How we test
The majority of these picks were tested in our downtown Portland, OR offices, as well as in residential locations to get the best possible impression on the signal strength of each antenna. We then cross-referenced our findings with those of other experts and consumers to assess any differences and gauge the relevance of inconsistencies (if there were any to begin with) for our final rankings. For the few choices on this list, we did not get hands-on time with, we based our appraisal on the opinions of fellow tech publications, expert outlets, and user comments.
A word on signal strength and quality
We’d love to tell you there’s an ideal location in your home in relation to a signal tower, but the truth is there isn’t. In reality, like so many other things in life, the process of finding the best spot for an antenna requires trial-and-error, some finesse, and maybe even a little luck. This inconsistency is true not just of different geographical regions, but in variations between antenna models. What may be the best location for one antenna may not be as effective for others.
Further, there are differences in the signal types that your antenna will be picking up, and some antennas may be better at picking up certain signal frequencies than others. The two main signal types are VHF and UHF. The basic difference between the two is the channels broadcast in those frequencies. Channels 2-13 are broadcast in VHF, while channels 14-51 are UHF. Most antennas can pick up both VHF and UHF, but some can only pick up one or the other. This will be noted in an antenna’s product description.
However, there are some tips to ensure the best possible reception.
- Face antennas directly toward towers, if possible.
- Place your antenna with as minimal geographical interference (mountains, hills, trees, buildings, etc) as possible.
Try to keep interference from radios, cell phones, or other electronics to a minimum. This doesn’t necessarily mean keep the antenna away from your TV. In some instances, however, the best location for an antenna may well be directly behind or under the TV.
In general, the ranges listed by manufacturers are estimates and shouldn’t be taken at face value. While it’s still best to opt for an antenna listed with longer reception ranges for locations far from broadcast towers, there are no universal testing criteria for establishing what an antenna’s operating range is. Plus, environmental factors will impact accuracy.
Finally, while we have recommendations for amplified antennas, we aren’t entirely sold on the efficacy of that technology. Despite the name, “amplified” antennas or in-line amplifiers do not boost the signal reception itself. Rather, they strengthen the signal that is being picked up, meaning if you’re getting a slightly fuzzy signal, the amplifier will try to artificially boost the quality on the TV. We’ve had varying degrees of success there, but in general there often isn’t going to be an appreciable change in quality. It’s also important to note that amplifiers should not be used in areas where signal strength is stable. This can cause noise and other picture quality problems.