Affordable online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus have given consumers viable alternatives to expensive cable and satellite TV subscriptions. Streaming services let you watch movies and TV shows at your own pace, but they don't offer live news and sports. That's where an HDTV antenna comes in handy. HDTV digital antennas provide a downright cheap way to watch local TV channels; once you buy an antenna and acquire a signal, you get your local channels without any monthly fees. You will also get access to local sub-channels you can only find with an HDTV antenna. These channels feature alternate programming from network affiliates, increasing the number of shows you can watch.
HDTV antennas work better in inclement weather than satellite dishes, cable channels and cable companies sometimes have channel disputes, which even disrupts local channel coverage so having an HDTV antenna is like backing up your local channels.
Gone are the days of the old rabbit ears. All TV signals have converted to digital signals, with analog signals being used for emergency broadcasts. These indoor HDTV antennas work with your digital tuner, which is built in to most TVs manufactured after 2004. If you have an older TV, you may have to purchase a digital tuner converter box. The best HDTV antennas we reviewed are the Winegard Flatwave, the Channel Master SMARTenna and the TERK Flat HDTV Antenna. For additional information getting about free HD channels, check out our other helpful articles on HDTV antennas.
HDTV Antennas: What to Look For
Finding the right antenna for your situation is easiest if you know where your local TV towers are located. If your nearest tower is more than 50 miles away, you should consider getting an outdoor antenna. Outdoor antennas give you the longest range, but indoor antennas are generally the easiest to install because you won’t need to climb onto the rooftop to attach an antenna to your home. Here are other important factors to consider when purchasing an HDTV antenna.
Signal Pickup Quality
If you want to pick up a signal off the airwaves, it is important that your antenna gets a clear signal. Outdoor antennas get the best range and pickup quality. But some indoor antennas can be powerful enough to receive HD signals without problems.
Digital signals are broadcast in two frequencies: Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF). VHF are primarily channels RF (Radio Frequency) 7-13, and most broadcasted signals are UHF, which includes RF channels 14-51.Most of your major networks, even the ones on channels 2-6 will fall in VHF or UHF categories. It is extremely rare to find channels that are very low VHF RF. These channels can only be accessed with certain outdoor antennas. Again, this a rare case that you probably won’t need to worry about.
HDTV antennas also unlock sub-channels. Most signals are broadcast on major channels (e.g., channels 2, 4, 5), but these stations also broadcast alternate programming on minor sub-channels (channels 2.1, 2.2, etc.). The best way to get these virtual channels is to install a digital antenna.
Signal Pickup Range
Your range needs depend on how close a broadcast tower is to you. If broadcast towers are in a single location, you want a directional antenna because it has a focused, concentrated pickup range that stretches quite far. An omni-directional antenna casts a circular range to pick up signals in any direction. Most indoor antennas are omni- or multidirectional. If towers are in the same direction (for instance, all the towers are west of you) but grouped in different spots (like two different cities) a multi-directional antenna may work best. If you have towers all around you, an omni-directional antenna may be best. If you're within 30 miles of at least one tower, you should be fine with most omnidirectional indoor antennas.
Many outdoor antennas are directional. Directional antennas focus on the area that it points in. Outdoor antennas generally have a longer range since the direction is focused in the direction that the antenna is pointed in. Again, these antennas are a little harder to install, but if you are further away from the broadcast towers, this would be the way to go.
To increase an indoor antenna's range, you may want to amplify your signal. Some of the best HDTV digital antennas have amplifying options. However, be aware that amplified signals are more likely to experience momentary interruptions.
Bunny ear antennas may make you nostalgic, but they don't exactly blend in. As your home entertainment system is a focal point of your living area, an aesthetically pleasing HDTV antenna that fits with your décor is ideal. Choices vary from paper-thin antennas that you can stick on the wall to slightly boxier antennas that sacrifice the thin for a more powerful signal.