The Best Indoor TV Antenna of 2018
No matter your age or income, buying a TV antenna makes a lot of sense in 2018.
Cord cutters have known for a long time that channels like NBC, ABC, FOX and PBS are free and delivered in high definition over the air. It’s still a little known fact that these free HD channels like NBC will look better coming from an antenna than your local cable company.
Even an inexpensive indoor antenna that costs about $20 has great advantage over a multimillion dollar cable company when it comes to picture quality. It’s really this simple: over-the-air (OTA) channels pulled in from a TV antenna are uncompressed digital signals. Cable companies have to compress the signal to feed into your home at the expense of picture quality.
A skeptical cable subscriber might think, “Well, at least I can fast forward through commercials!” Well, sorry ace. Thanks to the software-hub Plex, you can remove commercials with OTA channels, too.
You can read about using Plex for live TV and DVR later.
This guide is designed for helping people who have never used an indoor antenna, and want to shed their hefty monthly cable or satellite TV bills. I’ve incorporated information from my first antenna guide, How to Choose The Best Antenna & DVR, which is listed under the Cord-Cutting Guide page on AntennaWeb.org.
This year’s guide will also cover what you should expect to get out of an antenna today and in the years to come. Some of what you’ll read here includes notes and findings on individual antenna reviews that I wrote throughout 2017.
Testing for best TV antenna viewing experience
There will certainly be a number of new indoor antennas that make their debut in 2018, and I look forward to trying some of them out.
While the antennas reviewed in this guide were manufactured in 2017 or prior to that, I’m confident that there will be few, if any, released in the next 12 months that will rival the performance of the ones detailed in this guide.
Instead of trying out a variety of antennas in one location, I do it at two very different places and for long periods of time. The antennas featured in this guide were tested in an urban setting, where I live in Boston, and a remote location along the Maine coast about 87 miles away. I used a HDHomeRun Extend and Plex software to measure signal strength and number of watchable channels.
Testing happened over a period of months instead of hours or days. That gives me insight into how these antennas perform during nice weather, and awful storms with high winds. I see how antenna performance works in a big city that has a more robust population of broadcast towers nearby. That is later contrasted with the woodsy spot I go to in Maine where broadcast towers are further away and impediments like high trees and power lines are surrounding me.
The goal here is to determine what indoor antennas should work best for the largest number of people. Keep in mind: indoor antennas have significant limitations compared to outdoor antennas. Yet even a rudimentary homemade antenna can be powerful and help many people get free TV.
How to find channels using an antenna
- Use a free online tool like AntennaWeb or TVfool and enter your zip code.
- Place your indoor antenna in or near a window facing the most broadcast towers.
- Scan for channels under Settings section on your TV. (This might take up to 30 minutes.)
- Move the antenna higher, and rescan for channels if needed.
- Try an amplifier and/or an LTE filter to improve reception.
You might be surprised to learn that you can even get free OTA channels in many parts of the U.S. with a homemade antenna. The most popular video on my YouTube channel demonstrates how I made an antenna by splicing open a cable cord. The video recently reached north of 250,000 views with many people expressing surprise and thanks.
It’s not a solution for everyone, and a homemade antenna like this does not have other benefits like amplification, or an LTE filter. A simple wire antenna also lacks any optimized design that improves reception. I started using the homemade antenna seen in the video on a bedroom TV when I first cancelled by cable subscription in March 2016. I retired it months ago when I began testing various antennas over the course of several months.
Indoor TV antennas that were tested
- Amazon Basics Ultra Thin Indoor Antenna
- Antop Smartpass Amplified Indoor Antenna
- ClearStream Eclipse
- ClearStream FLEX
- Mohu Leaf Glide
What to look for in an indoor antenna
Chances are you should at least have one or two broadcast towers within a 40 to 50 mile range of your home. If not, you might want to consider an outdoor antenna. Look over my review of the Antop 400-BV outdoor antenna. Either way, here are four things to look for with a decent indoor antenna.
- Range: Being able to pull in channels from a far distance of 30 to 50 miles is your top goal. You will want to have a decent gain to pull in VHF and UHF signals regardless of which antenna you choose. I recommend using an amplifier with an antenna because in many cases it can help with getting channels. If your amplifier adversely impacts your signal, you can always remove it and use the antenna unamplified.
- Unlock new local channels: You should never assume that your local cable TV package carries every local channel. You might be missing out on local news, and decent shows that you had no idea were available for free. Broadcast towers for bigger networks like NBC, CBS and ABC also have extra programming within sub channels.
- Receive sub-channels not offered on cable: What are sub-channels? 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 networks, offering programming as good as 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.
- Get HD quality:Major networks like NBC, CBS, PBS and ABC should come with high definition clarity. We’re talking about 1080i or 720p picture quality. You should notice an improved picture right away if you are able to get OTA channels in your area. Go back to the same channel on cable, and there will be a noticeable difference.
Do I need an amplifier or LTE filter?
Antennas just need to be powerful enough to draw in a signal, and ideally, avoid any distortion. Trees, high power lines, mountains and hilly terrain can all impact a digital signal reaching your antenna. Unlike analog signals from years ago, digital signals depend on a line-of-sight path.
An amplifier (a.k.a. booster) can help you pull in signals that are further away, or more challenging to get. You might also need an amplifier if you’re using a long run of cable between your antenna and TV set, or have a splitter for multiple TVs.
If I am buying an antenna, I don’t mind spending a little money on a model that has an amplifier included. I would rather have it and not need it. Buying one after the fact isn’t a problem either.
About LTE filters
I just mentioned a few geographic obstacles like trees and hillsides that can block a signal. You should also keep in mind that LTE/4G signals from cell phones can also cause pixilation and problems with picture reception.
Most of the time, TVs will ignore the space that LTE bands occupy. But there are exceptions. LTE bands reside adjacent to TV broadcasting signals and if the signals are strong enough, they can cause interference in lower frequencies. Interference from LTE bands may increase in the next few years as more space is allocated for cell phone carriers and less for digital TV signals.
The best LTE filter that you can buy independent of an antenna is the Channel Master LTE Filter (model: CM-3201). It covers almost all the LTE transmission bands in the U.S. — between 700MHz and 2000MHz. You can also find a much cheaper LTE filter on Amazon, the Mercury AF4G LTE Filter. It costs under $8, but this is built for European market. No matter what you buy, I recommend you stick with an LTE filter that’s designed to cover you the U.S. bandwidth spectrum.
Do I need a 4K or HD antenna?
When you see terms like HD antenna or “4K Ready” antenna, this is just marketing-speak. There are a wide variety of marketing blurbs on the front of antennas boxes, stating that the antenna is a “HD antenna” or “4K ready” or “ready for the next generation of broadcast television.”
Antenna aficionados will tell you there’s no such thing as an HD antenna, even though the term is widely used by manufacturers.
Here’s another way of saying it.
There’s nothing special in the design of an antenna that gives it the ability to pick up HD signals. Digital television is broadcast in high definition 1080i and 720p resolutions. There are no over-the-air broadcasts in 4K. As my video on how to make a quick, homemade antenna demonstrates, a simple wire can get you HD channels.
The next generation of broadcast TV is a ways off. The Advanced Televisions Systems Committee (ATSC) is working on the next standard for broadcast television. The term ATSC 3.0 refers to this new standard, which is expected to include 4K picture quality and a number of other improvements. There are no 4K broadcasts over-the-air. And when they come, you’ll likely be shopping for a new converter box instead of an antenna.
How much should I spend on a TV antenna?
The answer to this question will vary from person to person. Where you live plays a major role in determining what kind of TV reception you can get from broadcast towers.
That’s why using an online tool like AntennaWeb or TVfool to figure out your distance from broadcast towers is so important before you start to shop.
So think of all the TV antennas you see for sale as different kinds of tools in a toolbox. People who live in a larger city with a number of broadcast towers nearby may only need the equivalent of a tiny screwdriver.
Let’s call our tiny screwdriver an indoor antenna. Others who live in a rural area far away from towers will need the capabilities of a power drill, or a multi-directional outdoor antenna with an amplifier.
As far as price goes, here’s my rule of thumb with buying most hardware when it comes to breaking up with cable or satellite TV. You were paying between $100 to $200 per month for the pleasure of watching cable and satellite. Now you’re buying your own infrastructure that you plan to use for years to come. Allocating one month’s of your old bill for an antenna and possibly other equipment like a streaming device is a more than reasonable investment.
So which indoor antennas do I like best?
The Best Indoor TV Antennas of 2018
The Antop Paper Thin Smartpass is the best indoor HD antenna for maximizing your channel lineup and cutting out 4G signals that can mess up your picture.
It’s priced just under $40, comes with an amplifier that can be switched on and off, and an LTE filter. The antenna (model: AT-100B) has 10 feet of coaxial cable. Double-sided stickers and double-sided suction cups are included in the box.
So you can move around the antenna if you’re trying to find optimal placement, or take it with you in an RV or to your camp in the summer. It measures .02 inches and has reversible black and white panels in case you’re concerned about how it will fit in with your décor.
The amplifier has a switch on the side and a handy LED light next to it, letting you know when it’s switched on. Having the option to use or not use an amplifier brings a lot of versatility to your antenna setup. You might find out after trying out a couple channel scans at home that you’re better off not using an amplifier. Later on, if you take your antenna with you to another location – say, on vacation – then an amplifier can come in handy. The LTE filter made a significant difference right away, especially in the city.
In Boston, where most of my product testing is done, I can already get more than 40 channels even with a simple homemade antenna without an amplifier. An amplifier delivers a noticeable difference with the number of channels that I can get in the city, but some channels still eluded me.
A new local NBC affiliate really proved to be an example of how an LTE filter can make a difference. The NBC station in Boston is broadcasting its digital signal from two towers.
I haven’t been able to pull in the signal even through the tower was about 8 miles from me. Instead, I was relying on a second broadcast tower about 38 miles away. The tower further away broadcasts in 720p. The closer one broadcasts in 1080i.
The Antop antenna took care of the problem. Not only did I start getting crisp reception of the closer NBC tower, I picked up more digital channels – 48 total — and corresponding sub-channels.
ClearStream FLEX Amplified Indoor Antenna
Antennas Direct is best known for the ClearStream Eclipse indoor antenna that was released roughly two years ago. That antenna is still one of my favorites, but the newer ClearStream FLEX is a worthy sibling.
The FLEX is among a newer crop of antennas that are designed to do a better job of drawing in VHF and UHF signals.
It’s a multi-directional antenna that comes with everything you need to maximize your channel reception. The antenna comes with a 20dB amplifier and 15 feet of coaxial cable. You can raise the antenna panel high in a window or against a wall.
Instead of the Eclipse’s ring-shaped design, the ClearStream FLEX has the look of a leaf-style antenna, but larger. It measures 16-inches wide and 11-inches high.
The one gripe that I had with earlier versions of the Eclipse was that you couldn’t use a USB port to power the amplifier. Both the FLEX and newer versions of the Eclipse now gives you the option of using an electrical outlet or USB port.
In the city, the ClearStream FLEX offered up the greatest number of channels just like the Antop, but probably could have done a hair better with an LTE filter. In Maine, the FLEX picked up an impressive 15 channels, including an NBC and ABC affiliate that were both about 40 miles away. This antenna performed very well during overcast weather conditions and storms. The picture quality was steady and crisp through testing in both locations.
The FLEX ranges in price between $60 and $80 depending on where you buy it. (Antennas Direct has the lowest price as of this writing.) The antenna lives up to its advertising on the box, drawing in channels from more than 50 miles away. Roughly 2,062 reviewers on Amazon give the ClearStream FLEX a four out of five star rating. This is an ideal indoor antenna for drawing in close by towers, and ones that are much further away and hard to reach.
ClearStream Eclipse Amplified Indoor antenna
You can get very similar results with the amplified version of the ClearStream Eclipse.
The amplified model of the Eclipse comes with 15 feet of coaxial cable, and pulls in an impressive number of channels. It has a range that was about as strong as the FLEX, but the difference is so small that will likely be unnoticeable to most users. The Eclipse gets the best reception when you can place it high along a window frame.
The antenna has a ring shaped design and a Sure Grip adhesive that makes it easy to stick to a window or wall.
Mohu Leaf Glide
The Mohu Leaf Glide is without a doubt one of the most powerful indoor antennas that I’ve tested in the last year.
Just because it can pull signals from further distances, it may not be an ideal fit if most of your towers are close by. The amplifier on the Mohu Leaf was so powerful in the city, it actually was a detriment to picture reception on one of my televisions.
When I connected it to a TV in the back of my home, where it’s a bit tougher to get signals, it performed much better. It pulled in sub-channels like Grit and ESCAPE with ease and eliminated pixilation that I was getting with other indoor antennas with those channels.
I was also faintly pulling in channels from the neighboring state of Rhode Island, but the picture reception wasn’t great, and the channels weren’t desirable ones.
Mohu Leaf Glide: better for long distances
Outside of the city, the Leaf Glide was a much better fit, pulling in 21 channels. NBC and ABC affiliates were about 36 miles away and came in with a clear HD picture. I had to scan for channels more than once, and moved the antenna around a few times before I got optimal reception.
Mohu says that the Leaf Glide uses the company’s patented SignaLift technology to maximize VHF reception. The antenna twice the size of its predecessor the Mohu Leaf, measuring 21.5 inches wide and 11.5 inches in height.
The Leaf Glide can be secured to a wall with Velcro patches or push-pins that come in the box. The Glide comes with a small triangle shaped amplifier, but there’s no option to turn it off or not use it. You can power the amp either through a USB outlet on your TV or with an electrical outlet.
To continue with my toolbox analogy, the Mohu Leaf Glide can be akin to a jackhammer in a city environment. And you don’t want to use a jackhammer when you only need the tap of a wooden mallet. In other words, the Mohu Leaf Glide is a better choice for people who don’t live near any broadcast towers.
What’s the best indoor TV antenna of 2018?
Top pick: Antop Paper Thin Smartpass
Runner up: ClearStream Flex
VHF challenged: Mohu Leaf Glide
The Antop Paper Thin Smartpass strikes the right balance of price point, and its ability to pull in the highest number of channels. That was 48 in the city, 21 in a rural setting. Having the option to shut off the amplifier, and the LTE filter, adds unique value to this antenna as well. I do wish there was an option to power this amplifier through a USB plug or a wall outlet, but that’s a minor issue.
The ClearStream Flex also brought in the same amount of channels as the Antop at 46 in the city, and 21 in Maine.
It didn’t perform as well with towers that were very close – under 10 miles. Here’s where the Flex shined: during bad weather. During storms, the Flex and Eclipse outperformed just about every other antenna that I tested.
The Flex costs nearly twice as much as the Antop, but proved to be a strong performer with towers that were 40 to 50 miles away. I was glad to see that the Flex improved upon its design by offering a USB option to power the amplifier.
There’s no question that the Mohu Leaf Glide is a powerful antenna that’s great at getting VHF channels. But it’s antenna that’s best suited for people who have tried other indoor antennas that have failed them. Look for Leaf Glide at Amazon and through Mohu.
What’s your favorite indoor antenna? Tell fellow readers in the comments below.