TV Antenna Review: Top Picks From Consumer Reports' Latest Tests

The right model will get you free over-the-air TV and make it easier to cut the cord with cable

TV antenna Illustration: Consumer Reports, iStock

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. In fact, about one-quarter of all broadband households now use an antenna, according to research firm Parks Associates.

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

That’s good news for the growing number of people who are dumping traditional cable packages but keeping streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. An antenna can supply their live TV, including local news and other broadcasts.


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More on Antennas and TVs

Even if you subscribe to a cable-replacement service that brings you channels such as AMC and HGTV, you might still want an antenna. These services—which include AT&T TV, FuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, and YouTube TV—don’t always provide local programming. An indoor TV antenna can help fill that gap.

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 a TV antenna. But there are also now dozens of digital "subchannels" under the primary channels. These offer additional programming, such as old TV shows, B movies, and niche content. Websites such as TVFool.com and the FCC’s DTV Reception Maps page, can give you an idea of which stations you might expect to receive.

As a bonus, the picture quality you get from your indoor TV 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.

In addition to a TV 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.

Tips for Antenna Shoppers

The antennas we tested ranged in price from $10 to more than $100—and we found little correlation between price and performance. The antenna that pulled in the most stations for most of our testers cost just $35, and several pricier models were in the lower half of our rankings.

We included some amplified TV antennas in our review. These models can boost signal strength to help pull in stations that might otherwise be on the fringe. But our tests showed that amplified antennas weren’t always more effective than nonamplified models—they can also amplify noise and distortion, and overload reception from closer stations.

The number of channels you receive will depend on your location and environment, as well as the placement of the antenna in your home. 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. Also, it’s a good idea to regularly rescan for channels, because you might have missed some the last time you scanned. And use our tips on where to place your antenna to get the best reception.


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