As cord-cutters are abandoning cable in droves for the ever-expanding world of digital subscriptions, one underdog technology making an unexpected comeback is the humble TV antenna. Netflix and Crunchyroll aren’t going to carry your local news or sports but, fortunately, your local stations are still providing them for free, in the air all around you! The quality of over-air images has actually continued to go up ever since switching from analog to digital, so it’s quite a bit better than your memories of futzing with set-top rabbit ears to find hints of coherence in the static.
Just like setting up Wi-Fi within your home, the spatial nature of over-the-air television means you’ll need to be deliberate about your antenna choice and placement in order to get the most bang for your buck. Fortunately, we’ve done all that research for you and are here to walk you through everything you need to know in order to pick the best TV antenna for that new OLED or QLED TV beaming entertainment into your home.
- Best for outdoors: Antennas Direct 8-Element Bowtie TV Antenna
- Best for indoors: Mohu Leaf Supreme Pro
- Best indoor/outdoor: Antop AT-800SBS-J HD Smart Panel Antenna
- Best long-range: Five Star Outdoor Digital Amplified HDTV Antenna
- Best budget: 1byone Digital Amplified Indoor HDTV Antenna
How we selected the best TV antennas
With so many different particular needs to address, there isn’t really a single “best” TV antenna. We made our selections based on professional and consumer impressions, with an eye toward cultivating a range of options that should suit the needs of most TV viewers in the United State, including options that will suit homes or apartments, rural or urban living, and more.
What to consider before buying one of the best TV antennas
TV antennas are very simple to set up and use, but picking one requires a little advanced planning. At the very least, you should know whether you want an outdoor TV antenna or an indoor TV antenna. Traditional, roof-mounted outdoor antennas are substantially more powerful for picking up station signals over a wider range, but require permanent installation on your roof or another high place and require outdoor cable management. It takes some work and isn’t an option for most renters and apartment dwellers.
If an outdoor antenna isn’t feasible, smaller wall- and window-mounted indoor TV antennas just need to be fastened to a high spot in your space. They offer a shorter range but are far more discreet and are very easy to install. Indoor antennas are almost all omnidirectional because all the local interference of walls and windows tend to even out any benefit you might get from a targeted antenna like one would on their roof.
What do you want to watch?
TV antennas can only pick up local broadcast channels. For most of the United States, an antenna should catch local affiliates of FOX, CBS, ABC, NBC, The CW, and PBS, which all reach over 95% of American homes. In addition, some areas may have broadcast channels like Ion, Telemundo, and MeTV, as well as various public access stations. The number of channels you can find with an antenna will vary widely depending on where you are, with more options as you get closer to a major city.
If you want to find out what’s available where you are, there are several free tools online, including AntennaWeb and DTV Reception Maps from the Federal Trade Commission. Input your address, and you can find what stations are nearby, and what kind of antenna you’ll need to watch them. They also include maps of whence the signals are actually broadcast, which can be important for some outdoor antennas.
Won’t the image quality be bad, though?
If you’ve ever watched a TV with built-in “bunny ear” antennas, you might assume that a broadcast TV signal will come in faded, with crackly black and white static (like the opening line of Neuromancer). Fortunately, things have changed drastically since then. In 2009, the U.S. government mandated that TV stations transition from analog to digital broadcasting. As many cord-cutters have been pleasantly surprised to learn, digital signals broadcast over the air are often less compressed than the versions sent over landline by cable services. Major networks broadcast over the air (OTA) in Full HD, or 1080p, and many users claim their broadcast channels come in with brighter, crisper images and sound.
Why is this happening? Both cable and OTA transmissions will degrade over long distances, and cable signals often have to cover a much longer distance than your local station’s broadcast. Cable offers more channels, of course, but broadcast still has some utility.
Range and gain
There are major two specs you want to consider when looking at TV antennas: range and gain. An antenna’s maximum indicates how far away it can be from a station to pick up a broadcast signal. Generally speaking, having a higher range is always better. That said, some antennas boasting very high ranges achieve those stats using built-in signal amplifiers, which may not deliver stellar picture from stations out on the fringes of their extended ranges.
Gain, expressed in decibels (dB), measures how well a given antenna performs against a standard reference in picking up signals in a particular direction. As you would expect, a higher listed gain number means better performance, particularly with signals coming from the edges of your antenna’s range.
UHF and VHF
More than an underappreciated 1989 Weird Al vehicle, UHF (ultra-high frequency) and VHF (very-high frequency) are terms you’re going to see while antenna shopping. They refer to the bands of frequency on which particular channels are broadcast. Most contemporary channels are on UHF, but there are still VHF broadcasts out there.
This distinction mostly matters for outdoor antenna users, since most indoor antennas are UHF or combined, but even nominally UHF-only will usually pick up VHF stations regardless. The online tools for finding your local broadcasters mentioned above will include this information about each station. Many antennas are advertised explicitly for both. In general, this is only something you need to worry about if a critical mass of broadcasts you care about are VHF, especially Lo-V.
The best TV antennas: Reviews & Recommendations
The best TV antennas are more powerful and accessible than ever. If you’re new to OTA television after a lifetime of cable or streaming, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how it looks. No matter your budget or needs, the best TV antenna to complete your setup is very likely here among the choices we’ve collected.
Best outdoor TV antenna: Antennas Direct 8-Element Bowtie TV Antenna
Why it made the cut: The Antennas Direct 8-Element Bowtie is a large, powerful, versatile outdoor antenna fit for almost anyone’s needs.
- Range: 70 miles
- UHF/VHF: Both
- Installation: Attic/Outdoor
- Gain: 17.4Dbi
- Great performance
- Flexibility from multiple aimable panels
- Lifetime warranty on parts
- Includes mounting hardware, but requires mount and coaxial cable
Antennas Direct’s 8-Element Bowtie antenna is a solid workhorse that should be more than powerful enough for the needs of most people who have the space to mount it in an attic or, ideally, on the roof. Its eight separate antenna elements are split between four reflecting panels on two independently rotating shafts. These can be either aimed at a single target to better capture signals from a particular direction or spread out to catch a wider range. With a maximum range of 70 miles, 17.4 dBi gain, and flexible configuration, it is a powerful all-purpose option, although it requires some additional hardware to fully mount and connect.
Best indoor TV antenna: Mohu Leaf Supreme Pro
Why it made the cut: Substantially larger than most of its indoor competition, the Mohu Leaf Supreme Pro stands out with great performance and convenient installation.
- Range: 65 miles
- UHF/VHF: UHF, Hi-V
- Installation: Indoor
- Gain: N/A
- Easy setup
- Great performance
- Detachable cable
- Larger than comparable indoor antennas
Mohu is one of the biggest manufacturers of indoor TV antennas for a reason. The Leaf Supreme Pro measures a commanding 12 x 21.5 inches, so it’s hard to ignore its presence. It’s a very thin, flat panel, though, so it can be easily installed in a high corner, and features reversible black and white sides to make it as discreet as possible. The coaxial cable is also conveniently detachable, meaning you can avoid an unsightly wire going up your wall when you’re not actually using it.
On the plus side, it gets great range for an indoor antenna and comes with a separate, USB-powered amplifier that noticeably improves performance. Thin, flat indoor antennas generally don’t do quite as well as their outdoor counterparts, but the Leaf Supreme Pro gets pretty close without many tradeoffs.
Best indoor/outdoor TV antenna: Antop AT-800SBS-J HD Smart Panel Antenna
Why it made the cut: Antop’s indoor/outdoor AT-800SBS-J antenna is a versatile performer at a premium price.
- Range: 85 miles
- UHF/VHF: Both
- Installation: Indoor/Outdoor
- Gain: N/A
- Flexible indoor or outdoor configuration
- Includes both indoor stand and outdoor mounting pole
- Great reception
Antop’s AT-800SBS HD Smart Panel Antenna is one of the best-performing indoor/outdoor versatile antennas. It has a long range, particularly for an indoor model, and has a 4G LTE blocker to minimize signal interference. When placed inside, the white box with protruding poles on either side seems a little gaudy. When mounted on a roof, it’s one of the nicer-looking antennas, though. It’s expensive, but it provides unparalleled flexibility for a high-performance antenna.
Best long-range TV antenna: Five Star Outdoor Digital Amplified HDTV Antenna
Why it made the cut: Five Star’s outdoor antenna reaches further than most, providing fantastic range at a very reasonable price.
- Range: 200 miles
- UHF/VHF: Both
- Installation: Outdoor
- Gain: 15 – 35 dB (boosted)
- Fantastic long-range performance
- 360-degree motorized coverage
- Mounting pole and hardware included
- Not the simplest assembly process
The Five Star Outdoor Digital Antenna boasts 200-mile, 360-degree coverage, and has the hardware to back it up. It features six reflector elements spread across three poles on a motorized spoke, which can eke out as much coverage as possible. It includes wiring and hardware for attaching up to five televisions, perfect for a large, remote home. It conveniently also includes a mounting pole. It requires a bit more assembly than other options, but you get a lot of coverage for your time and effort.
Best budget TV antenna: 1byone Digital Amplified Indoor HDTV Antenna
Why it made the cut: 1byone’s Digital Amplified Indoor HDTV Antenna is inexpensive and barebones, but solid if you just need the minimum.
- Range: 50 miles
- UHF/VHF: Both
- Installation: Indoor
- Gain: 28 dB
- Picks up nearby signals well
- Does deliver on advertised range
- Black on both sides and can’t be painted
For less than $30, 1byone’s Digital Amplified Indoor HDTV Antenna is a very good bargain for a short-range indoor antenna. The consensus from trusted sites and critics suggests that it works great for apartment-dwellers living in or nearby cities. It’s also a regular Amazon bestseller at 3.9/5 with over 14,000 reviews because it’s a cheap antenna that does the job, which is all a lot of people need. Despite a perhaps overly bold Amazon listing boasting a 200-mile range—an unrealistic claim for an indoor antenna—the 1byone works very well within the manufacturer-stated reasonable 50-mile range. That should be more than enough if you just want an antenna to get channels and don’t care about maxing out range or extra features that make it easier to hide.
Q: Are antennas worth it?
Yes! Rather than going the way of the dinosaur, OTA broadcast technology has actually improved quite a bit in the last decade or so. If you’re dropping your cable subscription then an antenna can be a great, low, one-time investment for a lifetime of free local programming.
Q: What range antenna do I need?
Ideally, you want an antenna that can pick up all nearby local channels. The exact range you’ll need for that will depend on where you live. Generally speaking, the closer you are to a large town or city, the lower a range you will require to get what you want out of your antenna. As we mentioned in our section on finding nearby channels, there are online tools for figuring out where your nearby broadcast signals are coming from.
Q: Where is the best place to put an indoor TV antenna?
Generally speaking, you want to put your TV antenna as high as possible. Ideally, you also want to minimize the number of things that might get between your antenna and the TV station’s broadcast tower. That’s why the best ones are, often, outdoor models you mount on your roof. For indoor antennas, look for a high window, or consider running wires so you can set it up near an exterior wall in an attic. These are general best practices, the only way to find the best spot in your home is to experiment with different spots until you’re satisfied with the picture quality.
Final thoughts on the best TV antennas
If you’re considering joining the cord-cutting wave, or have done so and miss your local channels, a TV antenna could be the perfect way to round out your TV setup. The exact type and model you need will depend on a number of factors, but you can rest assured that there is almost certainly a great option out there for you at a very reasonable price.