Angie's LIST Guide to
Interior and exterior TV antennas
If you want to cut the cord and give up cable and satellite television, streaming media such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu fill many gaps, but none of them can replace live, over-the-air broadcasts, especially if you want to watch live events like football broadcasts without cable.
Your best option for picking up live broadcast signals is an antenna attached to your television. Cord cutters can select from two main categories: indoor antennas, which are mounted on or near the TV set inside, and outdoor antennas, which are mounted on the roof of the home.
Since 2009, all broadcast signals are digital, which improved the ability of antennas to pick up signals. Your TV will need to either be digital-ready (as all TVs since March 2007 have been required) or have a converter box attached to the antenna.
Many people are familiar with either the "rabbit ear" antenna or the loop antenna, which were commonly seen on top of older model television sets. Old-style antennas often need to be manipulated by hand and placed in the direction of the signal it's receiving.
Outdoor antennas, such as the Yagi antenna, are comprised of multiple long metal elements, each of which receives a different frequency. The rooftop antenna needs to be pointed in the direction of the broadcast source in order to receive the best quality reception.
But in an age of digital broadcast and HDTV, new antenna technology has evolved past the rabbit ears or clunky devices. Even small antennas can pick up more stations with better quality than ever before, and most hook up discreetly to your TV with a single cord.
How digital TV antennas work
In order to receive the full selection of free digital channels over the air, you need to select an antenna or combination of antennas that receives both VHF and UHF signals. A working setup, for example, may include rabbit ears with a loop antenna, or the flat antenna box. As digital broadcast signals have improved, especially in urban areas, the antennas have become less complex.
If you have an older TV, you may also need a digital-to-analog converter box to interpret the signals.
The strength of the broadcast signal directly affects the quality of the reception. Tall buildings or trees can obstruct the signal and interfere with reception.
Homes located close to a local broadcast station or in a larger city may fare well with a simple indoor antenna. Homes which are located in more remote areas likely receive weaker signals and will need an outdoor antenna, which are adept at picking up weak broadcast signals. The FCC offers an online tool for measuring signal strength across the nation.
How to install a TV antenna
Some antennas are very easy to install and don't require professional assistance. The flat antenna boxes easily attach to the digital converter boxes and TV. However, individuals who are in weak signal areas or plan to use an outdoor antenna should have it professionally installed.
Mounting an antenna to the exterior of the house is dangerous work which carries the risk of falling. Additionally, improper installation may damage the roof of the home or lead to poor reception.
A professional installer is aware of the direction to face the antenna, as well as the safest way to secure it to the roof without damaging the home. The higher the antenna is mounted, the stronger the signal. This is especially important for individuals who live near tall buildings, wooded areas, or mountains — all of which can weaken the signal strength. In some cases, a lattice tower is attached to the roof to raise the antenna even further.
Given the complexity and the danger of installation, you should hire a professional for roof-mounted antennas.