Sick of paying a live TV streaming service like Hulu just so you can watch local channels? You may not have to. Turns out TV antennas are still a thing; cable and cord-cutter culture simply made us forget about them. Maybe that was OK, because those old "rabbit ears" weren't exactly decor friendly. But these days, antennas look quite different, from paper-thin rectangles designed to mount on a wall or window to funky figure-eight sculptures you can put in an attic or on your roof. And they're better suited to the digital demands of modern broadcasting with better reception and picture quality, allowing you to watch your favorite TV shows and TV stations once again. Let's take a look at our top picks for some of the best digital antennas that bring free TV channels and local programming into your home.
Channel Master Flatenna Ultra-Thin Indoor TV Antenna
Most affordable digital antenna
Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse Amplified TV Antenna
Most stylish digital antenna
Mohu Arc Pro Amplified Indoor TV Antenna
Best overall digital antenna
Mohu Sail Amplified Indoor/Outdoor TV Antenna
Most affordable outdoor digital antenna
What kind of digital TV antenna do you need?
First things first: Let's proceed from the assumption that you own a relatively modern flat-screen TV, one made in the past 10 years or so. Chances are excellent it has a built-in digital tuner, meaning all you need to do is supply an antenna. Following a simple channel-scan procedure, you should be able to start watching live broadcasts immediately, no Wi-Fi required.
Note that I said "should." There are a few variables here, the big one being location: Where you live will determine what kind of antenna you need and where it should be placed, indoors or outdoors. Remember, one of cable TV's big advantages was the, er, cable: It could deliver all your channels without range limitations or interference from the likes of trees or power lines.
But an antenna? Yep, it's all about signal strength. If you live in a major metropolitan area, chances are good you'll be able to pull in all the major broadcast channels like Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC, as they're likely to have affiliate stations nearby. The farther out you go into the suburbs, the weaker those broadcast signals will be. And if you live in a rural area, it might be challenging to get a TV signal at all, even with the best indoor TV antenna.
Should you choose an indoor or outdoor antenna?
This may seem obvious, and where you live may dictate the answer. If you're in an apartment, for example, you probably can't put an antenna on the roof; you'll have to investigate indoor options. If you own a home but it's far from broadcast towers, you may have no choice but to choose an outdoor antenna. Bottom line: An outdoor antenna is all but guaranteed to give you the best results, but it will also require installation — including a way to run a cable from the antenna to your TV.
Most of the products listed below are indoor antennas, the idea being that they're not just easier to set up but also at a low price. Assuming you can indeed position one such that it gets decent TV reception, indoor is definitely the way to go.
What is ATSC 3.0?
A big, confusing mess, that's what. Let me simplify it as best I can: Current over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts are limited to 1080p resolution, which still qualifies as "high definition" but doesn't match the 4K goodness we're all accustomed to now. To be fair, 1080p is absolutely fine — it's not the TV equivalent of AM radio or anything — but obviously 4K would be preferable.
ATSC 3.0, also known as "NextGen TV," can deliver not only 4K video, but also Dolby Atmos audio. Great, right? Not yet: For reasons I won't bore you with, not all broadcasters have adopted the new standard, and not all TV manufacturers are including ATSC 3.0 tuners in their models. If your TV was built in 2020 or later, it may have one or it may not; check the specs in the instruction manual.
Right now, you can buy a handful of external ATSC 3.0 tuners, but they're expensive. Although that's likely to change at some point, you're probably better off waiting until your next TV purchase, then choosing a model with a NextGen tuner built in.
Manage your antenna expectations
Having tried a bunch of different antennas and spoken with others who have experimented with them as well, one thing is certain: Nothing is certain. You might live half a mile from a broadcast tower but can't get a decent signal for that station. You might live in the boonies and enjoy amazing reception. There are so many variables involved, it's hard to know what the outcome will be until you actually try an antenna. Hopefully, it proves to be an inexpensive and effective solution for bringing local broadcasts to your TV.
Realistically, however, it may not. A lot of the antennas included here have mediocre user ratings, typically in the 4.0 (out of 5.0) range or even a little lower. That's precisely because of the reasons stated above; antenna reception can be very hit and miss, and for maybe 20% of users, it's a miss. So look upon this as an experiment, one that may or may not bear fruit.
One thing to note: Some inexpensive, off-brand antennas tout features like "400-mile range!" and "4K and 8K channels!" Don't fall for these bogus claims. No antenna has a 400-mile range; the best you can hope for is around 80 miles, and that's usually from an outdoor setup. As for 4K and 8K, that assumes the stations are broadcasting at those resolutions (again, most are not) and that you have the necessary tuner to receive them.
My antenna setup in suburbia
Here's just one example of what you might expect. I live on the very outskirts of the Detroit suburbs; most of the local stations are located roughly 15 miles to the southeast. Using a fairly inexpensive antenna, I can get a decent signal for several of the major networks — but not all of them. Part of the problem is that my living room sits in the northwest corner of the house, so just plunking an antenna beside the TV or near a window means the entire house blocks much of the signal.
However, I have a south-facing attic window that's high and unobstructed. By placing the antenna there, I was able to tune in all the local stations and even a few from farther away. This did, of course, require a much longer length of cable than what's normally included (usually 10-12 feet) and some strategic fishing through walls.
All this is to say that location is everything, which is why your first stop should be AntennaWeb. Just type in your address and this free tool shows all the local stations and what type of antenna you might need to receive them.
Even with that recommendation in hand, there are no guarantees. My advice: Make sure to buy your antenna from a store with a reasonable return policy, just in case the one you choose doesn't work well for you.
With that in mind, here are the antennas I recommend trying. These picks are based on overall features, personal testing (where possible), user ratings and, of course, price.