After making the decision to ditch cable or satellite service in order to save upwards of $1,500 per year, you need to invest in antenna hardware that enables all the televisions within the home to pick up free, over-the-air high definition programming from networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, the CW, PBS, ION, Telemundo, Univision and other stations. While investing in a whole house, outdoor antenna system is the most ideal solution for providing high definition programming to all televisions within a home, people living within rental properties are unlikely allowed to mount outdoor antennas on the roof or run cable lines from an outdoor antenna to rooms around the home. This is partly why the indoor antenna has made such a resurgence over the past few years.
However, before considering an indoor antenna, head over to TV Fool and use the TV Signal Analysis tool to view the available stations in your area based off physical location. The analysis provides important data such as the direction of the transmitters, distance from each transmitter and the signal power of each transmitter.
In addition, the tool uses colors to visually represent the probability of picking up each station. For instance, transmitters marked in green can be picked up with a standard indoor antenna while transmitters in yellow or red will likely require an attic antenna or hardware mounted on the roof.
If the majority of the transmitters are marked green, it’s likely that you can outfit televisions within your home with indoor antennas. People that live closer to urban areas will likely fall into this category. However, you may also have to take into account the building materials used when constructing your home or apartment as well as the terrain or large buildings in the area that could potentially block any incoming signals.
While you should definitely be cautious about purchasing an indoor antenna based solely off the claims of the manufacturer, there are some really fantastic, high quality digital indoor antennas that will allow you to pick up crystal clear high definition programming from transmitters that are 20 to 40 miles away.
Personally, I have tested all of the following antennas in my own search to find the best reception while living on the bottom floor of a large apartment building. At my location, the majority of transmitters are approximately 25 miles away and located in an direction that requires the signal to travel through a couple concrete walls.
Mohu Leaf (standard)
There are a couple of reasons I will always adore the Mohu Leaf. Aesthetically, it’s the only indoor antenna that’s ever been approved by my significant other. After hanging up the Mohu Leaf on the wall next to the television, I received zero complaints about how it looked in the living room.
While my apartment walls are currently white, the Mohu Leaf can be painted for other room colors or can simply be hidden from view by hiding the antenna behind a hanging picture. It can also be mounted on the rear of a television, ideally an HDTV that’s been wall mounted in order to get better reception at a higher elevation. Due to the slim size and small form factor, it’s absolutely fantastic for anyone that hates looking at the typical, gangly antenna design and prefers to save on space. The creators of the Mohu Leaf include a 10-foot cord for flexibility in placement as well as tacks and Velcro for attachment to the wall.
Secondly, the sheer amount of programming picked up by the multi-directional Mohu Leaf is really astounding for the slim design. While you do have to spend 15 to 20 minutes finding the ideal placement on the wall to pick up the maximum amount of high definition programming, the end result is fantastic for the $40 price tag. According to Mohu, the standard Leaf has a range of 35 miles. The company also sells an amplified version with a 50 mile range, but that model bumps up the price tag by approximately $25 to $40 depending on the sale price. However, the standard version is perfectly fine for most consumers.
With the Mohu Leaf, I was able to pick up approximately twenty stations in high definition. Twelve of those stations came in perfectly at all times while the quality of the feed from the remaining stations became too choppy to watch due to occasional cloud cover and bad weather in the area. However, adding a $15 line amplifier to the Mohu Leaf cleared up most problematic stations during bad weather.
March 2014 Update: Over the last twelve months, I’ve also tested the Mohu Leaf Ultimate Amplified Antenna (50 mile range) and Wineguard’s FlatWave Amped (50 mile range). I really have to give the edge to the FlatWave Amped. It has a slightly larger surface area compared to the Mohu products, but that makes it less sensitive to placement. In addition, Wineguard provides an additional 2.5 feet to the coaxial cable compared to the Mohu Leaf Ultimate, thus you can move it a bit higher on your wall to pick up channels more effectively.
However, keep in mind that the amplified versions of these antennas adds an additional $30 to the MSRP compared to the non-amplified models. The standard models have about a 35 mile range and the amplified models bump that figure up to 50 miles. Alternatively, an outdoor or attic install typically offers a range of 60 to 70 miles.
The sleek design of the ClearStream Micron-R is right at home in a typical home theater environment and the antenna can be placed on a nearby table or stand to pick up a large selection of crisp, clear high definition stations. Aesthetically, it’s definitely more appealing than standard antenna design.
Similar to the Mohu Leaf, the ClearStream Micron-R can pick up stations that are approximately 35 miles away. In addition, the ClearStream Micron-R doesn’t need to be rotated towards the specific direction of transmitters in the area. In fact, I really didn’t have to adjust the position much at all. Besides the stand, the antenna can be wall mounted and comes in a variety of different colors depending on the decor of the home.
After spending a bit of time finding an elevated position for the $75 ClearStream Micron-R, I was able to pick up approximately 24 high definition feeds. On average, about sisxteen of the stations came in perfectly clear and the other stations were often too choppy to watch. Once again, adding a cheap line amplifier to the antenna significantly improved the quality of stations that performed poorly in bad weather. Antennas Direct also sells an amplified model called the Micron XG with extended range for approximately $99. However, if you don’t mind a much larger form factor, check out the $99 ClearStream 2 antenna that can be placed on a stand next to the television.
While this amplified directional antenna is definitely an eye sore in most living rooms, the benefits to using the $40 Terk HDTVa antenna are immediately apparent after plugging it in. Using the data provided by TV Fool, the Terk HDTVa must be pointed in the direction of a television station in order to pick up the programming.
Of the indoor antennas that I’ve tested, this model easily picks up the strongest signal from most stations without any stuttering issues. In addition to the transmitters positioned approximately 25 miles from my residence, I was also able to pick up a couple stations approximately 50 miles away in perfect high definition. In total, I was able to find 28 stations in my area dependent on the direction.
However, there are a couple downsides to using the Terk HDTVa. If you are located in an area where there are multiple transmitters in many directions, you are forced to adjust the antenna each time you want to pick up a different batch of stations. Rather than relaxing on the couch to watch some television, you have to spend time fiddling with the antenna if you change from FOX to NBC, for instance. In addition, the poorly balanced design of the Terk HDTVa means the antenna often falls over easily. This antenna is a terrible option if you have dogs or cats, as the slightest bump sends the Terk HDTVa crashing down. Finally, the large size of the Terk HDTVa isn’t ideal for smaller rooms like a bedroom or an office.
If you don’t mind the odd design or constant series of adjustments required, the Terk HDTVa can definitely pick up high quality, high definition programming over extreme distances.
Winegard SS-3000 (discontinued as of 2014)
While the Terk HDTVa is particularly fantastic over long distances with great line-of-sight, the Winegard SS-3000 is really exceptional at picking up stations when you don’t have a direct line-of-sight. Specifically, it’s ideal for anyone living within a large apartment complex with several walls between the television and the transmitters.
While you probably need to live within 20 to 25 miles of the transmitters in the area, the Winegard SS-3000 will significantly improve the signal strength of the stations due to the “Scatter-Plane” design of the antenna. For instance, this antenna is ideal for picking up digital signals that are bouncing off large buildings in cities like Chicago or New York.
Similar to the Terk HDTVa, the $50 Winegard SS-3000 isn’t going to blend into the home theater easily. The large, obtrusive size of the antenna could make it difficult to hide in a living room. Regarding performance, the Winegard SS-3000 was successful in picking up 18 stations in my area without any stuttering issues. However, my apartment building is on the outskirts of a large metropolitan area; not the perfect place to test this particular antenna design. That being said, the quality of the stations were extremely good and didn’t require constant adjustments like the Terk HDTVa.
March 2014 Update: Despite the awesome urban performance of the SS-3000, Wineguard has discontinued this model and it’s going to be tough to find on eBay. If you don’t mind taking up some wall space, look into the HD Frequency Cord Cutter. It’s a bit garish, but provides excellent reception for anyone in an urban environment, especially anyone living a few floors up in an apartment building.
What do you really need?
There are tons of indoor antennas available to consumers, but you have to consider what the best solution for your area is, as well as what will suit other family members living within your home. If aesthetics are extremely important to you or your family members, the Wineguard FlatWave Amped is probably the best option, and will allow you to hide the fact that you are even using an antenna to pick up high definition programming.
If you are looking for well-rounded performance without having to move the antenna around to pick up certain stations, the ClearStream Micron-R is definitely a solid choice. If top-notch performance and superb picture quality is your ultimate goal, the Terk HDTVa is ideal as long as you don’t mind frequently adjusting the position of the antenna. If you live deep inside a large apartment complex in the city, the HD Frequency Cord Cutter is perfect for urban areas.