How to Select and Set Up an HD TV Antenna

With cable companies bleeding their customers dry for channels they don’t even watch, many are considering “cutting the cord.” The rise of Internet streaming services gave hope to budget-conscious consumers. It finally seemed as though people could break ties with the cable companies. However, subscriptions to all of the streaming platforms quickly added up, negating any potential savings. There were also some significant drawbacks to eliminating cable, like losing access to your local news and sports.

Before you concede defeat, what if we told you there were high-definition channels that you could watch free of charge? It’s not a fantasy but rather a relic of an older era of television that many people forgot about: over-the-air broadcasting. The antennas of the past have made a comeback, offering sleek, elegant designs that are more sophisticated and powerful than their precursors.

HD TV antennas can pull in channels from many of your local affiliates like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS and more. This means you can watch your local news, sports and primetime TV without paying a single cent.

Before you cancel your cable subscription and buy an antenna, you’ll probably want to know what channels you’ll be able to pull in. Fortunately there are a number of websites that can show you which channels are being broadcast in your area. Head to TVFool or AntennaWeb and punch in your address. Both websites will analyze the location of transmission towers relative to your location and present you with a list of channels you are likely to receive.

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TVFool has a lot of information but can be somewhat difficult to interpret. AntennaWeb doesn’t have quite as much technical data; however, it does present its findings a little more clearly. Ultimately both websites will tell you what you need to know, so which one you use is up to you.

Now that you have some idea as to which channels you’re likely to receive, you have to select an antenna suitable to your situation. There are two types: directional and omnidirectional. Directional antennas are oriented in one direction and are capable of pulling in transmissions from further away. Omnidirectonal antennas are able to pull in channels from all directions but are generally weaker. To determine which one is best for you, refer back to your results on TVFool or AntennaWeb. You’ll notice that along with a list of channels, there is a geographical map.

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This map will show a bunch of lines in relation to the location you previously entered. These lines represent the broadcast transmissions for each one of the channels. If all of the transmission lines are coming from a particular direction, grab a directional antenna. If the broadcasts are coming from all directions, pick up an omnidirectional antenna.

Once you’ve decided on a directional or omnidirectional antenna, you now need to consider whether to opt for an indoor or outdoor model. TVFool and AntennaWeb will also tell you how close you are to the broadcast towers in your area. If you live thirty miles or closer to the towers, then an indoor antenna will most likely do the job. If you live further away, then you’ll probably have to look into getting an outdoor antenna. Of course, these predictions won’t apply to everyone, as there are a number of factors that contribute to antenna reception. While distance to the transmission towers is important, there is one other thing you’ll want to consider.

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Think about your surroundings. Is your “line of sight” to the broadcast towers obstructed by anything? While it’s not necessary to actually be able to see the towers, obstructions along the way can hamper the signal. Buildings, trees, mountains, etc., can all interfere with your reception. Outdoor antennas tend to be more powerful than the indoor variety. In addition, the outdoor models are not subject to impedances within your own home (e.g. walls).

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In today’s market you can find antennas with built-in amplifiers or add after-market ones to your existing antenna. In essence, amplifiers are intended to “boost” the broadcast transmissions that your antenna pulls in.

The danger of using an amplifier is that it doesn’t discriminate what it amplifies. That is if you live in an area with spotty reception (e.g. snow), you run the risk of amplifying that distortion. If you live far from your local broadcast towers and are having trouble pulling in channels, an amplifier might help. Just make sure you hang on to the receipt in case it makes matters even worse.

antenna-placement

Once you’ve settled on an antenna, you’re going to want to think about where you will place it. With outdoor antennas, you really only have to consider which direction it will be facing (unless it is omnidirectional). Indoor antenna placement, however, can make a huge difference in the quality and number of channels you receive.

  • As with outdoor directional antennas, if your indoor antenna is directional, you’ll want to place it so that it is facing the broadcast signal’s point of origin.
  • We mentioned before how a clear “line of sight” can drastically improve reception. While you can’t do much about buildings or trees, you can make sure your indoor antenna is near a window or placed against an outward facing wall.
  • Generally the higher an antenna is placed the better the reception.
  • Try a variety of different placements to see which one works best.

Do you use a high-definition TV antenna? Do you have any tips to improve reception? Is there anything we missed? Let us know in the comments!

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