TV Antenna Review: Top Picks From Consumer Reports' Latest Tests

The right model will get you free over-the-air TV and make it easier to cut the cord with cable

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TV antennas might seem like a relic of a bygone era, when the number of channels you received could be counted on one hand. But as consumers try to trim their ever-escalating cable and satellite TV bills, antennas are making a comeback.

Consumer Reports just finished testing a group of indoor TV antennas of all shapes and sizes in urban and suburban homes, and found that most of these locations were able to receive dozens of free over-the-air channels. (Outdoor antennas tend to perform better than indoor TV antennas, but they’re not practical for everyone.)

That’s good news for the growing number of people who are dumping traditional cable packages but keeping streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. An antenna can supply their live TV, including local news and other broadcasts.


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More on Antennas and TVs

And if you subscribe to a cable-replacement service that brings you channels such as HGTV and NatGeo, you might still want an antenna. These services—which include AT&T TV Now, Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, and YouTube TV—don't always provide local programming. An indoor TV antenna can help fill that gap. 

If you live near a major TV market, you’ll probably get many local stations—ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC, plus PBS and Telemundo—using a TV antenna. Websites such as TV Fool, and the FCC’s DTV Reception Maps page, can give you an idea of which stations you might expect to receive. 

As a bonus, the picture quality you get from your indoor TV antenna might be better than what you get from cable. “The signals may be less compressed,” says Claudio Ciacci, lead television tester for Consumer Reports.

In addition to a TV antenna, all you need to watch your local stations is a TV equipped with a digital TV tuner, something included in almost all TVs since 2007.

Tips for Antenna Shoppers

The antennas we tested ranged in price from $10 to more than $100—and we found little correlation between price and performance. The antenna that pulled in the most stations for most of our testers cost just $35, and several pricier models were in the lower half of our rankings.

We included some amplified TV antennas in our review. These models can boost signal strength to help pull in stations that might otherwise be on the fringe. But our tests showed that amplified antennas weren't always more effective than nonamplified models—they can also amplify noise and distortion, and overload reception from closer stations.

The number of channels you receive will depend on your location and environment, and you may need to try several models before finding the best antenna for your needs. That’s why we strongly recommend purchasing from a retailer with a no-hassle return policy. Also, it's a good idea to regularly rescan for channels, because we’re nearing the end of the time when stations are moving to new frequencies. And use our tips on where to place your antenna to get the best reception. 


Before you buy a new TV, check our buying guide and ratings of models from all the major brands. You'll also find our exclusive brand reliability information based on feedback from more than 106,000 readers. Every set we evaluate goes through a battery of tests, backed by expert viewing panels, to determine high-definition picture quality and UHD performance with 4K material.
 

What We Found

We had 10 testers evaluate each of the indoor TV antennas at their homes, which were scattered around the New York tristate area. Most locations were within a 30-mile radius of Manhattan, but one was 70 miles away.

We tested antennas near a window and away from a window, near the TV. In the tests near a window, the three indoor TV antennas that stood out were the Mohu ReLeaf, Winegard FlatWave FL5500A, and Clearstream 2Max.

But two other models—the 1byone Digital Amplified Indoor HD and the Amazon Basics Ultra Thin Indoor Flat Antenna—did almost as well, and were significantly cheaper, costing only $20 each.

In the ratings below, you'll see two figures.

The "percentage of stations received" represents the total number of stations that a particular antenna received at each location, divided by the number of stations we found to be available at that location through all our testing.

The "percentage of UHF/VHF stations received" breaks out the two broad categories of signal that were found at each location by any given tester, across all antennas. Any time a new UHF or VHF channel was found during a given scan, it was added to the total number available for that tester. 

(Back in the analog TV signal days, most major broadcast channels—say, 2 through 13—were in the lower-frequency VHF band. Now, they're scattered across both bands, so it's important to buy an antenna that does well across the board.)

You can see more details on how we tested antennas below.

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