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Choose the best HDTV antenna for you

Cord-cutting has become a national pastime as TV fans find ways to separate from traditional cable subscriptions and instead get their entertainment from streaming services. While Netflix and Hulu are booming, over-the-air broadcasts are still an important piece of the cord-cutting puzzle. And for that you need the right antenna.

A long time ago, antennas were a pretty simple proposition, but now you have to sift through a variety of options and styles. You will see different ranges listed and a variety of designs from ones that look like rayguns to ones that look like a flat piece of paper.

Let’s make sense out of your search for an HDTV antenna so you can start pulling in those local channels and get the most out of your cord-cutting lifestyle.

Indoor vs outdoor antennas

Your first big decision when shopping for an HDTV antenna is whether to buy an indoor or outdoor model. Outdoor antennas can be incredibly powerful, but also tend to cost more and require mounting on the outside of your home. If you live in a spot with tricky reception or are located many miles from your local broadcast towers, then this can be a smart way to go.

An indoor antenna may not pick up as many channels as an outdoor one, but it’s a very convenient choice if you can get decent reception inside your home. They’re easy to set up and may be the only option for people who live in apartments or rental houses where they can’t install an outdoor antenna. If you go this route, be sure to experiment with placement to see what spot brings in the most channels.

So how do you know if an indoor antenna will do if an outdoor is a better option? Go to the TV Fool website and run your address.

TV Fool will give you a series of charts that may look a little confusing at first. Take a look at the colors in the charts. Channels that are listed in the green zone should work well with an indoor antenna. Yellow-zone channels would likely require an attic-mounted antenna and red-zone channels call for a roof-mounted antenna. If you’re happy with the selection of green channels, then go ahead and try an indoor antenna.


Related: Discover the 10 best streaming apps to help you cut the cord.


What antenna range really means

Most HDTV antennas come with a range number expressed in miles, but this comes with some caveats. While the antenna may be able to pick up signals from all those miles away, that’s a best-case scenario with no obstacles or sources of interference in the way. Tall buildings, trees, the construction materials used in your home, or landscape features like mountains and hills can cut into an antenna’s usable range. Think of an antenna’s advertised range as more of a guideline than a promise.

To pick up broadcast signals coming from more than one direction, look for a multidirectional or omnidirectional antenna. If you know the broadcast towers are in one single place, then a directional antenna is an option. You will need to orient it toward the towers you want to pick up.

Most people in urban areas with good broadcast coverage will likely opt for an indoor multidirectional antenna. For special situations or places with tricky reception, then look to an outdoor model with a greater range.

There’s no one-size-fits-all option when it comes to HDTV antennas, but with some smart shopping you can find one that works with your location and fits your needs.

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