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The best digital TV antenna to stream local stations for free

Yes, free: Local broadcasts are still a thing, and you don't need to spend a lot to tune in.

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.

Quick Overview
  • 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.

A close-up of the Mohu Arc Pro.
The Mohu Arc Pro features an LED signal-strength meter and a design that works for flat surfaces or wall mounting. (Photo: Mohu)

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.

A screenshot of the web service AntennaWeb.
Use a service like AntennaWeb to help you determine what kind of antenna is best for your exact location. (Photo: Rick Broida/Yahoo)

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.

Wait, a flat antenna? Aren't these things supposed to have long, telescoping metal rods (aka rabbit ears)? Nope, this new design (which you'll see in countless other brands) works just as well, and it's not meant to sit atop your TV. Rather, you mount it on a wall or window using included sticky pads, with either the black or white side facing in to better match your décor. 

The aptly named Flatenna really is flat like a piece of paper. You just screw one end of the 12-foot cord into the bottom and the other end into your TV's coax input. (Yes, that does mean there's an ugly cord running down your wall; consider a raceway kit like this to help conceal it.)

Channel Master promises range of up to 35 miles, but of course that depends on a variety of factors. As noted above, optimal placement — as high and unobstructed as possible — makes all the difference.

The big news here is price: At just $29, the Flatenna is quite affordable and a good place to start your antenna journey — assuming you're OK with a black or white rectangle stuck to your wall or window.

$29 at Amazon

If you like the idea of a flat, stick-anywhere antenna but don't necessarily want a big, ugly rectangle blocking your window, check out the ClearStream Eclipse. Same idea, different design: It's a circle instead, with most of the center cut out. The result is something that looks a lot more decorative, but also promises better performance.

That's because this is an amplified antenna, meaning it comes with a little inline amplifier that plugs into a USB port. (Ideally your TV will have one, otherwise you'll have to find a USB AC adapter.) The end result is a range of at least 50 miles, according to Antennas Direct.

That aside, the Eclipse is fairly similar to the Flatenna: black on one side, white on the other, with a 12-foot cord and peel-and-stick mounting pads. There's also a tiny hole in the top and push-pins (in both black and white colors) if you'd rather mount the antenna that way. I appreciate the detail provided in the included setup instructions, if not the rather small print.

$20 at Amazon

The Mohu Arc Pro is a curved, amplified antenna that's designed to sit near your TV or perhaps on a windowsill (though it's wall-mountable as well). Embedded in the front: four LEDs that light up to show signal strength. This is a genius feature, as you can tell almost instantly how the position of the antenna affects reception.

Less genius: The stand routes the 10-foot cord to the rear, where it requires several inches of clearance; you'll need a pretty deep windowsill if that's the intended parking spot for the antenna. The whole thing is so lightweight, it moves if there's even the slightest pull on the cord.

That said, when I positioned the Arc Pro facing the window (which exposes the backside, not a great look), it produced the strongest signals of any of the indoor antennas I tested. Many networks that showed only one or two bars (on the TV's own signal-strength meter) now showed four. While I can't promise the same results for your setup, at my end this is the best indoor antenna.

$70 at Amazon

If an indoor antenna isn't getting the job done, the Mohu Sail might. Designed to mount in an attic or on a roof or exterior wall, this amplified antenna can pull signals from up to 75 miles, according to Mohu. As always, your actual results will depend on factors such as elevation, tree interference, distance from towers and so on.

The dark-gray Sail doesn't really look like a sail, but I get what they were going for: It's a wide, slightly curved hard-plastic panel that measures nearly two feet across. It certainly looks nicer than your average metal-wire outdoor antenna.

Mohu provides a metal mast and brackets for installation along with detailed setup instructions. The Sail comes with a 30-foot coaxial cable; you may need an extension depending on where you end up mounting it. Its amplifier does require power, of course, but that happens on the TV side (it just plugs into any powered USB port), so you don't need to worry about mounting the Sail near an outlet.

Although I wasn't able to perform a full-on outdoor test, I did fish it out a window to check signal strength. Even on the "wrong" side of the house, it yielded solid results. Again, if you're not getting good results from an indoor antenna, this is what I'd try next.

$70 at Amazon