The Best and Cheapest TV Antennas

You don’t need to tap a home equity line of credit to get your network television show fix. In most places, an antenna is enough to let you know who gets a rose on “The Bachelorette” or what acts on “America’s Got Talent” make the cut.

Kicking your cable to the curb can save you upward of $100 a month. Even better news: Two of the best antennas are also among the cheapest, says Consumer Reports in “Indoor HDTV antennas get a warm — but hopefully not fuzzy — reception.”

You can get the antenna with the best reception for about $30. The RCA ANT1650, which sells for $30.99 including shipping on Amazon, took the top spot in Consumer Reports’ evaluation of 10 popular indoor television antennas. The products tested ranged in price from $8 to $80. This model is much sleeker than old-fashioned options like rabbit ears. It also doesn’t require adjustments, or tin foil for that matter, like the antennas from days of yore.

Coming in second place was RadioShack’s 15-254 model, which retails for $34.99.

The other eight products did not get a ranking. “In our tests, performance varied wildly — so much so that we couldn’t really rank them in order of performance, as a model that did well for one tester couldn’t pick up any TV signals for another,” Consumer Reports explains.

Here’s a list of all of the tested antennas along with the price at Amazon:

  • RCA ANT111, $8.
  • RCA ANT1650, $31.
  • Terk FDTV2, $32.
  • RadioShack 15-254, $35
  • MOHU Leaf, $37.
  • Winegard FL-5000 Flatwave, $40.
  • MOHU Leaf Plus, $48.
  • Terk FDTV1A, $49.
  • Antennas Direct CSM1-XG, $60.
  • MOHU Leaf Ultimate, $80.

What else you might need

If you have a newer TV, then all you need to do is pick up an antenna and install it. All sets 25 inches and larger made starting in 2006 come with a digital tuner. Those folks with older analog televisions will need to purchase a digital converter box in order to receive the digital signals. You can pick up one of those for about $40.

Location, location, location

The location of your home and the antenna will greatly impact your reception. Living either in or near a large city with a major TV market will increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to watch networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and Fox with an antenna.

For the testing, Consumer Reports had a dozen employees living in the New York metropolitan area see what VHF (channels 2-13) and UHF (channels 14-51) HDTV signals they could pick up. Most were successful. Consumer Reports added:

But four users who live the farthest from the NY towers couldn’t get anything. That underscores how heavily reception depends on your location relative to a TV station, the strength of the broadcasts, and whether there are physical obstructions such as trees, mountains, or buildings between you and the tower.

Wonder what channels are potentially available in your area? The FCC offers this map as a reference.

Because your surroundings will determine the channels you receive, the best antenna for you might not be the best antenna for me. There may be some trial and error involved. For this reason, the testers say they “strongly recommend purchasing from a retailer with a no-hassle return policy and reasonable warranty.”

Once you find a good antenna, where you place it is important. Just as trees and whatnot can interfere with the signal outdoors, wood and metal within your home can do the same. Consumer Reports says the preferable location is generally near a window and facing the direction of your local TV transmitters.

Don’t know where they are? A few websites will tell you, including Antenna Point and TV Fool.

Avoid the cable squabble

Getting free channels via an antenna comes with another added bonus – not losing your signal while big corporations spar over payments.

The Consumer Reports testing was done in an area that might lose CBS due to an ongoing disagreement over pricing for retransmission of signals. About 3 million cable customers in the New York, Los Angeles and Dallas markets may learn Friday about the outcome of negotiations between Time Warner Cable and the CBS-owned stations, according to the Los Angeles Times.

If they can’t come to an agreement, those channels will potentially go dark for paying customers. But those connected with an antenna will bypass the drama and remain plugged into CBS for free.

Have you found an antenna that works for you or have any tricks for getting a better signal? Let us know on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Reba Gilbert

    I have successfully used an antenna for the past 6 years with no cable bill. I live in the Dayton suburbs and pickup 20 channels…that is enough for me. This is done on TV that requires a digital converter box. I get great reception.

  • D Lowrey

    If you do a search in a search engine for a flat cardboard antenna made out of aluminum foil…you can build one of these with foil…some cardboard and some glue. The only thing you may need to buy is the 75-ohm balun to connect the coax cable to your TV with. Myself…I built several of these from the tops of old pizza boxes and foil sheets I bought from the dollar store.

    As for the performance…taped…then hung with a stickable hook in the window and got about 20 digital channels from my southern facing window toward the transmitters. The total cost after the meal was less than $5.00 US.

  • Jcatz4

    I made one probably similar to what you mentioned. I got the instructions off of the internet. I’m in SJersey and don’t get many stations with it. Just a little too far from the transmitting towers in Philly. I’m also at a disadvantage because my house has aluminum siding and large trees in the backyard. I did have a very old rooftop antenna and that picked up a few more stations but it came down during a gust of wind a few years ago. That’s when I decided to try and make something myself. I am just very opposed to paying the cable company.

  • D Lowrey

    Made one of the coat hanger antennas four years ago. Pretty good antenna…if you can find the metal coat hangers. When I moved a couple of months ago…left it with my former roommate for him to watch OTA. Was too bulky to use inside of my apartment and the manager of my new apartment wouldn’t allow it to be put outside.

    On the other hand…found these plans for one made out of cardboard (I’ve used an old pizza box) and aluminum foil. Look for: DIY Flexible Fractal Window HDTV Antenna. I’ve got a suction cup hook on the window pane and use it with my HDTV and TV Tuner card hooked to a 7 db signal amp. If I need to replace it…get another pizza box…print out the design…put on the balun and hang it from the window. My only cost is getting the glue and aluminum foil from the dollar store.

  • Stephanie Gromaski

    Amazon.com has increased the price to $44.38. I would have purchased it at $30.99 but now I will try the one from Radio Shack first. I guess Amazon is simply trying to take advantage of the situation but my respect for their practices has slipped a notch.

    • Jcatz4

      It is my understanding that Amazon.com changes the prices on the items they sell whenever they feel like it without any warning.