Complement or replace your pay TV with these over-the-air gadgets…
These days, money doesn’t seem to go quite as far as it used to. Whether it’s $20 bucks for a movie ticket or spiking electricity rates, most folks are looking to save a few bucks where possible…especially with “non-essential” services like entertainment and TV programming. Well, if you’re in that camp, HDTV antennas might just be a solid alternative for ya. There are essentially 2 types of antennas: indoor and outdoor. Which you need depends entirely on how close you are to a transmitting tower. In this report, we’ll cover the technology behind each type and recommend a few of our preferred models.
First off, check your local reception
Nearly every city in the contiguous U.S. can pick up at least one over-the-air channel (with most able to grab 3-5). Try Mohu’s zip code tool to scan the over-the-air reception in your area. Keep in mind that antennas vary in sensitivity and the distance at which they can detect a suitable signal. The number of obstructions (buiildings, large trees, etc) between you and the tower can dramatically impact your reception as well. An antenna’s shape and directional options can also play a big role. More on all that next…
Indoor vs. Outdoor Antennas
The first obvious different here is where it’s placed. Most indoor antennas are intended to live on or near your TV. By and large, indoor antennas are also much smaller — as a result, there’s less surface area for the signal to get detected, potentially amplified (if needed) and sent to the TV tuner. All the obstructions/intereference in your home from walls, furniture, cell phones, etc can also weaken your final signal.
As a general rule, if the zip code tool detects more than about 5 channels in your neighborhood, I like to start with an indoor antenna first. They’re obviously much easier to install (nearly no hardware) and, during testing, can easily be moved for optimal positioning and orientation. If the signal allows, give an indoor antenna a shot first… just make sure you buy from a retailer that accepts and fields quick returns. Otherwise, if needed, you may not be able to swap out for an outdoor version.
HD vs. Standard Digital
Back in the day, those rabbit ear antennas and their scrambled white noise picked up analog waves. With inconsistent transmission and reliability, reception was always a dicey proposition. Digital, whether standard or high definition, allows for a much more consistent packet and signal…reducing the annoying moving and tweaking of the ol’ rabbit ears (couldn’t be more any different than their bunny feet counterparts :). The downside? Less 2-way exercise from the coach and antenna :P.
If you’re still transitioning from analog, it’s all about the tuner. All TVs manufactured over the past 5 years or so have built-in HD tuners. If you have a slightly older TV, chances are it’s HD-ready but still needs a tuner. You’ll either have to pick one up along with your antenna (hard to find) or if you have an HD receiver via a satellite or cable provider, most come with an over-the-air HD tuner.
Over the past decade, HDTV Antennas have come a long way. Since the signal streams directly into your TV, without compression (unlike satellite and cable TV), you’ll actually get a crisper and more vivid picture if the signal’s strong enough. Here are the antennas we most often recommend:
Indoor: RCA ANT111Z Antenna
Priced at under $10, this all-purpose antenna picks up both UHF and VHF signals and fully supports 1080i HDTV. It’s also smartly engineered to capture an extremely wide range of analog channels as well. If this is your first foray into antennas, I’d try this one first.
Outdoor: Mohu Sky 60
Going for about $140, this is probably top-of-the-line for residential outdoor use. The Mohu Sky has a range of 60 miles (larger in our tests) and easily installs on just about any roof or attic surface via a simple bracket system. Unlike the entry level Mohu antennas, the Sky is multidirectional, meaning you don’t have to contantly adjust its direction; it’ll pick up every signal packet available…automatically.