What is the best outdoor TV antenna?
Outdoor TV antennas really do work for most people in the U.S. despite much confusion about their capabilities and range.
Of course, it doesn’t help that a number of companies make outrageous claims about an antenna’s performance. Realistically, you should expect to be able to get TV station within 50 miles of your home if you are able to place an outdoor TV antenna high up on your roof, and in a direction that’s optimal for reception.
It’s true that streaming has taken off because more people are becoming cord cutters, and parting ways with cable and satellite TV service.
Table of Contents
- What is the best outdoor TV antenna?
- Testing the Best Outdoor TV Antennas
- What to look for in a new outdoor TV antenna
- ANTOP AT-400BV specs and performance
- TV antenna performance
- ClearStream 2MAX
- UFO Dual-Omni AT-415B
- Other Outdoor TV Antenna and OTA DVR Resources
- Where to buy
But the advantage of an outdoor TV antenna compared to a streaming service is that you are only paying for a one-time cost, and there is no internet connection required.
- Antop AT-400BV is also referred to as the “Big Boy” model for getting UHF and VHF signals. It’s also the best model if you are in a remote or woodsy location such as my testing site in Maine. It can be mounted either on a roof or roof peak. The antenna has a metal bracket on the back of the panel for mounting. It comes with all the hardware needed for installation. That includes a 39-foot cable with a thick weather resistant coating.
- The ClearStream 2V Max is a lighter and more compact outdoor TV antenna. The 2MAX demonstrated excellent performance with picking up UHF and VHF signals. It costs about $40 less than the Antop “Big Boy” 400-BV. But if you’re living in a place where snow, rain are relentless, you might be better off with the Antop 400-BV.
- The UFO Dual-Omni AT-415B is a best suited for homes that have broadcast towers surrounding them in all directions. Like the Antop 400-BV, the Dual-Omni has a weather-resistant finish, and well-insulated coaxial cables. And the Dual-Omni is easy to set up and install. This antenna also works well in an attic, but despite what you may read about omni-directional, where you place the antenna does matter.
Testing the Best Outdoor TV Antennas
I began testing TV antennas back in 2016, and it’s an ongoing process for me throughout the year.
All of the testing I have done happens in two locations. One set of tests happens just outside of Boston. The other sessions are in a woodsy spot in Maine. Ideally, the results from these two different spots should help the greatest number of people searching for a new outdoor TV antenna.
This is a process that I also undertake to determine the best indoor TV antennas about once every year or two. There isn’t a ton of year-to-year innovation in the world of outdoor TV antennas so annual reviews aren’t as necessary as with consumer electronics.
Outdoor TV antennas will always have better reception than indoor antennas. Generally, outdoor TV antennas are larger. And if properly installed on a roof or in an attic, they are elevated higher, and have a better chance of being in the line-of-sight of digital broadcast signals (i.e. you’ll get more channels). Outdoor TV antennas also have a much better shot at avoid obstacles such as building materials, trees, high powerlines and mountains.
Before buying an outdoor TV antenna: 3 things you should know
Even if you don’t go agree with with one of my picks, there are three things you should do before you go shopping for a new outdoor TV antenna. Sticking to these rules should help with buying an antenna that’s best suited for you home.
1. Ignore terms like HD antenna, digital antenna, HDTV antenna, 4K TV antenna and so on. All of these terms are marketing jargon and don’t mean anything. Avoid any antennas that advertise a 120 or 150 mile range. The curvature of the Earth doesn’t make this possible — even for the very best TV antenna on the market.
2. The most important thing you can do get an idea of how far away from broadcast towers. There are a number of free online tools you can use to determine this. Lately, I’ve been steering people toward the online tools from actual antenna manufacturers. So you can try the antenna map tool from AntennasDirect, or the other signal map tool by Antop. Once you have these results in hand, you can determine whether a VHF antenna will matter. Most of the country now uses UHF signals.
3. When the new broadcast standard, ATSC 3.0, becomes the norm within the next couple years, much of this UHF/VHF business won’t really matter. The TV antenna that you’re buying today will work fine when ATSC 3.0 comes to your region of the U.S. Even when ATSC 3.0 arrives, local stations are required to maintain existing digital broadcasts for five years.
What to look for in a new outdoor TV antenna
Here is a short list of other things a good antenna should do for you.
- Unlock new local channels: You should not assume that your local cable TV package will have every local channel that’s out there. You might get networks like NBC, CBS and ABC. But there are other networks that might have your local news, weather or good movies.
- Get HD quality: Major networks like NBC, CBS, PBS and ABC should come with High Definition picture resolution. HD picture resolution is in 1080i or 720p. (Remember: 1080p is HD in video format, not over-the-air signals from a TV antenna.)
- Receive sub-channels not offered on cable: There’s a good chance that your local network affiliates like NBC are broadcasting more than one channel from their broadcast tower. These sub-channels might not all be in HD quality. Many of them aren’t. But there has been a rise genre-specific channels with programming as good as many a cable channel. If you’re a true crime fan, you might find a sub-channel like ESCAPE. Episodes of Forensic Files and American Greed are broadcasted regularly. Those two shows are regularly shown on cable channels like HLN and CNBC.
- Range: Being able to pull in channels from a far distance, and have a decent gain to pull in VHF and UHF signals is one of the more important aspects of any antenna you choose. I recommend using an amplifier with an antenna because in many cases it can help with getting channels.
ANTOP AT-400BV specs and performance
The antenna required little assembly after screwing in two VHF enhancer rods on each side of the panel. This is a multi-directional antenna and comes with a amplifier, which I’ll get back to in a minute. The panel measures 22 x 10 x 4.7 inches. The construction was sturdy and built to withstand being outdoors and enduring all sorts of weather. That was true even with the 39 feet of cord that had a rubber hood over the end coax cable that attaches to the back of the antenna.
Before getting on the roof, I connected the antenna to a TV in a loft apartment above the garage. I placed the TV antenna on the edge of a second-story deck. I used a tabletop base that comes with the ANTOP antenna for this setup.
From the second-floor deck, I was still below a Yagi antenna that had already been installed on the property and well below the tree line surrounding the back end of the house. My channel count jumped to 19 channels total from this spot, including sub-channels. I picked up some real gems in HD like PBS Kids (with three sub-channels) and a CBS affiliate showing a football game. That had two more sub-channels.
I knew this wasn’t an ideal setup that would get me the most channels. I was surrounded by trees, aiming for line-of-sight signals. Generally, the higher your antenna, the better the reception. The roof proved to be the best location.
TV antenna performance
Other antennas that I’ve tested here have struggled with picture quality. I noticed right away that the ANTOP was getting a stronger signal even from a less-than-ideal placement. This was probably due two features in particular. The ANTOP AT-400BV comes with a Smartpass amplifier that you can actually switch on and off. A small bulb on the amp turns green when it’s on, yellow when it’s off. This TV antenna also has a 4G LTE Filter, designed to block 3G and 4G interference from cell towers.
I looked over my online readouts before getting on the roof and I also used a small compass to make sure I was facing in the right direction. Most of my towers were coming from the northeast. In the end, I wound up with 30 channels, including one that was 53.5 miles away in neighboring New Hampshire.
The New Hampshire channel and sub-channels that came with it was nothing great in terms of programming. But the location of the tower proved that the ANTOP AT-400BV actually had the ability to draw from antennas in the 60 to 70 mile range without a problem.
The ANTOP gave me new channels that I couldn’t get before like CBS, PBS and PBS Kids along with a couple of independent stations that were in the area. After adjusting the direction of the antenna and re-scanning for channels, there was a noticeable improvement with picture quality compared to the older antenna on the property.
The picture was crisp and pretty much flawless. There was only one channel that I wanted to get that eluded me, a local FOX affiliate that had a tower about 60 miles away. Since I could get the New Hampshire channel without a problem, the terrain and the tree line that went above the house and roof was the likely factor blocking me from getting the FOX affiliate north of me. I’ve never been able to get this channel with any antenna that I’ve tested here.
ANTOP AT-400 BV: BY THE NUMBERS
- Application: Indoor/Outdoor
- Amplification: Smartpass Amplified
- Reception Pattern: Multi-directional
- Distance to transmitter: 60/70 mile
- Frequency Range: 87.5-230MHz, 470-700MHz
- Gain Switch-OFF: 10dB; Switch-ON: 33dB
- Output Level: 100dBuV Max
- Noise Figure: <3.5dB
- Impedance: 75Ω
- Power Supply: DC 12V via power adapter
- Cable Length: 39ft
- Size: 22 X 10 X 4.7in
The ClearStream 2MAX had very little difference in terms of performance from the Antop 400-BV.
The two circular-shaped elements are designed to pick up UHF stations. The horizontal dipole picks up VHF stations.
The ClearStream 2MAX does include a J-Mount for installing outdoors along a roofline or inside an attic. But unlike the Antop, it does not come with a long run of coaxial. I recommend buying a run of RG-6 cable to cut down on signal loss. If you already have a cable run going to your roof from a former satellite installation, you can try that wiring first, but expect to run your own.
The assembly for the 2MAX is simple. And the antenna can be tested indoors first to determine if it will work for you long term.
The Antop 400-BV edged out the ClearStream 2MAX as my top pick because its weather-resistant finish and hooded cables. But the Antop is a bigger and heavier antenna, which might not be ideal for everyone.
UFO Dual-Omni AT-415B
The UFO Dual-Omni AT-415B drew UHF and VHF signals in from multiple directions with equal clarity. An omni-directional antenna like the UFO Dual-Omni can draw digital signals from a 360 degree range.
During my testing, I placed the UFO Dual-Omni in an attic. The house was in a hilly area surrounded by trees, but still performed remarkably well. It pulled in 44 channels, including from towers more than 40 miles away outside of Boston and north of Manchester, New Hampshire.
The UFO Dual-Omni includes an amplifier. I suggest first doing a channel scan with the amplifier turned off. You can do a follow-up scan with the amplifier on if you are not getting a channel that should be in range. The amplifier has a built-in filter that blocks 3G and 4G signals.
The AT-415B measures 15 inches in diameter. The antenna and coaxial cord are coated with a weather resistant finish. The end of the coaxial cable that connects to the bottom of the antenna has a rubber hood to keep moisture out. You can read my review of the UFO Dual-Omni for more details about how it was tested.
Other Outdoor TV Antenna and OTA DVR Resources
If you want more step-by-step instructions for looking over signals, please look over my guide: How to Choose the Best TV Antenna & DVR.
Check out my other guide on how to connect multiple TVs to one antenna for tips on that front.
Once you have figured out what outdoor antenna to buy, you might want to start considering your options for recording all of the free TV that you’re getting. You can read my review on the best OTA DVR options.
Where to buy
The “Big Boy” AT-400BV is easily the best outdoor TV antenna that I’ve tested. I more than doubled my channel lineup, got a better picture and even picked up a channel about 60 miles away. I recently tested out the follow-up model, the Antop AT-800SBS. I’m also impressed with its performance.
The Clearstream 2MAX is a solid runner-up that I wouldn’t hesitate recommending to anyone. The 2MAX is likely a better fit if you’re new to using an outdoor TV antenna because its compact and easy to assemble. I would buy this directly from AntennasDirect. Shipping on purchases over $50 is free.
The Antop UFO drew is best for homes that have broadcast towers completely surrounding them. This saucer-shaped antenna can pick up UHF and VHF signals without a problem.
What’s your favorite outdoor TV antenna? What are some of the best free over-the-air channels that you watch the most? Tell fellow readers in the comments below.
* This review was originally published on Sept. 18, 2017 and has been updated.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble