The idea of amplifying a TV signal seems to make perfect sense: if your TV signals are weak, the amplifier will increase the signal levels so you can get more channels more reliably. A no-brainer, right?
I’ve tested a few amplifiers and indoor amplified antennas. My conclusion is that they can help in many situations, but there are some cases where they can actually harm your reception. Here are a few scenarios to help you decide whether you should use an amplified antenna or not.
Scenario 1: Strong and Weak Signals in Providence RI
Providence, RI has very strong TV signals from local stations (under 10 miles away) and weaker ones from Boston (about an hour away).
I did direct A/B comparisons between the un-amplified (passive) Mohu Leaf and the powered Mohu Leaf Plus. I tested to see how many channels they could pick up in four different locations around my apartment.
In one location in my apartment they tied at 10 channels each, a tie. In two locations, the amplified antenna picked up a couple more stations (32 stations for amplified to 29 for passive, and 30 for amplified to 28 for passive). But, in one location, the passive Leaf picked up A LOT more stations and blew the powered Leaf Plus out of the water (18 stations to 11)!
These are very mediocre results for the much more expensive powered antenna! I found similar results with the amplified NV20 Pro. Basically it was about the same or a little worse in a few cases than the unamplified Mohu Leaf!
After I got these results, I was baffled. Was there something wrong with the way I was testing? How could the more expensive powered antennas be no better than the passive one?
How Can That Be?
Providence has very strong TV signals, along with a lot of weaker ones. What happens is that the strong signals get over-amplified, which overwhelms the weaker ones, resulting in poorer reception than if you had no amplifier.
Recently, I heard from an actual transmitter engineer who works for a TV station who corroborated this explanation.
Scenario 2: Medium-Level Signals in Los Angeles
On the other hand, an amplifier can be beneficial when there are no super strong TV signals in your area.
I now live in Santa Monica, CA, where the TV signals all come from Mt. Wilson over 20 miles away. On the Station Finder, they are all green but they are not that strong. Using an un-amplified Mohu Leaf antenna, I can get a lot of channels, but my condo faces the wrong direction so the signals are not super strong and my reception is flaky.
Adding an amplifier improved my reception across the board and made most of my flaky channels solid!
Scenario 3: Long Cable Runs
If you are driving a long length of coax cable or more than one TV, an amplifier will probably improve your TV reception.
It should be placed at the end closest to the antenna, NOT at the end closest to the TV, or else you’ll lose all of the benefit of having an amplifier.
The Bottom Line
So, TV amplifiers are not all hype – there are many situations where they can help! You just need to know which situation you’re in before buying.
If these conditions apply to you and you want to try an amp, I recommend ones made by Channel Master (go to Products -> Signal Amplifiers). I tested their Amplify and Ultra Mini amplifiers with good results.
Before purchasing a powered antenna or amplifier, figure out which situation you’re in. If you’re driving a long coax cable, get the amplifier. If all of your signals are weak, get the amplifier.
If you have strong signals and want to get a few more weaker ones, an amplifier probably won’t help!
Please comment on your experiences with antennas, whether amplified or not! – Brian