A 75-mile antenna?

Beware of claims made by compact antenna manufacturers of 75-mile-plus performance. Here’s the simple fact, folks: antenna reception at 75 miles or more is going to be a bit of a game of luck. Compact antennas probably aren’t going to do it for you at that distance.

I personally say there’s no substitute for the raw gain of a large antenna like our HD8200XL. This is the largest antenna on the market and as it stands, no other antenna made for consumer use is going to help you get 75-mile reception as easily as this one. Yes, it’s gigantic and it looks like it came straight out of 1955, but the physics of antennas haven’t changed in half a century and the bigger the antenna, the more signal it will pick up, as long as it’s properly engineered.

Those cute little antennas that promise 100-mile reception could work for you, but chances are they won’t. When you’re talking about receiving a signal at 75 miles or more, that signal is going to be so weak that it’s going to be disturbed by hot air rising in front of it, by falling leaves, even by a car driving by if you’re at the bottom of a hill. This is an incredibly weak signal and while amplifier technology is really good, it’s not good enough to compensate for everything. Several years ago I did a tutorial on the reasons that TV antennas don’t work at very long distances, and I stand by it. Digital signals behave in different ways than analog ones and when you get right out to the fringes, what happens is the amount of noise that’s out there (which is more or less constant) is stronger than the amount of signal you can get, so you don’t get anything. The signal just isn’t there.

I know that not everyone can get a large antenna and put it on a roof, and that’s why there are compact antennas with powerful amplifiers that could potentially work in apartment situations. One of the best out there is our HD Horizon X10, with a class-leading 35dB of amplification combined with a large receiving surface. It’s no substitute for a gigantic yagi-style antenna but if you don’t have the space and need a compact antenna, you won’t find one more powerful or more easy to attach to a railing or tripod.

While it’s true that there are some areas where TV stations are truly 75 miles away (the Los Angeles market actually radiates out close to 200 miles east) the vast majority of folks do live within 75 miles of a broadcast center and can get good TV signals. Those who are truly all the way out there might be better advised to consider satellite, or be prepared to try several different types of antennas before finding the one that works best in your situation. When you get out that far everything is a matter of experimentation, and unfortunately there’s no way to know for sure what’s going to happen. As I said I do recommend starting with the largest antenna possible for the best chance of success, and staying away from bargain-basement alternatives that look snazzy but don’t bring anything to the party.