Cord Cutting: A Great Antenna Is Key
If you’re gonna be a cord cutter, Netflix, Red Box Instant, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon Instant, etc only get you so far — very little news and no live sports. To maximize the cord cutting experience, a great antenna is what you need. Here’s how to choose one.
First of all, know this — broadcast HD TV almost always delivers technically and visually superior image quality and, aside from the one-time upfront cost, is absolutely free.
To get started, you need to determine which channels are available in your area and what kind of antenna you need. So, head over to the AntennaWeb station finder and TV Fool Signal Analysis tool to determine which stations you can get with what type antenna.
A Great Antenna = Free Sports, News, More
What can a great antenna get you? Well, NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, The CW, PBS, Univision, Telemundo, MyNetwork, Ion, Retro TV and perhaps dozens more. Further, individual network channels are often split, providing multiple stations. For example, at my house, we get PBS (54.1), PBS Create (54.2) and PBS World (54.3). Similarly, we get CBS (35.1) and The CW (35.2) as both networks are owned by the same local affiliate — 16 stations in total.
In larger metros, a great antenna can yield multiple additional NBC, ABC, etc stations on the same split channel, like MSNBC, ABC Family, etc.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) grades digital HD signal strength using a color-coded scale/chart (scroll down), which is important because antennas are graded using the CEA scale — yellow for close/strong and blue/red for distant/weak, etc.
Great Antenna: Indoor Short Range Antennas
This is going to be an indoor antenna that sits or hangs near your television. For apartment dwellers, this is likely your only option.
While unpowered (i.e. not amplified) short range antennas are cheapest, getting a somewhat more expensive amplified antenna can greatly improve reliability and increase the number of stations you get.
Also, unless you want to regularly adjust the direction/position of the antenna, you will want an omnidirectional antenna.
Short Range Antennas*
— Walltenna Clear Indoor HDTV Antenna, $34.95
— Mohu Leaf Paper-Thin Indoor HDTV Antenna, $39.99 (Prime)
— Terk HDTVa Indoor Amplified, $39.99 (Prime)
— Winegard SS-3000 Amplified HDTV Indoor Antenna, $70.62
Via Digital Trends
Great Antenna: Outdoor Long Range
There are essentially two types of long range antennas — directional and omnidirectional. In general, both types are mounted on a pole at the highest point on your house (i.e. peak of the roof). A direction antenna requires a motor and attendant control system (i.e. remote), while an omnidirectional antenna just sits there.
If you live in or quite close to (less than 10 to 15 miles) an urban metro, an omnidirectional antenna will serve you well. Alternately, if you live on a hill along the line of sight of a large metro, an omnidirectional antenna could serve you well.
Additionally, there are also powerful UHF-only (usually directional) antennas. However, I would suggest going with a full-spectrum VHF (channels 2 to 13) plus UHF (channels 14 and up) antenna. Fundamentally, mixing antenna types increases the learning curve and equipment requirements.
Long Range Antennas*
— Antennas Direct DB4E Antenna, $58.99
— ClearStream4 HDTV Antenna, $84.99
— WGDMS2002 – WINEGARD MS-2002 METROSTAR 360HD TV Antenna, $98.27
Buying a Great Antenna: Things to Consider
When buying an antenna there are common pratfalls. For example, your TV may already have an integrated antenna/digital tuner that can pull in the channels you want with no additional hardware — learn more here.
Basically, if you have a 2007 or newer TV, it has a digital tuner. Many older TVs require a digital converter box.
Every antenna requires a cable to connect it to your TV, but not all antennas come bundled with a cable. A related problem is having more cable than you need — extra cable length can diminish signal strength even when using a powered/amplified antenna.
Also, outdoor long range antennas require mounting hardware, which sometimes isn’t included. These items can include (sufficient) cable, flat roof mount, roof crown mount, directional motor and/or a motor control remote/system.
If you have an attic that’s easy to access, it’s more than possible to install the antenna there, which has practical and aesthetic advantages.
Lastly, although purchasing and installing a great antenna can involve significant time and expense, especially outdoor and mixed antenna setups, it is a one-time cost that keeps paying for itself for years and years.
That said, do your homework — read the reviews, get on the antenna forums, and, of course, talk to friends, neighbors and relatives that have installed an antenna — there is a lot great and FREE broadcast HD TV available for the taking.
Already have a great antenna? Have a sob story? Tell your tale in the comments below…
Image: Crutchfield, *Amazon