What’s the best antenna?

The answer would seem to be simple… the one that works. But how do you know?

Cord cutting is really taking off. More and more people are choosing to use a combination of streaming and antennas to save thousands of dollars a year. They’re saying goodbye to the cable company and hello to a whole world of entertainment that’s become available in the last five years. While some stay with streaming, it’s always best to add an antenna to get local news, sports, and the top 10 rated programs in the highest possible quality, all for free.

If you’re lucky enough to live in a home built in the mid-20th century you may have an old antenna on the roof, and with a couple of dollars in parts and a willingness to crawl around in the attic, you may have everything you need. Unfortunately, many antennas were taken off roofs in the last 20 years as cable and satellite became the norm. Still more lean excessively, are out of alignment, or have broken or corroded elements.

Don’t be discouraged. Buying an antenna is easier than ever and it doesn’t mean a trip to the dusty part of the hardware store. Before you buy, though, make sure you’re getting the right antenna for your needs.

What do I need to know?

There are a lot of variables involved in choosing the best HDTV antenna for your needs. There is also a lot of misinformation. The most important question is whether or not you’ll need VHF channels. A lot of markets still require the use of a VHF antenna, in fact the odds are overwhelming that if you’re in a market with 6 or more channels one of them is VHF. Many stores sell “HDTV Antennas” that are nothing more than UHF antennas. Buy one of these and you’re giving up on channels you should be able to get.

The most predictable measure of the antenna you need is your distance from the broadcast tower. Many people who live in major cities can see the broadcast towers sitting on top of one of the tallest buildings in the city. If this is you, you may be able to get away with a very inexpensive antenna.

Most of us live in the suburbs of course, and can’t see the skyline from our bedroom windows. For those people, the question is a little more complex. Where are the towers? How far away are you? Are their obstructions like mountains in the way? For this reason some people choose to spend too much money and put a giant antenna on the roof. This is not your only choice.

If you are one of those city dwellers you may be just fine with a small, general purpose antenna like the one pictured here. These antennas are very small and some can be used inside or outside. They even have a funky, arty look that might actually pass for decoration in your hipster pad.

The majority of people actually live within 40 miles of a television tower. This is no happy accident; it’s the way that the television markets are built. If you’re a happy suburbanite you may be fine with an amplified indoor antenna like the one pictured here. These are relatively small and are designed to give the best result for much of suburbia without requiring you to get up on the roof. They work equally well in apartments.

If you live a further away, you’re not out of luck. Unfortunately though, you’re probably going to need a roof-mounted antenna. These are not very hard to install if you’re fairly handy with tools and are comfortable being up on the roof. There are a lot of variables in play though… proper aiming is essential and if you’re trying to get TV from more than one city a rotator may be necessary, or you may choose to put up two antennas so you can always get a signal from both. The cost of all the parts you need is still probably less than one month’s cable bill.

Roof mounted antennas tend to have a similar look to the one you see here, although some more modern designs tend to be smaller because they put less emphasis on VHF reception. They will have one or two elements instead of the many elements you see on the antenna above. The number of elements varies depending on how much signal you need to pull in, and that depends on your distance and the obstructions in your way. The best roof antenna for your needs is going to be the one that catches just enough signal and not too much. If you choose the most massive amplified antenna around, you risk picking up signals that may actually interfere with your viewing. A quick look at the older homes in your area will give you some idea of the antennas that were used in the 1950s and 1960s; this will start you on the right track but it’s not the final answer.

Before you set out, it’s a good idea to have some professional help on your side. SolidSignal offers a free service to help you find the right antenna for your needs and there’s still plenty of time to get it done before the big game. We’ve made it easy for you to get the best advice. Our techs are available to answer your questions… just fill out a simple form and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible with a customized solution for you. It’s that easy!

The best HDTV antenna is the one that costs you the least but delivers the best performance. Don’t make it a guessing game, though. Take some professional FREE advice and by gametime, you’ll be ready to impress!

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.