In our tests, performance varied wildly—so much so that we couldn't really rank them in order of performance, as a model that did well for one tester couldn't pick up any TV signals for another. Eight testers were able to receive at least a few channels, and one (who lives in a brownstone building in Brooklyn, NY) was able to pull in nearly 50 stations with several antennas. But four users couldn't get anything due to various environmental conditions [edited 8-2-13]. That underscores how heavily reception depends on your location relative to a TV station, the strength of the broadcasts, and whether there are physical obstructions such as trees, mountains, or buildings between you and the tower.
We also found little correlation between price and performance. The antenna that was generally able to pull in the most stations for most of our testers, the RCA ANT 1650, cost $32. The next best model, the RadioShack 15-254, sells for $35. Both are amplified models and are among the least expensive antennas we tested.
Since the number of channels you’ll receive will depend on your own location and environment, you may need to try several models before finding the best antenna for your needs. That's why we strongly recommend purchasing from a retailer with a no-hassle return policy and reasonable warranty.
But you don’t have to go it alone. There are several websites that can help you determine the reception in your area, and the location of the closest transmitters. (If you're buying an outdoor antenna, some can help you choose a model.) We recommend antennaweb.org, antennapoint.com, TVFool.com, and the FCC's DTV Reception maps.
To help make choosing the right model a bit easier, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) have created a color-coded labeling standard to classify each of the available outdoor antenna type.