Outdoor TV Antenna: HDTV Antenna Buying Guide

The advantage of choosing to use an outdoor TV antenna instead of an indoor TV antenna is reception. An indoor TV antenna has the disadvantages of being smaller and having to receive TV signals through the structure of your home or other building. That typically translates to a less powerful signal and poorer reception. An outdoor TV antenna can be larger and can achieve line of site with the transmitting antenna with no obstructions.

Some disadvantages of an outdoor TV antenna include a possibly complex installation and longer cable runs. If you want the best TV reception in your area and you’re either trying to cut the ties with your cable company or you don’t have the option of cable TV, then an outdoor TV antenna has the best chance of meeting your expectations.

TV antennas and antennas in general are difficult to understand. You could place the same digital antenna in two different locations and get vastly different reception results. That means that the performance of any TV antenna is going to be highly dependent on its location. The best thing to do before you buy any outdoor TV antenna is to perform some signal analysis.

Signal Analysis

What is signal analysis? Websites like AntennaWeb.org and TVFool.com give you the best shot at predicting what type of antenna you need before you buy. You provide them with some basic information about your location and their software will perform an analysis of the HD antenna type that is most likely to deliver the best results.

By way of example, I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It happens to be the largest city in Virginia and as you might expect, has several TV stations close by. In fact, I live within 10 miles of several stations and they all happen to be in about the same direction from my house.

To do an analysis, I entered my zip code into AntennaWeb.org. Its analysis showed me that there are no less than 48 channels from 23 stations that I should be able receive at my location. For each local TV channel, it lists the RF channel, its distance from my location, and the relative direction to the channel’s broadcast antenna. From my location, most of the channels are southwest of us within 25 miles. That means that most UHF/VHF antennas should work fine for us.

Not everyone lives in a big metropolitan area with lots of choices for local TV channels and where just about any digital TV antenna will do. If you live in a small town in eastern Montana, for instance, you might only be able to get four channels from two stations and then only if you use a large directional outdoor HDTV antenna mounted high on a mast.

The AntennaWeb.org site can be a little daunting. If all you want to see is a nice map of your local TV stations and their relationship to your location, you can go to CopRadar.com. Enter your address and distance to your local towers and it will produce a map showing the TV towers oriented around your address in that range.

You can also get similar information from TVFool.com and AntennasDirect.com.

What should you look for in an outdoor antenna?

Power

Antenna power is misleading because antennas are passive and don’t actually generate any power. It actually refers to the antenna’s gain, which measures how much power of the transmitting antenna’s power your antenna can actually receive. The higher the gain, the better the reception. Gain is also a complex topic so most antenna companies choose to publish the range of the antenna in miles. It’s not a good comparison tool since range is sensitive to a number of local conditions between you and the transmitting antenna. That said, for the average consumer, it’s probably about the only specification that you will be able to compare.

Frequency

TV stations broadcast over UHF and VHF frequencies. To have the best chance at receiving the most channels in your area, you should choose an antenna with both UHF and VHF capability. The only time you would want to choose an antenna with a single frequency range capability is when you only have the choice of one or the other at your location. For most, a dual UHF/VHF TV antenna is the way to go.

Directional or Multi-directional

You point a directional antenna in a single direction in attempt to improve the signal strength of a single station or set of stations in that direction. If your stations are far away in a specific direction or there is a lot of interference, a large directional outdoor TV antenna would be the right choice.

A multi-directional antenna does not need to be oriented in a particular direction as it is capable of receiving signals from multiple directions simultaneously. If your channels are all around you in multiple directions, then a multi-directional antenna would be a good choice.

Antenna Height

You might have guessed that if you place an outdoor TV antenna higher, you will improve its range. You might not know that it can also reduce the effect of nearby interference and improve the quality of the reception. For channels that are very far away from your location, you may need to mount your directional or multi-directional antenna on a mast to get the best reception.

Interference

Interference makes it more difficult for your TV’s receiver to distinguish the TV signal from the background noise.

Electronic interference is everywhere and it’s getting worse. When you add wireless devices, electrical equipment, and appliances to your home, you are increasing the potential for interference. In addition, you may have to contend with physical interference from tall buildings, water towers, hills, and other tall objects that reflect, distort, and interfere with TV signal reception.

You can improve reception by raising your antenna higher above the ground, moving it outside, or moving it away from local noise sources.

Indoors or Outdoors

This article is about outdoor TV antennas, but of course most people would like to mount a simple indoor TV antenna near their TV that will do the same job. Unfortunately, despite the claims of antenna manufacturers, the Laws of Physics are still in effect. In other words, all other factors being equal, a larger outdoor antenna will deliver better reception than a smaller indoor antenna.

Indoor antennas also have the disadvantage of receiving their signals through the building materials of your home or other building. Dense materials like concrete and metal are particularly problematic. An antenna placed near your TV will most likely have to fight against the most electronic interference. Interference from both your building and electronics will negatively affect signal strength and degrade reception.

So, the obvious answer would be to locate your TV antenna outdoors (even in your attic), high, and away from interference.

What’s obvious is not always practical. If you live in a strict subdivision that prohibits outdoor antennas, you may be stuck installing it inside. Placing it high up in an attic is better than placing it inside your home. An attic is higher and is also farther away from interference inside the building. Without an attic, you may be forced to go with an indoor TV antenna.

Amplifier

A TV antenna amplifier is normally placed at the antenna to amplify the signal from the antenna to your TV receiver. It can improve reception quality, but it’s not a miracle cure for poor signal strength. Whatever noise arrives at the antenna is also amplified by the amplifier and may degrade reception. Placing the amplifier near the antenna delivers the best possible signal to the amplifier and reduces noise that can be introduced into connecting cables and connectors.

An amplifier’s best use is with an outdoor antenna where the antenna is very far away from the TV receiver or in the situation where you need to provide the signal to your whole house. Some antennas have built-in amplifiers.

A mid-range, low-cost outdoor TV antenna will give most users the range they need to bring in even longer range channels effectively.

We sincerely hope that this article has provided you with valuable information that helps you choose the outdoor TV antenna that best fits your needs!