Can an antenna meter save you money?

If you have an antenna, you should have a way to measure its signal. There was a time when most TVs had some sort of built-in meter, although most don’t today. Those TV meters didn’t always give you the best results, but they gave you something. Today if you’re putting up an antenna, you’re on your own.

Antenna aiming: the facts

Every antenna has a measurement called “beam width.” You can learn more about that here. Basically, it’s the measurement that tells you how far off you can be when you aim an antenna. In many cases you can be off 15 degrees either way, which gives you a lot of flexibility. If you live somewhere that has TV towers in different locations, you can usually aim in the middle and be ok.

However, TV reception can be affected by a lot of things. There could be something blocking the signal that you can’t even see because it’s so far away. In practice, I’ve found that sometimes moving an antenna by a few feet or rotating it a few degrees can make a huge difference in the signal quality and strength. It’s important to know what you’re getting. Sometimes, you’ll get better signals by aiming 45 or 90 degrees away from the towers, taking advantage of the signals bouncing off hills, buildings, or something else. Signal propagation may be a science, but getting the perfect aim off your antenna is more like an art.

The things you really need to measure

There are two measures of TV signals and believe it or not, the one you think is the most important, isn’t. Let me explain.

Signal strength

Signal strength is the amount of signal coming out of the antenna. You would think that it’s the most important thing. It’s not. An amplified antenna can pump a weak signal up, but that’s only going to help you so much. If the signal itself is very degraded, it doesn’t matter how strong it is.

Signal to Noise ratio

Signal to Noise ratio is really the most important measurement of antennas. I go into detail here, but it’s basically a number that describes how much actual usable “stuff” there is in a TV signal. Digital signals are much more about how much noise you have, not how much raw signal you have. I explain a lot more here. The big problem is that you can’t measure this without a meter. It’s just not possible to do it.

How you can get the best results

Really, the only thing you can do is use a signal meter like our SignalScout. It will give you the numbers you need in order to succeed. But, getting back to the subject of this email, will it save you money?

I get it. When you’re looking at a meter costing quite a bit, it’s hard to understand how buying one is going to save you money. If you’re only using it a few times, such as you will when you aim an antenna, it’s even harder.

But, you have to look at the big picture. Will a properly aimed antenna stop you from paying $100 a month for a cable TV package? Will it pay for itself in just a few months? Chances are the answer is yes. So even if you buy that meter and then sell it online after a few months, it’s going to save you money. It’s the right choice for you.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.