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There’s never been a better time to be a cord cutter — the group of people who have stopped paying for cable television. Nearly four million people cut the cord between 2018 and 2019 according to Nocable.org. A recent article on Forbes says 27% of current cable subscribers are considering dropping their TV service in 2021.
These statistics line up with the rise of paid video streaming services like Hulu, Peacock, and Paramount+, which have seen exponential growth over the past few years thanks to an investment in original programming, and the wider availability of broadband internet.
Still, there’s something comforting about sitting on the couch and watching the latest episode of your favorite show as it’s airing. That’s even more important when you’re trying to watch live sports, or live awards shows like the Grammys, Emmys, Oscars, and Tonys. You could subscribe to a service that lets you stream live TV over the internet — here are our favorites — but we recommend trying an HDTV antenna instead.
HDTV antennas pick up video signals being broadcasted by stations over the air, and allow you to watch these stations for free on your TV. Think of them as the video equivalent of tuning into a radio station on your stereo. These video signals are in HD, and don’t require any sort of fee to watch. This is the way all television was distributed before cable, and it’s still an available resource now.
If you’d like to give HDTV antennas a try, but don’t know where to start, we’ve compiled this guide to help you out. If you’ve been on the fence about cutting cable for a while, but have been hesitant because it meant losing access to some of your favorite shows, an HDTV antenna is one of the best solutions.
What Are The Best HDTV Antennas
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right HDTV antenna for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Reception: Going back to my car radio analogy, HDTV antennas require good reception to show a clear picture, which can vary by location. I recommend using the free signal locator tool from TVFool, which will give you a sense how strong your reception will be. This will inform which HDTV antenna you should get based on how far you are from where TV signals are being broadcast from.
Range: The key differentiator between HDTV antennas is their range, which determines how far they can grab a signal. If you live in an urban area, there’s a good chance there’s a broadcast TV source close to you, so you won’t need an antenna with long range. If you live in a more rural area, you may need an HDTV antenna with extended range to grab a signal coming from further away.
Channels: HDTV antennas can pick up broadcast TV channels, which includes CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, PBS, and a handful of local affiliate stations that vary from place to place. They can’t catch cable channels like CNN, HGTV, TBS, or ESPN. If you want to watch those channels, you’ll need to stick with cable, or subscribe to a live TV steaming service, like Sling, or Hulu + Live TV.
Placement: To get the best odds of receiving a good signal, you should place your HDTV antenna on a window, as high as possible.
Resolution: It’s easy to associate HDTV antennas with the “rabbit ear” antennas of old, but broadcast TV signals are sent out in 1080P, so under the right conditions, you’ll get a clear, full HD signal.
Amplifier: HDTV antennas don’t require an external power source to work, but some come with an amplifier that can help improve the strength of its signal. Antennas with a longer maximum range generally need to be plugged in.
1. AmazonBasics Indoor Flat TV Antenna
If you live in a city, or close to a broadcast TV tower, AmazonBasics’ Indoor Flat TV Antenna is a great choice.
It has a maximum range of 35 miles, maximum resolution of 1080P, and a paper-thin design that makes it easy to stick onto your window. One side of the antenna is white, and the other is black, so you can choose to display the color that looks best in your room. This is an omnidirectional antenna, which means the side you choose to stick facing out toward the window won’t impact your reception.
AmazonBasics’ antenna comes with a detachable 10-foot coaxial cable, which is a decent length. If your TV is further or closer to a window, you can swap the cable out for one that’s the appropriate length.
This antenna doesn’t come with an power amplifier, but that’s standard for antennas with a shorter maximum range. You won’t be impacted by this limitation if you live in an urban area, but you should think twice about getting this antenna if you live further away from one.
2. 1byone TV Antenna
If you live in an apartment or in a more remote area, 1ByOne’s Foldable HDTV Antenna deserves your consideration.
Its biggest feature is its foldable design, which allows you to open and close its right and left flaps to catch broadcast signals from multiple directions. 1ByOne says this gives the antenna a maximum range of 120 miles, which is very impressive. It has a maximum resolution of 1080P, but 1byOne says it’s 4K ready.
Like most HDTV antennas with an extended range, this one comes with an amplifier that you need to plug into an outlet. If you don’t mind sacrificing a few miles of range, you can connect this antenna to your TV directly via its detachable 16.5-foot coaxial cable.
One thing to keep in mind is that this antenna is a lot wider than a lot of other ones when it’s fully unfolded. For example, it’s eight inches wider than the one we recommend from AmazonBasics. This is by design, but it means you’ll be blocking out a large section of your window when it’s attached.
You could hang the antenna up on a wall, but that will put a solid barrier between it and the signal from the closest broadcast tower, which may reduce your reception, or the quality of your video.
3. Antop AT-400B
If you want an HDTV antenna, but don’t like the idea of attaching something to your wall or window, Antop’s AT-400B is a good choice.
It’s 24.5 inches tall, and looks more like a super-sized WiFi router than an antenna, but its features are pretty impressive. ANTOP says it has a maximum range of 80 miles, and supplies a power adapter that allows it to reach that distance.
ANTOP also developed a technology called “smart pass” that balances the signals the antenna receives from multiple broadcast towers. Finally, the broadcast receiver inside the antenna is shielded to block interference from 3G and 4G cellular signals.
This antenna comes on a stand, which we recommend putting close to a window for the best reception. You can also use the included bracket to mount it on the side of your house, or in an attic. ANTOP includes a 40-foot coaxial cable with the antenna, which is great if you plan on keeping it far away from your TV, but a little long if it’s in the same room. It’s best to set the antenna up, and get the right sized cable after.
ANTOP’s HDTV antenna is powerful and gives you a lot of placement options, but it’s pretty big. It’ll definitely stick out in a living room, which may not be the best look, and hiding it behind an entertainment center will reduce its signal strength. Still, it’s a great choice if you live pretty far away from a broadcast tower, and don’t like the idea of hanging technology on your wall.
4. Antennas Direct Clearstream 4V TV Antenna
Your house’s walls are a literal barrier that can interrupt broadcast signals from reaching your antenna, which can limit the channels you receive. The best solution is to get an HDTV antenna that can be attached to your roof, like Antennas Direct’s Clearstream 4V.
The antenna has a range of 70+ miles, and can receive broadcast TV signals from all directions. Because it’s on your roof, this antenna may be able to catch channels that indoor antennas (including those with a longer range) can’t receive.
The Celearstream 4V is made up of four antennas attached to a 20-inch “mast” (stand) with a base that must be screwed into your roof. You’ll then run a single coaxial cable from the antenna directly into the TV in your home. You can run the cable along the side of your house, or put a small hole in the ceiling.
This DIY project may take a little effort, but you’ll be rewarded by an HDTV antenna with the best possible connection. If you still want to bump up its range, you can get an HDTV antenna amplifier (compatible with any antenna), for about $42.
If you’re a homeowner who’s cutting the cord, and have traditionally had trouble getting a good signal from an HDTV antenna, this one from Antennas Direct is your best bet.