Cable and satellite TV subscriptions are becoming ever more expensive, so more and more homes are ditching pay TV in favor of free, over-the-air broadcasts. Digital TV typically provides between 20 and 60 channels depending on where you live, and can save you at least $1,000 a year, based on a typical pay TV subscription.
Folks who do are often surprised by the higher image quality they get from broadcast TV. That’s because cable and satellite services compress the video signal in order to reduce the bandwidth required to stream it to your home, all so they can cram in more of the channels you probably never watch anyway.
TV antenna cheat sheet
Our quick-hit recommendations:
So, cut that cable, ditch that dish, and join the growing number of American households that are free from monthly bills for TV service.
Updated January 22, 2020 to add our RCA Ultra-Thin Multi-Direction Amplified Indoor Antenna review. This is a good-enough antenna for the cash, but you’d probably be better off spending just a bit more to get even higher performance.
Putting up an antenna is easy, but before you buy one you’ll need to figure out what channels are available where you live, how strong the signals are likely to be, and what direction they’re coming from. See TechHive’s guide to choosing an antenna to figure all that out.
As a rule of thumb, indoor antennas are suitable for areas with strong or very strong signals, the attic/outdoor antennas work in areas of medium signal strength, and the larger outdoor antennas in areas of weak signals.
Once you’ve determined your needs, this article will help with your antenna purchase. But before we jump into our results, check out this video that explains how to determine which free over-the-air TV channels you can receive where you live.
Best indoor TV antenna
This antenna impressed us with its ability to pull in more broadcast channels than the competition. Further, those it did receive were a little stronger than from our runner-up which should make for happier TV viewing. (Read our full review.)
The Antennas Direct Clearstream Flex is a large, flexible antenna for mounting inside your house against a window or on a wall. It comes supplied with an inline amplifier that gave a good boost to signal levels in our tests. It did well on both VHF-High and UHF reception—the broadcast bands that include the vast majority of large stations in the U.S. (Read our full review.)
Best roof-mount TV Antenna
The Antennas Direct DB8e’s reception is just as impressive as its looks. This is a large, heavy antenna cleverly designed to receive weak signals with two antenna arrays, or in areas of better reception to point to towers in different directions. (See our full review.)
The Antennas Direct 91XG is a classic antenna design that has worked well for years. This antenna is quite directional and good at rejecting interference from the sides while picking out weak signals from the noise. It narrowly missed out on the top spot and would also be an excellent choice for people dealing with long-distance reception. (See our full review.)
Best attic/outdoor TV antenna
The Winegard Elite 7550 immediately impressed with its ability to pick up more broadcast channels than the competition at higher signal levels. It has a built-in amplifier and performed well on both VHF-High and UHF broadcast bands. Because of its size you’ll want this one in the attic or outside of your house. (See our full review.)
The Clearstream 4 Max is a little larger than our top-ranked choice and wasn’t quite as good at pulling in stations but it’s still a solid antenna. Its unique double figure-eight design is sure to look distinctive and it can receive signals from different directions, which is useful if you live in an area with stations in multiple places. (See our full review.)
How we tested
TechHive tests TV antennas in one or two locations. Our main testing location is 30 miles North East of San Francisco in an area sandwiched between hills that make reception of signals from San Francisco and Sacramento difficult. It’s a good spot to test antennas because many channels are weak. Antennas are mounted 25 feet in the air on a rotatable mast and tests are run several times.
We use a set-top box to scan for channels and record the number of RF channels received by each antenna and their strength. Each RF channel carries a number of digital stations, but the number is different per channel and can change, so digital stations received isn’t as useful a measurement. We scan several times and adjust the direction of the antenna on some rescans.
Our picks are the antennas that receive the largest number of stations with the highest signal level in both the UHF (channels 14 through 51) and VHF-High (channels 7 through 13) bands, which are the primary TV broadcast bands.