When most of us think of television antennas, our memories conjure images of weekends at our grandparents’ house, fussing with the “rabbit” ears to make sure the Saturday cartoons were clear enough to enjoy. They feel like ancient relics banished to the annals of television and technology history.
However, while the vast majority of people have moved beyond antennas and now either use cable or online streaming services (or both) to watch TV, antennas are still very much alive in the modern world. They’re even making a resurgence, so don’t be surprised if they launch back into the mainstream.
Fortunately, if you decide to start using an antenna, you will find that the market is replete with excellent options that have all made watching TV that much more enjoyable.
Unfortunately, this also means there are numerous choices, and it can be tough to know precisely which one is best for you. This guide will outline all the important aspects of a TV antenna and point you in the direction of some of the better options currently available. Read on to learn everything you need to learn about buying a TV antenna in 2020.
Why Buy a TV Antenna?
There are many reasons to buy a TV antenna, but if you’re looking for one here in 2020, there’s probably one big one that is motivating this decision: budget.
If this is the case, you’ve probably figured out that there are two main alternatives to cable: streaming (Over the Top – OTA – broadcast) and antennas (Over the Air – OTA).
Streaming is great since there’s so much good content you can watch anywhere and anytime. Still, you’ve likely worked out that the cost of a high-speed internet connection, plus several monthly subscriptions to several different platforms, actually doesn’t save you much money at all.
Switching to using an antenna is an excellent alternative because you don’t need any of this. All you need is the antenna itself, a few cords, and a television. Here are the main benefits of switching to a TV antenna:
Of course, there are some downsides to antenna life, which we thought we should review with you to help you be sure about your decision and you can keep these in mind when selecting an antenna to install in your home:
Now that you’re clear on the good and the bad parts of getting your television entirely through an antenna, let’s take a look at the components of a good antenna and what you need to keep in mind when purchasing one.
What to Look for In a TV Antenna?
Long gone are the days of equipping your television with a “standard” antenna. They all do the same thing – they receive signals from the air and convert them into what you see on your screen – but there is so much more to each one, and you must have a working knowledge of the differences between them so that you can make the right decision.
Here are all the things you need to consider as you shop for your cord-cutting antenna:
Indoor or Outdoor?
The first decision you need to make is where you’re going to put your antenna, inside or outside. Like their now-ancient predecessors, indoor antennas plug directly into your TV and are placed somewhere inside the home.
In the olden days, they were placed on top of the television, which helped earn them the “rabbit ears” moniker. Today, designs are much more discreet and can be hidden on shelves, stuck to walls or windows, or placed decoratively beside the television itself.
However, with an indoor setup, signals need to travel through your home and reach the antenna, and this means they need to be strong and coming from somewhere nearby.
As such, indoor antennas are only practical for those living in cities and other densely populated areas where there are bound to be many strong signals for your comparatively weaker antenna to receive.
Unsurprisingly, outdoor antennas pretty much do the opposite. They are bigger and look much more like something from outer space, but because they are outside and larger, they are much better at picking up weaker signals traveling from further away.
So, if you live far from a major metro area where stations broadcast their signal, this might be the way to go. Plus, it’s often easier to blend the sometimes gaudy designs these large, outdoor devices can have into the surrounding views in this setting.
Single-Directional or Multi-Directional?
The next thing you will want to decide when choosing an antenna is whether you want a single directional or multi-directional antenna. Once again, the primary factor to consider is where you live.
As their name suggests, multi-directional antennas can pick up signals from many different directions, which means you will be able to get more channels. However, it needs a lot more hardware for this to happen, which is why you sometimes see unusual looking, space-age designs. The range on multi-directional antennas also tends to be smaller.
Usually, multi-directional antennas are designed to be outside. They are best for those living in less densely populated areas as they will allow you to pick up signals from more than one nearby city.
Antennas that aren’t explicitly identified as multi-directional only look for signals from one direction, meaning the antenna needs to be more or less pointed at the signal source for it to work. A strong, outdoor antenna pointed directly at the signal source will have a much larger range.
As we said, there’s a lot to consider.
VHF and UHF
Although this isn’t as much of a consideration as it once was, it’s worth mentioning that Over the Air signals are broadcast using one of two frequencies: Very High Frequency (VHF) or Ultra High Frequency (UHF). For the longest time, VHF was the norm, and the channels used for these signals are the lower ones – 1 to 13 – but over the years, many stations have switched to broadcast using UHF since the signal tends to be stronger and sharper.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that many stations – especially the local ones – used their original channel numbers as branding but don’t still use this frequency for their broadcasts. For example, channel 6 in your area might be 6 NBC, but they may broadcast on UHF channel 22.
As a result, give some thought into which channels you might want and make sure your antenna can pick up the frequency you desire. To know which channels are available in your area and which frequencies they use, check out this tool from TV Fool.
These days, with so many people using UHF, it’s hard to find an antenna out there that doesn’t have this capability, but they do exist. We don’t want you spending your money on very old technology when there are better options.
Antennas work in a straightforward way: they search for signals in the area. How well they work depends on how you define area, which is referred to as its range in antenna speak.
Most manufacturers will tell you directly how large the range is. You can determine if this is enough by calculating more or less how far you are from where the stations you hope to pick up broadcast their signals, i.e., larger cities and urban areas.
Remember that range is a radius, so if the antenna you’re looking at boasts a 60-mile range, that means you will be able to pick up signals coming from within 60 miles in all directions. Also, know that the geography around you will impact an antennas range. If you live in a mountainous area or a big city with lots of skyscrapers, your antenna’s actual range is likely to be less.
Another aspect to consider is amplification. All this means is that the signals an antenna picks up are amplified so that they are stronger, a signal traveling from further away should come in more clearly.
However, there are two things to consider about amplification: 1) it does not expand the range of your antenna; it merely improves the quality of the signals within its range; 2) all signals in the antennas range are amplified, which means you could experience more interference as even these signals will also be improved.
Again, if you’re living in a city, you don’t need a big range and a lot of amplification, but if you’re located far from any urban area, you may need these extra features to ensure you get a signal.
To see which channels you might get in your area (and how far away they are coming from), check out TV Fool’s resource. This should help you figure out precisely what you need.
Although not relevant to its performance, the design is something to factor in, especially if you’re considering an indoor antenna. You don’t want some monstrosity ruing your living room decor. The good news is that most of the indoor antennas on the market are designed with this in mind, so it will be more a matter of which design type suits your tastes and home.
For outdoor antennas, the focus is usually much more on functionality. There is variation amongst the different options, and some definitely look less obtrusive than others, which many people prefer. If you’re going to purchase an outdoor antenna, we recommend you make your decision primarily using the device’s specifications, as this is really what’s going to determine your level of satisfaction.
Lastly, but certainly not in terms of importance, is the price. You can spend hundreds of dollars on an antenna if you want to, but we don’t see the need. Most city-dwellers can get something that meets their needs for less than $60, although we’ve seen offers for as little as $10.
We recommend avoiding these extra-cheap options as the “you get what you pay for” mantra remains in effect, but there are plenty of deals out there that will give you access to TV for nothing.
For those living in more remote areas, expect to spend closer to $100-$200 to get an antenna that will suit your needs. And remember, if any of these prices seem high to you, the average cost of a cable TV subscription is around $100 per month, so even an unnecessarily expensive antenna will pay for itself quickly.
The Seven Best TV Antennas of 2020
Now that you are aware of all the different things that go into an antenna, you should have a pretty good idea of what will work for you.
For example, you may want an indoor antenna with a minimalist design that will hang on the wall and fetch signals within at least the surrounding 40 miles. However, as you will soon find out, there are many products matching this description. But which one to buy?
We’ve researched and reviewed countless products and come up with this list of the top seven to help you. There’s a little bit of everything on this list, and they’re in no particular order since what is best for one home will be useless for another. Read the full review, and we’re confident you will find the best TV antenna for your home.
An excellent choice for those living in an urban area or nearby one, the ClearStream Eclipse is small and lightweight and is designed to be stuck right on a window. If your TV is already near one, then this is a huge plus.
Its range is more than adequate considering its price, and it produces a strong signal which translates into more channels and a clearer picture than antennas of the same style. It is large enough that it could work for some people living well outside a dense urban center.
Below are the detailed specs of this antenna:
- High-band UHF and VHF (channels 7-51)
- 50 mile range with amplification
Channel Master CM-2020
For residents of remote areas, the Channel Master CM-2020 is a perfect choice. Built with a total of 41 elements, which means it picks up the signal better and delivers a higher picture quality than most other antennas, it has a range of up to 100 miles.
However, it is much larger and a bit clunky to set up. You will likely need help and may even need to get up on a ladder to access a higher point on your home.
This antenna is also one-directional, so it’s essential you know the general area in which to point it so that you can get the best signal. Because of this, it has such a strong range and delivers such excellent signal quality.
Here is some additional information about this antenna:
- High-band VHF and UHF (channels 7-51)
- 100-mile range
Amazon Basics Ultra Thin
The technology in these devices is rather simple, so lots of companies are jumping in on the game. This model, made by Amazon and offered at a discount to Prime members, is a solid choice that is just $20. It lacks some of the frills of other options on this list, but if you live in a big city where there are many signals, this antenna slapped to your wall will do a wonderful job of providing you with television.
Here are its specs:
- High-band UHF and VHF (channels 7-51)
- 35-mile range
Winegard Elite 7550
This a fantastic option for those looking for a powerful outdoor, multi-directional antenna, making it the ideal choice for those living far from broadcast areas. Multi-directional antennas usually don’t have this kind of range, and its digital amplifier does an excellent job at filtering noise and boosting signal quality.
Here’s a rundown of its main features:
- UHF/VHF (Channels 2-51)
- 70-mile range
In reality, any of the indoor models in the Mohu line, such as the Mohu Arc and Mohu Blade, were good enough to make this spot on the list. We chose the Mohu ReLeaf because of its design. Made from crushed cable boxes, it’s an eco-friendly product with an element of fun.
It’s also razor-thin and colored differently on either side to make it easier to blend into the wall or other decorations.
The signal it delivers is good, although it has a short range, which means it’s only practical for those living in or near cities.
Here are the rest of its specs:
- UHF/VHF (Channels 2-51)
- 30-mile range
1byone HDTV Antenna
If you live just outside a city or somewhat away from it, but with little sitting in between, this will be a great antenna for you. Its longer-than-average range will help you pick up signals from a decent distance away. You can decide whether or not amplification is right for you with a removable amplifier.
This is an indoor, single-directional antenna, so it might not be the best option for those in remote areas.
On top of all this, the 1byone HDTV antenna is at a great price point.
Here are some more details:
- UHF/VHF/FM capabilities
- 80-mile range with removable amplifier
- High-quality coaxial cord to ensure the highest possible picture quality
- Approximately $25
RCA is a household name when it comes to electronics manufacturers, and their ANT751 antenna keeps true to their name. It’s a much more compact outdoor antenna, but its smaller design does not come at the expense of signal quality and range, both of which are more than acceptable. Lastly, because the design is smaller, most of the device comes assembled, meaning you can have it hooked up and delivering TV to your home in no time.
Here are all the specs for this antenna:
- VHF and UHF (Channels 2-51)
- 70-mile range
We hope that by reading this article you’re now convinced that buying a TV antenna in 2020 is a good decision, and also have now got an idea of which one is right for you. There are many options out there, but if you focus on what’s important and what you need, you’ll soon find a product that will deliver TV to your home now and well into the future.