Is a bigger antenna actually better?

This antenna is big. Something like 12 feet long. And in case you’re having trouble thinking about what that looks like, think like about the length of a Chevy Suburban. On your roof.

But is bigger always better? Yes and no. Let’s take a look.

It’s about gain.

A bigger antenna, properly designed, will always have more gain than a smaller one. And it will be the best kind of gain, much better than using a small antenna and simply overamplifying it, because a small antenna just won’t pull in truly weak signals like this gigantic one will.

However, you need to understand how digital signals work. With a digital signal, it’s digital (I know, right?) and that means you either get it or you don’t. Sure there are cases where a signal goes in and out a bit but really that means there are very short periods where you’re not getting it. It’s not like an old analog signal where a weak signal was snowy and a strong signal wasn’t.

Think of it this way. If you’re thirsty, you take a drink. If it’s not enough, you’re still thirsty so you take another drink. But when you’re not thirsty anymore, having another drink isn’t going to make you any more satisfied. In fact, keep drinking after you should have stopped and you’ll just get overloaded. It’s the same thing with antennas. You’re either getting enough signal or you’re not, and once you have enough you don’t need more. Get too much signal and the TV gets overloaded. (That’s why people have problems with amplifiers. If they didn’t need them, they overload the TV.)

You also have to know what you need.

The gigantic antenna at the top of this article is one of the few made today that really excel at “VHF-Low.” VHF-Low is the term used for broadcasts on channels 2-6, which are fairly rare today. Low numbered channels used to be really desirable. They take less energy to transmit and in the days when TVs had dials they came first.

Unfortunately, those channels need a big antenna. The size of “the perfect antenna” depends on what frequencies you want to pull in, and low frequencies take bigger antennas. People don’t want bigger antennas. It’s as simple as that. The last time channels were shuffled around back in 2009, most VHF-low channels went away. Here’s a list I did in 2016 of the ones that remain, although that’s likely to change in the next couple of years in the next repack.

You just might not need an antenna that gets VHF-Low channels. Solid Signal has a lot of antennas that are just as efficient as this big boy in higher frequencies. If you’re not sure which stations you need, get a free recommendation for an antenna from Solid Signal. There are also free apps and web sites like antennaweb.org  that will let you figure out what’s broadcasting in your area. Just be sure to watch for the real broadcast frequency, not the virtual one. (For more about that, read this article.)

Choose wisely

If a small antenna works for you, there’s no guarantee a bigger one will work better. It may be able to pull in more distant stations or it may not. Despite the claims of some infomercials, it’s practically impossible to get reception past 100 miles, and in most cases antenna reception can start to drop in 60-70 miles, sometimes less if there are trees or hills involved.

It’s not that I don’t want to sell you a huge, expensive antenna, it’s that I want you to feel like you’re getting the right antenna for the job. Sometimes, believe it or not, it’s not the biggest one.