When should you use an amplified antenna?

The amplifier above is Winegard’s LNA-200. It’s an extremely low noise amplifier that’s causing a lot of noise out in the real world. There’s a real controversy about amplified antennas and it doesn’t help the matter that most of the arguments use words like “should” and “might.” Antennas are supposed to be science, right?

An antenna amplifier, like any amplifier, takes in a signal and puts out a much stronger signal that has the same characteristics as the old signal. If the signal was noisy to begin with, it will be noisy coming out, too. Add to that the “noise figure” of the amplifier, which in simple terms is the amount of noise that’s added in just by the amplification process.

Here are some cases when you might want to use an antenna amplifier:

Compensate for long cable runs

If you run a long cable, you can put your antenna up higher, or close to a window, in the attic or on the roof. However, long cable runs cause signal loss. An amplifier can help with that.

Use one antenna for multiple TVs

A splitter causes more signal loss than almost any other part of your antenna system. Adding an amplifier will help the signal stay strong as it travels through the house.

Bring in fringe signals more reliably

This one is a little controversial. Remember that you’re not just amplifying the signal but the background noise. A distant signal might have so much noise that it’s not worth amplifying. However, there is a case where an amplifier should help. Digital TV tuners “lock on” to a signal before they start processing. If they don’t have the ability to lock on, they won’t even try to process the signal. There are cases when amplifying the signal can strengthen it just enough that the TV is able to lock on all the time.

When it’s an amplified antenna or nothing

If you live in an HOA neighborhood, a condo, or an apartment, you may have a limitation on the size of antenna you can put up. Your condo board or landlord can’t stop you from putting up an antenna. They can put restrictions on it however. They can require that the antenna be smaller than 39″ (1 meter) in all dimensions. They can require you to have it in a private space like a courtyard or inward facing patio. If you rent, the landlord can keep you from drilling holes. If you are being told that you can’t have an antenna at all, check out this article and learn your rights.

With those restrictions, you may not be able to put up the large antenna you need. In that case it’s an amplified antenna or nothing. An amplified small antenna may not pick up all the channels you want, but it’s certainly going to pick up more than no antenna at all.

Yes, a bigger antenna is better

Foes of antenna amplifiers point out (and rightly so) that it’s often better to use a larger antenna to pull in a stronger signal rather than trying to amplify a weaker one. It can be less expensive to put a larger antenna up as well, as amplifiers aren’t cheap. On the other hand, you may not have the option of a larger antenna, if you live in an apartment or simply can’t get up on the roof yourself.

At Solid Signal, we’re here to give you the best advice we can so you can pick the antenna that’s best for you. We have a good selection of larger antennas as well as antenna amplifiers so that no matter what you choose you’ll find what you need.

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 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.