The Best Indoor TV Antenna – The Great Antenna Shootout

Indoor TV antennas

I started using indoor TV antennas since 2010 when I first canceled my cable service in Providence, RI. Since then, I’ve moved to Los Angeles and have continued to use and recommend two indoor antennas, the Mohu Leaf and the Cable Cutter Aerowave.

But, I’ve also amassed a collection of different types of indoor antennas. I figured it was time to re-test my collection of TV antennas to make sure I’m still recommending the best ones. After all, what worked well in Providence might not work well in Los Angeles (or more specifically, Santa Monica), right?

The Antennas

So, here’s what I’m calling the “great antenna shootout”. I’ve taken a representative selection of different types of indoor TV antennas and tested them in my condo. These are the ones I tested:

  • RCA ANT130B “rabbit ear” antenna (upper left)
  • HD Frequency Cable Cutter Aerowave flat fractal antenna (middle left)
  • Mohu Leaf 30 (non-amplified) flat antenna (lower left)
  • Channel Master STEALTHtenna 50 directional Yagi antenna (middle)
  • Antennas Direct DB4 “bowtie” antenna with reflector (right)

These represent some of the most popular types of antennas from some of the leading antenna manufacturers. All are non-powered. Which was the best?

TV Antennas

My Testing Method

In the past, I’ve taken a very clinical approach to testing, simply doing channel scans and recording the number of channels the antenna picks up. The one that picked up the most channels was the winner.

However, that is not necessarily a true reflection of the usefulness of an antenna. What most people really care about are a small number of channels, like the major networks, local English language stations, and PBS. Most people don’t care if an antenna picks up a whole bunch of foreign language stations and duplicates. What really matters are the “important” stations.

Thus, I’ve adjusted my testing method to just look at the major networks, English-language local stations, and PBS.

So let the tests begin! (Skip to the end if you want to see the winner).

HD Frequency Aerowave (flat fractal antenna)

The HD Frequency Cable Cutter Aerowave is a flat metal “fractal” antenna. This is a newer type of antenna that relies on repeating geometric patterns for signal reception. HD Frequency offers three flat fractal antennas: the Mini (now discontinued), the Aerowave, and the regular Cable Cutter. I found the rectangular Aerowave to be best out of the three from my previous testing, so I’m using it for this test to represent the fractal antennas.

The Aerowave performed well in my testing. It was able to pick up all of the important channels that I wanted to get, but unfortunately, not all in the same position. I had to change the position to get PBS, which would cause me to lose some of the networks. But overall, this antenna was pretty good.

Channel Master STEALTHtenna 50 (Yagi antenna)

The Channel Master STEALTHtenna 50 is technically an outdoor antenna, but it’s small enough to be used indoors. It’s known as a “Yagi” antenna, which is a very traditional design that you commonly see on rooftops. It’s a directional antenna, meaning it works well if all of your TV signals come from one direction, which they do in Los Angeles.

Sitting outside in my patio, this antenna was amazing and picked up pretty much every channel I wanted to get. But once I moved it inside, the situation deteriorated quickly. By moving it around, I was able to get a lot of channels, but I had to hold it in the middle of the room pointing at my window – definitely not the way I wanted to mount this thing in my living room.

So, while this was a good antenna, the bulkiness made it impossible to position in practice for maximum reception. When I placed in a more discreet location, the Cable Cutter Aerowave brought in more channels.

RCA ANT150 (“rabbit ear” antenna)

Rabbit ear antenna
Rabbit ear antenna

The RCA ANT150 is an old-school TV antenna with two telescoping arms and UHF loop. This antenna pre-dates digital broadcast TV, but still works for digital TV because the frequencies are the same.

For such an old antenna, it did surprisingly well and was able to pick up many stations. Unfortunately, I had to re-adjust the arms to pick up different stations – not something that is feasible in real usage. When left alone, it didn’t do as well as the Aerowave. Plus, it was an eyesore. I don’t recommend purchasing this type of antenna.

Antennas Direct DB4 (“bowtie” antenna with reflector)

I had high hopes for the Antennas Direct DB4 antenna. This is the biggest and bulkiest antenna of the bunch, featuring four UHF bowtie antennas with a huge reflector.

But surprisingly, it didn’t do so well. I’m not sure why, but the tiny Cable Cutter Aerowave brought in more channels. Even outside, the DB4 didn’t do as well.

On top of that, this antenna is so bulky that mounting options indoors would be extremely limited, further hindering its performance.

Mohu Leaf 30 (flat antenna)

Finally, I tested my trusty Mohu Leaf – the antenna I’ve been recommending for years. Would it still perform well in a totally new city?

The answer is “yes”! With careful placement, I was able to get more of my favorite channels using my Leaf than the Cable Cutter Aerowave! (Note that for all of these tests I’m using a high-quality RG6 coax cable, not the crappy cable that comes with the Leaf).

Like all of the antennas, it did suffer somewhat from what I call the “whack-a-mole” syndrome – i.e., you place the antenna to get good reception on one channel, only to mess up your reception on another.

But, I was able to find a happy medium which got me more channels than any other indoor antenna. And, because it’s thin, it’s easy to mount in a variety of positions.

I believe another advantage is that it bends, which seemed to help it pick up signals from different directions while the Cable Cutter Aerowave could only be tweaked for one direction.

The Winner – Mohu Leaf 30!

So, the winner yet again is the Mohu Leaf 30! If you do get the Leaf, be sure to purchase a good RG6 coax cable with the correct length for it to reach a window in your home. The cable it comes with is not good.

Also, I got the Mohu Leaf 30 without amplifier, not the Mohu Leaf 50. Amplifiers only give improvement if all of your TV signals are weak.  Otherwise, they can hinder your reception.

I also love the Leaf because it’s easy to mount and can be hidden with not much effort. The importance of this is more than just cosmetics. Some of the other bulky antennas were good, but only when hanging in the middle of my living room – a non-starter!

Having said all of this, your results may vary. It’s impossible to tell which antenna will work best in a given situation.

If you’re happy with your antenna, DO NOT GO OUT AND BUY ANOTHER ONE. The differences between the antennas were subtle and positioning can have a bigger influence than antenna type.

By far, the most important thing you can do to improve your antenna reception is to move it outside. If that is not possible, here are more tips you can try.

What kind of indoor antenna do you use? Please leave your comments and questions below.

DISCLOSURE: 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 on this page. 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.

  • Joseph L. Wolf

    I have a Panasonic flat screen that doesn’t have the ability to switch from cable to antenna. I am closer than 20 miles on a hill over looking the city and cannot get a channel with my leaf type antenna. Is there anything I can do to get it to work without cable TV ?

    • Hi Joseph,

      Does your TV have an antenna input? (Some “TV”s do not these days). What is the exact model number?

      Best,
      Brian

  • Nate

    I’ve tried a few indoor antenna setups but the station we must get is SE almost 50 miles away (from 73521). I’ve got a GE Pro Outdoor antenna about 10ft off ground on edge of house and was able to point it towards the tower and get the channel, but it was pixelated half the time. I bought a Winegard LNA-200 an so far it looks great with the same channels. I’m thinking about adding a pole to clear it above the top of the house (still pointed SE) to maybe get the towers near the West. What are your thoughts? Should I add another antenna like that to get the others from the West? Thanks!

    PS: We’re this close ” ” to cancelling cable :)

  • Krakn3dfx

    I bought a cheap $20 RCA flat antenna at Target in a pinch, worked pretty well, ordered a Mohu 30 at some point because I only hear good things about it, but I can barely pick up 2-3 of the closest stations to me with it, vs. the 27 the RCA picks up. I’m wondering if maybe I got a defective unit, I’ve moved it all over the place and had zero luck getting it to pick up the local stations.

    • Hi,

      The first thing I’d try is swapping out the coax cable for the Leaf, if you have some good coax lying around.

      It is possible the antenna is defective but not that likely.

      It’s also possible that the RCA antenna works better for the specific nature of the TV signals in your area.

      Can you tell me the exact model of the RCA antenna, or upload a photo? I’d be interested in testing it if the cable doesn’t solve the issue.

      Thanks,
      Brian

  • Jim Carozza

    I have been using the Aerowave just North of Boston for 2+ years and love it! Gets 48 channels, no pixelation, and comes with the good double shielded rg6 coax cable. Very sturdy and mounted inside my window.

    • Hi JIm,

      Awesome, thanks for sharing! Yes, that is a great antenna!

      Best,
      Brian

  • ZelmanM

    I live in Hawthorne/Manhattan Beach area. I’ve been using the Leaf 30 based on your recommendation for several months now. Quite happy with the performance. Since my TV is in my office which is next to my patio I’m considering mounting the Leaf out there and running the RG6 inside via a drilled hole in the wall. Gotta be even better, right?

    • Hi ZelmanM,

      Yes, should be better, but please try it first by just opening your patio door and running the antenna outside. Then you can see if the improved reception is worth the trouble.

      Best,
      Brian