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HDTV Antenna Review: Top Picks From CR's Latest Tests

More cord-cutting consumers are turning to antennas and free over-the-air TV

TV antennas might seem like a relic of a bygone era, when the number of channels you received could be counted on one hand. But as consumers try to trim their ever-escalating cable and satellite TV bills, antennas are making a comeback.

Consumer Reports just finished testing 10 indoor HDTV antennas in all shapes and sizes in urban and suburban homes, and found that testers in most of these locations were able to receive dozens of free over-the-air channels. (Outdoor antennas tend to perform better than indoor HDTV antennas, but they’re not practical for everyone.)

That’s good news for the growing number of people who are dumping traditional cable packages and turning instead to lower-priced streaming video services, such as DirecTV Now, Sling TV, and YouTube TV.

Market research firm Parks Associates says that one-fifth of U.S. homes with broadband access now use an antenna to get live TV. “Digital antennas are experiencing a resurgence as consumers consider over-the-air TV and OTT [over-the-top] video services as alternatives to pay TV,” says Brett Sappington, Parks’ senior director of research.


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More on Antennas and TVs

One drawback to streaming video services is that you can’t always get all your local channels as part of the plan.

An indoor HDTV antenna can help fill that gap for you.

If you live near a major TV market, you’ll probably get many local stations—ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC, plus PBS and Telemundo—using an HDTV antenna. Websites such as as AntennaWeb.org and TV Fool, and the FCC’s DTV Reception Maps page can give you an idea of which stations you might expect to receive in your area. 

In addition to an HDTV antenna, all you need to watch your local stations is a TV equipped with a digital TV tuner, something included in almost all TVs since 2007. (Some Vizio SmartCast TVs lack a tuner.)

As a bonus, the picture quality you get from your indoor HDTV antenna might be better than what you get from cable. “The signals may be less compressed,” says Claudio Ciacci, lead television tester for Consumer Reports.

How We Tested

We had 10 testers evaluate 10 indoor HDTV antennas at their homes, scattered around the New York tristate area. Most locations were within a 30-mile radius of Manhattan, but one was 70 miles away.

The models we tested ranged in price from $8 to $80. All were designed to pull in both VHF and UHF channels (channels 2 through 69). The antennas ranged in design from the old-style rabbit-ear antennas to models that resemble sleek pieces of modern art. Some ultraflat models can be attached to a window or unobtrusively hidden behind a TV screen.

Each model was tested in every home, on clear days, in two spots: on or facing a window and inside a room near the TV. Signal strength generally is stronger near a window, and that’s the result we used when calculating our rankings. We also tested performance when the antenna was placed near the TV because people don’t always have an easily accessible window.


A photo of an indoor HDTV antenna

We included some amplified HDTV antennas in our review; these antennas can sometimes help pull in more distant stations. For the amplified models, we turned on the amplifier, and if there were variable settings, we used the maximum setting.

We ranked the antennas based on the number of RF (radio frequency) broadcast stations received across our 10 test locations. (See our test methodology, below.) To earn a mark for reception, a station had to have a stable, viewable TV picture. We detected a total of 20 UHF and six VHF stations across all our test sites, but each location received just a subset of these stations.

Regardless of which antenna was being used, one of our test locations was able to pull in only one station and another was able to pull in only three; others received 20 or more. But that understates the amount of content an antenna can give you.

“Unlike the old days, when tuning to a station yielded only one channel, many stations now offer multiple subchannels that provide a greater variety of programming,” Ciacci says. Such subchannels often include a mix of vintage TV shows, nature programs, weather, and foreign-language programming.

Some of our test sites received only a couple of subchannels, and others got 70 or more.

But it wasn’t all about location. We found that performance among our test antennas varied quite a bit, and price wasn’t a great predictor of how well a model would do.

Readers with a CR Digital or All-Access membership can find the full test results and our ranking of all the tested models below.


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One you have your new antenna, there are some tricks you can use to get the best reception. As we've already mentioned, placing it near a window is helpful. It's also smart to place the antenna higher in the room, or even in an attic or on the second story. 

Try a few locations. And while you're doing these experiments, be sure to scan through the channels on your TV to see which location pulls in the most stations.

It's also smart to periodically rescan for channels. Sometimes a station will boost the power of its transmitters or relocate a broadcast tower and you might be able to get a station or two that were previously unavailable.

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