The 30-Second Review

We spoke with electrical engineers and a professor in antenna engineering to find that, simply put, there is no “best” TV antenna. The best antenna for you depends on where you live and what you watch, and you’ll probably have to test multiple antennas to find your perfect fit. We dug into 60,000 user reviews to help give you the best odds of hitting a homerun on the first try.

Best for Areas with Strong Signal

Great for large cities or if you have a clear line of sight to a broadcasting tower. Indoor antennas are cheap, easy to set up, and fit into the background of your home decor.

Best for Areas with Weak Signal

Outdoor antennas will always outperform indoor ones, so consider a rooftop antenna if you live in an area with lots of trees or buildings, or are far from the towers.

The Best TV Antenna

A TV antenna can be a great one-time purchase to replace your monthly cable bill. And since the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) requires networks to broadcast in digital, HDTV is only an antenna away from your television.

However, a TV antenna is a highly personalized purchase — what works for your neighbor won’t necessarily work for you. TV antennas differ in three major ways: placement, signal, and direction, and everything from the channels you watch, how far you are from the broadcast towers, to the buildings, trees, and mountains around you affect the type of TV antenna you need. To find the right kind of TV antenna, you’ll need to download a personal TV Signal Analysis Report and do a bit of legwork to figure out what channels you want to watch, and where they’re broadcast from.

To make it easy, we’ve created a five step guide to walk you through the process and match you with the right kind of TV antenna for your home.

Our Picks for the Best TV Antenna

If you already know the type of antenna you need, or want to dive in and try out an antenna, we’ve picked out the best TV antennas for four of the most common categories. Full disclosure: TV Antenna success is highly subjective, so while these antennas all have great reviews and were the final pick for a lot of people, what works for others might not work for you. These are good places to start your search, but be prepared to try out a few different antennas before you find the right one for your situation. For our full list of recommended products, see below.

Best for Areas with Strong Signal (Directional)

1Byone Super Thin HDTV AntennaThis antenna's sticker-like design makes it easy to reposition, plus it comes in different ranges.

For an Indoor Directional Antenna that can receive VHF and UHF, we recommend starting out with the 1Byone Super Thin HDTV Antenna ($18 or $38 depending on range). Its transparent geometric design helps it blend into the background of your living room decor, whether you situate it on a window or against a wall. It’s available in both a 35- and 50-mile range, though your actual mileage may vary depending on your line of sight to the tower. This 1Byone also comes with an optional amplifier. If you live in a weak signal area, this amplifier may help clear up any noise that’s affecting your signal quality.

Best for Areas with Strong Signal (Multi-Directional)

Mohu Leaf 30 Flat AntennaThe Leaf is on the smaller side for antennas, and its reversible black/white design helps it fade into the background of your living room.

For an Indoor Multi-directional Antenna that can receive VHF and UHF, our top pick is the Mohu Leaf 30 Flat Antenna ($35). The Mohu Leaf 30 is easy to reposition in the quest to find the perfect reception spot, and its reversible design is unobtrusive. It adopts the current trend in indoor antennas of a square “sticker” (roughly the size of a large mouse pad) with a cable. It’s multi-directional, meaning you’re likely to spend less time finessing the perfect angle to catch the signal, but it does only come in a 30-mile range.

Best for Areas with Weak Signal (Directional)

Antennas Direct Element Unidirectional Antenna w/ 30-in. MountEasy to assemble, but while rated indoor/outdoor, this antenna's design is better suited for a rooftop than a living room.

For an Outdoor Directional Antenna that can receive VHF and UHF, we recommend Antennas Direct Element Unidirectional Antenna w. 30 in. Mount ($80). This antenna only takes a few steps to be fully assembled right out of the box. Like all antennas, you’ll want to grab a friend to test reception before you reach for the drill, since it might take a few adjustments to find the best reception spot on your roof. At 60 miles, this antenna is at the limits of range before our experts recommend going hardcore and looking into building your own personal tower to top with an antenna.

Best for Areas with Weak Signal (Multi-Directional)

Antennas Direct ClearStream 2V UHF/VHF HDTV AntennaRated for indoor/outdoor use, this antenna is easy to hang in your attic, or position on your roof.

For an Outdoor Multi-Directional Antenna that can receive VHF and UHF, we recommend starting off with Antennas Direct ClearStream™ 2V UHF/VHF HDTV Antenna ($80). This antenna adds more breadth of range compared to the Antennas Direct Element Unidirectional, but is still rated for the same distance, 60 miles. Unlike the Element Unidirectional, the ClearStream does look like it could be brought indoors without changing the theme of your living room to “UFO Chaser.” So if you want to give an antenna a test run inside before committing to the roof, the ClearStream is a good option.

How to Find the Right TV Antenna

The transition from cable or satellite user to TV antenna master always begins at the same spot: identifying what signals you want to (and can) receive at your location. Most people report having to try two or three antennas before finding the one that works best for them, especially if they’re using an indoor antenna.

We talked to Will Ross, Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, to get some insight into finding the right antenna. He told us that topography (the lay of the land around you, including mountains, valleys, forests, and buildings) is really important and the issues related to it are “critical in determining what TV channels a user can receive, and what type of antenna a user needs to receive them.”

Step One: Your Personalized TV Signal Analysis Report

Your first step is to locate where the broadcast towers are in relation to your home. This will help identify what kind of reception you can expect to receive and what type of antenna will best suit your needs. While there are several websites which try to help you determine the broadcast towers closest to you, we preferred using TV Fool.

Address Entry for TV Antennas

Enter your exact address. If you aren’t sure what height you plan on hanging your antenna at, you can either leave it blank, put “4” for an approximation of an indoor antenna’s height, or estimate the height of your roof.

After entering your exact address, TV Fool will give you a personalized radial graph (left) as well as a chart to help you determine signal strength and location relative to your home:

If it looks intimidating, don’t worry; we’ll guide you through each section, highlighting the parts you’ll need to use to determine your TV antenna type.

Step Two: Find Your Favorite Channels

Next, you’ll need to have a list of the channels you want to watch so you can figure out what frequencies your antenna needs to pick up. Depending on your home and the strength and direction of TV signals, you might need to choose which channels are the most important to you.

Depending on your location, you might not receive all your channels.A lot of factors have to go right for you to receive every channel you want to watch. Keeping tabs on which channels have which shows is an easy way to prioritize them, just in case you have to choose some shows to watch on Netflix or elsewhere.

Taking your list of favorite channels, find each channel on your chart by comparing your list to the Network and/or Callsign columns. Every channel available in your area will correspond to a callsign, the unique series of letters the FCC uses to identify broadcasters. These vary from region to region, and one network will have different callsigns depending on where it’s broadcasting. Where available, TV Fool has also decoded out which network is affiliated to each callsign. If you don’t know the callsigns for your preferred channels, and they aren’t listed by network, it’s easy to search either “[Callsign]” or “[Channel Name]” and “[City]” to find your missing stations.

Grid List Cropped for TV Antennas

For San Francisco, KPIX-TV is their local CBS station, and KRON-TV is the (Virtual) Channel 4 local news even though it broadcasts on Real Channel 38.

You’ll want to either print out a copy of your analysis report, and mark which channels you want to keep track of, or jot down two important pieces of information on your list of favorite channels: Real Channel and NM (dB).

Step Three: Do You Need an Indoor or Outdoor Antenna?

Outdoor TV antennas will always have better reception than indoor TV antennas, but can be cumbersome to install. Indoor TV antennas are easy to set-up, but don’t always match the decor of the living room, and can only be used in areas with strong TV signals. If you live in an area with strong reception, you get to choose whether to go indoor or outdoor, depending on your installation and aesthetic preferences.

To find out if you live in an area with strong signal reception, take a look at TV Fool’s column labeled “NM (dB)” — which stands for “Noise Margin,” a figure measured in decibels (dB). It reflects the amount of interference each signal will experience as it travels between the broadcast tower and your home. The higher the number, the stronger the signal.

TV Fool Color Code NM Value (dB) You'll use an...
Green NM > 35 Indoor antenna
Yellow 35 > NM > 15 Outdoor antenna
Red NM < 15 These channels will be difficult to receive even with an outdoor antenna.

Generally speaking, having all of your channels listed in TV Fool’s green zone means that your home has the right conditions to potentially have strong reception, and you can freely choose whether to have an indoor or outdoor antenna. If you have any channels coded yellow, you’ll need to purchase an outdoor antenna, or risk not receiving those channels through your TV antenna. Red channels have so weak a signal at your location that they are difficult to pick up — it’s unlikely that any antenna will be able to receive them.

If you've tried a TV antenna without success, you might need to do a few more calculations to determine the true NM value of each channel, taking into account additional sources of interference. We dive into these (and what calculations to take) down below.

Step 4: Do You Need a Directional or Multi-Directional Antenna?

If we imagine your home at the center of a circle, with TV signals coming in from all sides, a directional TV antenna will only receive signals coming in from a narrow band about 50 to 60 degrees wide (about 1/6th of the total circle). A multi-directional antenna will pick up signals from a larger swath of the circle, picking up more signals from more directions, typically a total range of 100 to 200 degrees in opposing arcs (if you aim your antenna North-South, for example, you’d pick up some signals in each direction).

Compass for TV Antennas

Our sample radar plot shows most channels being in the south-east and south-west quadrants. But since directional antennas only pick up between 50 and 60 degrees, a directional antenna won’t be able to pick up both channel 29 and channel 36 unless we are willing to rotate the antenna depending on what channel we want to watch.

For this step, you’ll need to locate the Real Channel numbers of your chosen stations on your radial signal map. If your desired channels are all broadcast from same general direction (within 60 degrees), a directional antenna will give you better reception. If you have channels coming in from multiple directions, we recommend starting off with a multi-directional antenna. There are omni-directional antennas (with 360 degree range), but these tend to have poor signal quality.

However, if you’ve tried multi-directional antennas without success, you might need to switch to a directional antenna, and either sacrifice some channels, or rotate the antenna. Antennas improve in performance the more specific they are, so directional antennas tend to have better signal quality than multi-directional antennas.

Step Five: Do You Need Very High Frequencies, Ultra High Frequencies, or Both?

Most TV networks used to broadcast on very high frequencies (VHF), but more and more are making the switch to ultra high frequencies (UHF), since UHF signals carry better through obstacles, like houses or trees.

The choice between Very High Frequencies (VHF) and Ultra High Frequencies (UHF) depends on which frequencies your preferred channels are broadcast at. Networks with a Real Channel between 2 and 6 are classified as VHF Lo; those with a Real Channel between 7 and 13 are classified as VHF Hi; and those with a Real Channel between 14 and 83 are classified as UHF.

You can also look at TV Fool’s frequency chart to figure out whether networks are broadcasting on VHF or UHF.

Graph for TV Antennas

Frequency Chart: TV Fool sorts the channels by their Real Channel number, and also lists them by callsign, so you can see which channels are VHF Lo, VHF Hi, and UHF.

If your preferred channels list contains both VHF (either Lo or Hi) and UHF networks, you have two options. While manufacturers make TV antennas advertised to receive both UHF and VHF signals, these antennas typically only receive one type of signal well. They are worth trying — you might be located in a reception sweet spot — but you might also need to buy two antennas, one for each frequency.

Troubleshooting Your TV Antenna

There is such a thing as reception that’s “too good.”

In order to pick up TV signals, the Noise Margin for any particular signal needs to between 15 dB and 70 dB. Too low, and the signal is too weak to pick up. Too strong, and not even the best TV can interpret the signal. If you live in a strong signal area, but your TV only shows a black screen, you might need to try to make your setup less effective at receiving signals to add in interference. A few steps you can take to reduce TV signal reception:

  • Make sure you aren’t using an amplified antenna, or an amplifier at all. These decrease the amount of interference to improve reception.
  • If you’re using an outdoor antenna, switch to an indoor one. The signals will have to pass through walls, increasing interference.
  • Use a mult- or omni-directional antenna rather than a directional one. These antennas experience greater signal loss than directional antennas, hopefully bringing your signal into the range where you’ll have great reception.

Have poor reception? Take opposite steps of those detailed above, and you might be able to improve your reception enough to watch your channels clearly.

If your TV was built before 2007, you’ll probably need a digital converter box.

In 2009, the FCC required all networks to start broadcasting in digital. To prepare for this, the FCC required any television sold after March 1st, 2007 to have a digital tuner built-in. If your TV was built prior to 2007, there’s a good chance it won’t be able to receive TV signals even with the perfect TV antenna on its own— you’ll need to purchase a digital converter box.

There are a few exceptions, as a couple companies improved their televisions ahead of the deadline. If your TV was built in 2006 or early 2007, you can check your TV instruction manual to find out if your TV is digital compatible — it will be described as “DTV,” “ATSC,” “HDTV,” or “Digital Receiver.” If you haven’t kept the manual, you can call the FCC directly to find out, at 1-888-CALLFCC.

Calculating range means more than just miles.

The range advertised on each antenna is a good guideline to estimate how far away from a broadcasting tower it will work, but unfortunately is only a guideline. There are too many variables that affect whether an antenna will work in each particular situation, so manufacturers can’t speak authoritatively on how far the antenna can be from the tower and still work.

Dr. Joy told us that, “Distance alone doesn’t tell you the whole story, because it doesn’t talk about topography – what is between you and the transmitting antenna.” Physical objects like tree and buildings interfere with the signal and decrease the range, while having clear line of sight to the broadcasting tower might mean that the actual range is much larger than the advertised range.

If you live within 25 miles of the tower, and your advertised 25-mile antenna isn’t working, you might have to upgrade to a longer-ranged antenna. However, since the longer the range, the more expensive the antenna, you might try the shorter ones first to save some cash.

Adjusting your noise margin values for additional sources of interference.

TV Fool gives you the base predicted Noise Margin (NM) value for each station at your location in their TV Signal Analysis Report. That said, there are a lot of factors that affect your reception, and many of them are unavoidable. If you’re struggling to get a certain channel that’s on the edge of your reception capability, here are a few common problems that can decrease your Noise Margin, and make it more difficult to receive a signal:

  • Coaxial Cable: We do need to connect our antenna to our TV, but the longer the coaxial cable is, the more signal loss you’ll experience. Channel Master estimates typical loss values between 1.5 dB to 5.6 dB per 100 feet of cable.
  • TV Splitter: If you’re watching channels on multiple TVs, you’ll need a splitter to send the signal to multiple destinations. For each splitter used, estimate a NM loss of about 3.5 dB.
  • Walls: If you’re using an indoor TV antenna, Grounded Reason recommends placing it on or near the exterior wall closest to the tower. Doing so means you’ll only see a NM loss of about 14 dB. If you can’t place your TV antenna on that wall, expect about a 34 dB loss instead, to account for the amount of walls and objects between your antenna and the tower.
  • Other Houses: If there are additional houses blocking your antenna’s “view” of the tower, you’ll need to subtract about 20 dB from your base NM value.
  • Trees: If you have heavy or dense foliage that “casts a shadow” or stands between your antenna and the broadcast tower, subtract 10 dBs from your base NM value.
  • Amplifiers: Active antennas have a built-in amplifier that can help improve your signal quality. You can also buy an amplifier separately. Amplifiers will reduce the amount of noise that builds up over the coaxial cable, TV tuner, and any splitters as the signal travels between the antenna and your TV. However, adding the amplifier onto your line will also increase the noise, so it’s important to choose an amplifier which introduces less noise than it improves on. If your amplifier doesn’t say how much noise it adds, assume between 6 and 10 dB.

The Best TV Antenna: Summed Up

TV Antenna
The Best
1Byone Super Thin HDTV Antenna
For Areas with Strong Signal
Mohu Leaf 30 Flat Antenna
For Areas with Strong Signal
Antennas Direct Element Unidirectional Antenna w/ 30-in. Mount
For Areas with Weak Signal
Antennas Direct ClearStream 2V UHF/VHF HDTV Antenna
For Areas with Weak Signal