Free and cheap alternatives to cable and satellite TV

How to Pick Your TV Antenna
September 2018 By Brian Shim

One of the most commong questions people ask me is "what antenna should I get?" There are so many TV antennas on the market today, it can get pretty overwhelming.  Here is my advice on which antenna you should get.

Before You Buy Anything

Before buying an antenna, you need to find out how many channels are available in your area.  To do this, enter your zip code (or full address) into the Station Finder to see how many channels are available in your area:

Check the Station Finder to
see how many channels you can get!

If you got a lot of green channels, congratulations! You should be able to use a simple non-amplified indoor antenna and get most of those channels, if not more! Check out my recommended indoor antennas below.

If you didn’t get any green channels, and just got yellow or orange ones, you probably need an outdoor antenna (in your roof or attic), possibly with amplifier.  Skip ahead to my recommended outdoor antennas.

If you didn't get any channels at all, or just got orange ones, you are probably too far away from the transmitter towers to get good reception. Try Internet TV services.

Older TVs

If you have an old tube-type of TV, you'll need a converter box in order to use an antenna. Read about my suggested converter boxes here.

The Best Antennas

You will get the most channels and best reception by using an outdoor antenna or attic antenna, simply because these are higher up and have fewer obstructions.

However, most people can't set up a rooftop antenna because they live in apartments, are renting, etc. If that is your situation, keep reading.

Note, this is a professional review site that receives compensation from the retailer or manufacturer when you purchase through the affiliate links such as the ones below. I test and/or research each product or service thoroughly before endorsing it. This site is independently owned and the opinions expressed here are my own.

The Two Indoor Antennas that I Recommend

If you have a lot of strong stations in your area, and you don't want to set up an outdoor antenna, I would recommend the the Mohu Leaf or the Cable Cutter Aerowave antennas. I personally use both of them in my home and I love them!

Mohu Leaf and Cable Cutter Aerowave antennas

The Mohu Leaf Antenna

The Mohu Leaf is a super-flat indoor TV antenna that you can hang on a wall or window, as shown below. It is made in the U.S. and has performance on par with or better than much bulkier metal antennas. The Leaf is fantastic in terms of performance, and hide-ability. You can simply hang it on a wall, and it doesn't look that bad! (See my comparison between the Mohu Leaf and a bulky metal antenna).

Mohu Leaf

There are two versions of the Mohu Leaf that I recommend: the regular Mohu Leaf Paper-Thin antenna (usually $39.95) and the Mohu Leaf 50 Amplified antenna (usually $61.99). If you have a lot of green stations on the Station Finder, then go with the cheaper Mohu Leaf. The stronger signals can actually overwhelm an amplified antenna and give you worse reception. (Read more about why here).

If you have just a few or no green channels and mostly yellow and orange channels, go with the amplified Mohu Leaf 50. See below for these models. (Note, I don't recommend the Mohu Leaf Metro. Spend a little more to get more reliable reception.)

My only beef about the Leaf is that it comes with a under-performing RG59 coax cable.  I highly recommend swapping that cable out for a higher-quality RG6 coax cable which will give you more stations and better reception. Many readers have confirmed this, and I've seen it first hand myself. (For independent information on why RG6 is so much better than RG59 coax cable, see this article). Happily, the cable is removable so you can attach any cable to the Leaf. Here are some RG6 cables that should work well:

The Cable Cutter Aerowave Antenna

My other favorite TV antenna is the HD Frequency Cable Cutter Aerowave. This is a nearly flat metal antenna which you can hang on a wall, and is also made in the U.S. Unlike the Leaf, these already come with a high quality RG6 coax cable, so you don’t need to buy a separate cable for best performance!

Cable Cutter Aerowave

The Aerowave is especially good at picking up VHF stations, denoted by “Hi-V” in the Station Finder.  If you have a lot of “Hi-V” stations, I would go with the Aerowave antenna.

Check out the full line of Cable Cutter antennas, including the Aerowave, which I recommend:

Which should you get?  I’ve tested the Mohu Leaf and HD Frequency Aerowave extensively and they are the best indoor TV antennas I’ve found.  Which one is better depends on your particular location and conditions; it’s impossible to say without trying. 

I would say the Leaf looks nicer, is a bit cheaper, and tends to bring in more channels, but many of those tend to be the higher-numbered foreign-language ones. The Cable Cutter Aerowave brings in fewer channels, but gives better reception for VHF channels and lower-numbered channels that most people watch. From my testing, it’s a toss-up as to which is better. Both are excellent antennas!

This all assumes you buy the better RG6 cable for your Leaf though.  The Leaf with the included coax cable is NOT as good as the Cable Cutter Aerowave. So, if you go for the Leaf antenna, get the RG6 cable that I recommend!

Good Outdoor/Attic TV Antennas

An outdoor or attic antenna will give you the most channels, hands down. But, outdoor and attic antennas are more of a chore to set up and tweak. You'll have to run a long coax cable through ceilings and walls to your TV (unless you have existing cable, say, from a satellite dish, running through your home). Then, you'll need someone watching the TV while you tweak the antenna on the roof or attic. You also might need an amplifier if your cable run is long and if all of your statinon are far away.

Before going to the trouble of setting up an outdoor or attic antenna, I highly suggest asking one of your neighbors how many channels they are getting with their rooftop antenna. Just walk around your neighborhood and look for the homes with an antenna on the roof!

The metal HD Frequency antennas will work fine in an attic or your roof. I personally do not use a rooftop antenna, as I get plenty of channels with an indoor antenna. However, I recommend the Mohu Sky 60, as it has very good reviews on Amazon:

VHF (Hi-V) TV Antennas

The Station Finder will tell you if the channels in your area are UHF or VHF (Hi-V). VHF channels are more difficult to receive than UHF, and many readers ask me which antennas are best for VHF.

I've heard good things about the Clearstream outdoor TV antennas, for VHF performance. If you have VHF stations in your area, you might want to consider these:

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.

Antenna Regulations

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!!)

TV Antennas to Avoid

A larger antenna size doesn't necessarily mean you'll get better reception, as I've seen small antennas like the Mohu Leaf outperform big metal antennas with reflectors. But I would avoid the super cheap TV antennas. A cheap rabbit-ear antenna or $10 flat antenna will not give you as good reception as the Mohu Leaf/Mohu Leaf 50 or HD Frequency antennas.  Just take a look at the reviews on Amazon to see what I'm talking about.

So, steer clear of the real cheap antennas out there. You'll just end up spending more money, because you'll have to buy a better antenna when you're frustrated with the reception you're getting with the cheap one. Save money and get a quality antenna to start with.

Setting Up Your Antenna

When you get your antenna, go to the next section where I give you tips on setting it up. You'll also want to read my article on how to get the best reception.

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