The 30-Second Review

Simply put, there is no "best" TV antenna. We talked to electrical engineers and a professor in antenna engineering to discover that antennas are highly personalized. The antenna you need largely depends on where you live and what you want to watch. Every expert we spoke to said most people have to try more than one antenna before they find great reception. We dug into 60,000 user reviews and found which ones worked for the most people to give you the best odds of hitting a home run 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. Since 2009, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has required networks to broadcast in digital, so HDTV is only an antenna away from your television. That said, there are so many factors that affect which type of TV Antenna will work for your circumstances: what channels you want, how far away the broadcast towers are from your home, and what buildings, trees, and mountains are in the way. This is largely because the more specialized an antenna is -- the fewer signals it’s trying to pick up -- the more effective it will be at receiving those exact signals. As we push antennas to receive more and more signals, the harder it becomes to get good reception. This means there isn't a single best we can recommend to everyone.

In general, TV antennas are different in three major ways:

Indoor or Outdoor: Indoor antennas are typically small, inconspicuous gadgets that either rest on your wall or window. Outdoor antennas can vary in size from small devices that look like a smoke detector, to large rooftop set-ups. As a whole they get better reception than indoor antennas, because there’s always some signal loss when you’re trying to receive through walls, and are a necessity if you are far from the broadcasting towers.

Directional, Multi-Directional, or Omni-Directional: Directional antennas typically pick up signals from an arc about 50 to 60 degrees wide. Multi-directional ones have a larger range, around 100 to 120 degrees. They pick up signals from two arcs, one in front, and one behind, but are more restricted than omnidirectional antennas, which pick up signals from all directions. More directions can be helpful if your broadcast towers aren’t conveniently located in the same spot relative to your house. But the larger range an antenna has, the less well it receives signals.

Very High Frequencies (VHF) or Ultra High Frequencies (UHF): Most TV networks used to broadcast on VHF signals, but more and more are making the switch to UHF signals. UHF signals carry better through obstacles, like houses or trees. Depending on your area, you might only need an antenna capable of receiving these UHF signals, but there will be some channels only available on VHF. Repeating our theme, antennas that pick up both won’t be great at either.

The Shorter Guide

We’ll go in-depth into how to find the right antenna for you, but the short version is:

Step 1: Go to TV Fool, input your address, and get your personal TV Signal Analysis Report. You’ll be focusing on two sections: the color-coded chart and round radar map.

Step 2: Make a list of your favorite stations by network name (CBS, PBS, e.g.), channel number, or callsign if you know it.

Step 3: Check out the color-coded chart. If most of your channels are listed as green, you can use an indoor antenna. If most of them are yellow, you’ll likely need an outdoor antenna. Networks in red are unlikely to be received at your location.

Step 4: The radar map centers on the location you entered and shows where each network tower is in relation to your house, displayed according to Real Channel number signals. Determine if your preferred stations’ real channel numbers are all coming from one general direction, or several. If they’re all within a 50 to 60 degree span, you can use a directional antenna. If you have channels on opposite sides of the radar map, you’ll want to try a multi-directional antenna.

Step 5: Real Channel numbers 2-13 require VHF, while Real Channel numbers 14-83 require UHF -- if your list has a mix of both categories, you’ll need an antenna that can handle both frequencies. You’ll also want to note the distance of the towers in miles to help you determine the range of antenna you’ll need.

Step 6: Now that you know what type of antenna is best for your situation, check out our top picks, or our longer recommended list below, to choose an antenna.

Our Picks for the Best TV 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 Know What You Need

You might need to buy accessories separately.Manufacturers will sometimes throw in a coaxial cable or an amplifier with your TV antenna purchase, but just because they’re free doesn’t mean they’re always good. If your antenna isn’t working as you’d hoped, before you return it to try another one, invest in a quality RG6 cable.

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.”

The Longer Guide

Step 1: Get 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 one called 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.

You’ll receive a TV Signal Analysis Report that will show you which channels you can receive at your location, where the towers are relative to you, and the frequencies of your preferred channels. It will look similar to this:

Step 2: Find Your Favorite Channels

Next, you’ll need to have a list of the channels you want to watch. Figuring out which networks you want to watch will help you determine which particular frequencies your antenna needs to pick up. Depending on your location, where the signals are coming from, and how strong they are, you might need to choose which channels are the most important to you.

Won’t I Get All My Channels? You might be able to pick up all of your favorite channels, but there’s a lot that has to go right. 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.

Once you have your list of favorite channels, compare it to the Network and/or Callsign columns. Where available, TV Fool tries to fill out which Network is linked to a particular callsign. A callsign is the unique series of letters the FCC uses to identify broadcasters. They vary from region to region and one network will have multiple different call signs, like PBS, which is KQED for San Francisco, and KCTS-DT for Seattle.

Also make a note of the Real Channel number for your preferred channels. The Real Channel number identifies the actual frequency the channel broadcasts on, rather than the Virtual Channel it goes by. This allows national networks to be found “on channel four,” even if they aren’t actually broadcast on four. You’ll need the Real Channel later to locate towers on the radar map.

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.

If you’re missing some channels, or if you’re curious, it’s easy to search “[Call sign] [City],” to determine what station is being broadcast under that callsign. This will also help you differentiate between three different stations all listed as “IND,” or determine which “PBS” station has the programming you like.

Step 3: Do You Need an Indoor or Outdoor Antenna?

Whether you live in an apartment, or simply want to test out a TV antenna without climbing onto your roof, if you have good signal reception, you’ll be able to try out an indoor antenna. To determine whether you can use an indoor antenna, take a look at TV Fool’s column labeled “NM (db).” This column stands for “Noise Margin” and is measured in decibels.

More Yellow Than Green?If you have channels listed in the green zone but pretty close to yellow (their NM (db) value is closer to 35 than it is to 70), locating your antenna in the attic of your house is an easy way to improve your reception quality with an indoor antenna.

If your chosen channels have an NM value higher than 35 dB, you should be able to successfully use an indoor antenna. These channels will be colored green. Yellow channels, or those with a value between 35 dB and 15 dB can still be picked up, but will require an outdoor antenna. Red channels, those under 15 dB, will be increasingly difficult to receive.

If possible, choosing an outdoor antenna is the easiest way to improve reception. But an outdoor antenna might not be the best fit for those of us in apartments, or who don’t want the hassle of installing external cables or grounding the antenna against lightning strikes. If you have great reception, it might not even pay to get an outdoor antenna, unless you prefer to not have one in your TV room. Dr. Ed Joy, Professor Emeritus, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech and a Fellow of the Antenna Measurement Techniques Association (AMTA), told us that in some situations, it might be overkill to use an outdoor antenna. If you have a strong signal, even a simple indoor antenna should work well.

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

A directional antenna will only pick up a narrower band of signals, a distance about 50 to 60 degrees wide. An omni-directional antenna will pick up signals from all 360 degrees, but at a cost. Getting more channels from a wider range of towers means that you might not get as good signal quality from those channels. This is a clear example of what Will Ross referred to as the “tradeoffs associated with these two types of antennas.”

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.

Look at the Real Channel numbers for your preferred channels and locate your nearby towers on TV Fool’s radar plot map. If your desired channels are all being broadcast from the same direction, or at least in a range of at most 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 that has a total range of 100 to 200 degrees in opposing arcs. From our research, more people were successful with this kind than with omni-directionals, which have a 360 degree range but tend to have poor overall signal quality.

Step 5: Do You Need Very High Frequencies or Just Ultra High Frequencies?

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 will want to either buy an antenna that receives both frequencies, or two antennas, one for each frequency.

Did You Know?

Range is more than just miles

The range advertised on each antenna unfortunately is not a guarantee. There are too many variables that affect whether an antenna will work in each particular situation for manufacturers to speak authoritatively on how far away the tower can be from the antenna and still receive signal. For many of us, this means that the actual range of the antenna is shorter than advertised. And while manufacturers will state which of their particular models are rated for 25, 35, or 50 miles (or 45, 60, or 100 miles), they don’t use a standardized method to measure range. One of the things that manufacturers do have in common? The longer the range, the more expensive the antenna. If you aren’t receiving signals with a shorter range antenna, it can pay to try the longer ranged ones, but since there’s no standardization, we can’t compare ranges between brands.

Dr. Joy told us that it’s also not enough to look at the range of an antenna, “Distance alone doesn’t tell you the whole story, because it doesn’t talk about topography -- what is between you and the transmitting antenna.” You’ll want to look into longer ranged antennas not only for physical distance between you and the broadcast tower, but also if you have many trees, buildings, and other obstacles in the way. On the other hand, this might help explain why Channel Master advertises several 100 mile ranged antennas when Dr. Joy told us that outside of 60 or 70 miles, you typically can’t receive signals. If you have a perfect line of sight to the tower, you might find the range of your antenna is larger than advertised.

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

If you’ve set up your antenna, and you aren’t able to get any signals, your reception might be too good. Even the best TV, or the best converter box, can’t handle signals that are too strong -- those with a noise margin above 70 dB. If your TV Signal Analysis Report showed your desired channels as being over 70 dB and considering causes of small signal losses, like walls and trees, can’t bring the value below 70, you might need to make some changes to your set-up. An easy first step is to make sure that you aren’t using an amplified antenna, or an amplifier at all. Using an amplifier on an already-strong signal can push your reception over 70 dB, too high for your TV to handle. If you’re not using an amplifier, you might try to use an indoor antenna, rather than an outdoor, or a multi- or omni-directional one instead of a directional antenna. These will increase signal loss to get the signal into the range where you’ll have great television reception.

On the other hand, if your reception is still too weak with an antenna, there are a few options to help improve your signal. If you have an omni- or multi-directional antenna, switching to a directional antenna can be a good option, you may just have to adjust your antenna’s position to catch different signals if they’re spread far apart. If you’re not having any luck with indoor antennas, an outdoor one can be an easy way to increase the odds of receiving a signal. If you’re still having trouble, outdoor antennas can actually be fitted with a rotor so you can change the antenna’s position without leaving your armchair.

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 implemented new requirements for televisions. Starting March 1, 2007, all TVs must be able to receive digital signals, so any televisions sold after this date are required to have a digital tuner built-in. Televisions built before 2007 usually don’t have the technology to receive digital broadcasts. A few companies got a headstart on the deadline, and so if your TV was built in 2006 or early 2007, it’s easy to check if your TV has a digital tuner. In the TV instruction manual, these TVs 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. If you know your TV doesn’t have a digital tuner, you’ll still be able to use an antenna. You’ll just need to purchase a digital converter box. This helps interpret the digital signals broadcast by the networks into something your analog TV will be able to understand, clearing the way to watching your favorite shows.

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