How We Tested Indoor HDTV Antennas
I’m Mark Brezinski, and I’ve been testing and reviewing consumer tech of all kinds for over a decade. I spent several years developing testing for and reviewing dozens of different product categories for Reviewed, from cell phones to headphones to washing machines.
In our testing, we kept several points in mind. What is the performance difference between amplified and non-amplified antennas? How good are the higher-end models compared to the lower-end ones? Is there any difference between the newer, flat rectangle designs and those with more complex designs?
We then researched the market, scoured existing buying guides, and compared antennas with the highest overall customer ratings (using FakeSpot to determine the authenticity of user feedback).
Our testing is separated into two parts: subjective and objective. The subjective portion includes things like how easy the device is to unpack and set up, how clear the instructions are, and our overall impressions of build quality. For our objective tests, we set up the antennas in the same spot in our Boston-based testing labs, scan for channels, then observ how clear each the signal is for each station. We then repeat this process if the antenna offers optional amplification.
We also ran these tests in a second location, to check for consistency of results, as the HDTV antenna experience can change drastically based on location. In previous testing, antennas were able to pull in about 100 channels from a location based in LA. In our thick-walled Boston testing lab, we can only get between 30 and 50 channels, though in all models we were able to directly correlate some signal drop-outs with large trucks driving by outside.
It’s evident how finicky getting reception on these devices can be, even the high-performing units. You really don’t want to move them around once you mount them and it’s best to place them out of the way of foot or vehicular traffic if possible. These results also lead us to highly value the consistency of a signal. For example, we’ve noticed all of the devices have their signal interrupted by a passing semi-truck, but that disturbance is more severe and lasted longer for some devices compared to others.
What Is an HDTV Antenna?
When you think of a TV antenna, you might picture the classic rabbit ear design from the 1950s. While those are still around (and still work, though not well), most modern HDTV antennas are made of thin plastic.
Antennas are basically just receivers that are able to tune into signals broadcast by local sources, typically along the UHF (ultra-high frequency) or VHF (very high frequency) bands. Assuming you’re located close enough to a broadcast source, your HDTV antenna can receive that signal, free of charge.
What Are The Benefits of an HDTV Antenna?
An HDTV antenna provides free, live broadcast TV with no need for a recurring subscription. You pay once for the antenna, then you’re free to watch whatever TV signals it can find, all in high definition.
As stated above, though, there are a few caveats to this unlimited TV smorgasbord. Such limitations include your available channels being limited to what’s available in your geographic location and how finicky signal quality can be depending on environmental factors.
How Do I install an HDTV Antenna?
Installing most HDTV antennas is very easy. You just attach the antenna to your TV’s coaxial input via the included coaxial cable. If the antenna has signal amplification, you’ll need to connect it to a power source as well (otherwise the coax is the only necessary connection). From there, you just mount it to your wall, ideally out of the way of foot traffic, which can interrupt the signal.
How Do HDTV Antennas Work?
Your local TV stations are constantly broadcasting HD signals, typically on the UHF (ultra high frequency) or VHF (very high frequency) bands. An HDTV antenna basically just tunes into those frequency bands, allowing your TV to pluck programming right out of the air. This is a great way to supplement streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ with live TV.
Of course, this means the available channels will be limited to what’s available in your area (if any). Depending on your location, you could get over 100 channels or close to zero. To find out, you can employ a service such as Antennas Direct, which can tell you which channels are available in your area based on your zip code.
Also, because the signal is line-of-sight, your placement of the antenna can significantly affect its performance. We recommend testing out a few different locations to find out where the signal is better or worse. We also recommend mounting the antenna out of the way of foot traffic or other passing objects, as that can cause the signal to drop out momentarily.
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Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.