohibit you from setting up a broadcast TV antenna or satellite dish on a part of the building that you own or are renting. While you might not be able to mount an antenna on the roof, you should be able to mount one in your balcony. For more information, see the FCC website on Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule (thanks to reader Marie for pointing this out!!)
More Expensive Does Not Necessarily Mean Better Reception!!
While many people in big cities are happy with the number of free channels they get, there are some who can't get good reception, perhaps because of geographic obstacles, or perhaps because the tuner in their TVs are weak. One thing I want to stress to everyone is that the performance of most mid-level indoor antennas is almost the same. So, if you can't get good reception with a $40 indoor antenna, you won't get much better reception with a $60 indoor antenna. The reason I like the Leaf and other flat antennas is that in addition to performing a little bit better than other antennas, they are flat and easy to place for optimum reception, and they are inexpensive. Please do not spend lots of money trying all kinds of different antennas and amplifiers!! Unless you are stepping up to an outdoor antenna, they will all pretty much perform the same. The location of the antenna has a much bigger effect on reception than the type of antenna. So, use what you have and instead try to get a longer antenna cable so you can place it near different windows in your home. Basically, a more expensive antenna will usually not solve your reception problems, unless you are currently using a cheap rabbit-ear antenna.
Much has been written about antennas. Check some of these links if you're interested. Solid Signal has a good online selection of broadcast TV antennas:
Amazon has a good selection with lots of reviews.
AntennaWeb is a definitive source for antenna information with a tool that shows available channels in your area, as well as what direction they are coming from. Click on "Choose an antenna".
DTV.gov has general information on digital TV and a good reception map to show what channels you can get.
DTV USA forum has a wealth of technical information on antennas, DTV, and a lot of other stuff.
HDTV Antenna Labs has extensive antenna reviews and broadcast maps.
Solid Signal has a GREAT selection of antennas, amplifiers, and tools to help you pick an antenna. I've ordered from them before.
tvfool.com has great TV reception maps and signal locators.
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