The Best Indoor TV Antenna
This annual review covers the best indoor TV antennas.
In this year’s review, you’ll find a few new recommendations, some familiar faces from years past, and what to avoid.
My two top picks are the ClearStream Eclipse
This guide is designed for helping people who have never used an indoor TV 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 & OTA DVR, which is listed under the Cord-Cutting Guide page on AntennaWeb.org.
This year’s guide also covers 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 2016 to 2019.
HD Quality: TV antennas vs Cable
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 multi-million 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!”
Skipping commercials is becoming a common feature for antenna users who set up an OTA DVR.
You can read about using Plex for live TV and DVR later.
Testing for best TV antenna viewing experience
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 Quatro
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 Antennas Direct 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 re-scan 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 576,000 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
- ClearStream VIEW
- Mohu Blade
- Antop World Map indoor TV antenna
- Mohu Leaf Chroma
- HD Frequency Aerowave
What to look for in an indoor TV 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 without it.
- 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 shown regularly on ESCAPE just like on cable channels HLN and CNBC.
- Get HD quality: Prime-time networks such as NBC, CBS, PBS and ABC should come in 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
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.
In the last few years of testing antennas, I’ve learned a simple truth: You get what you pay for.
I wouldn’t advise anyone to buy a $15 or $20 antenna online. Sure, you may get some channels from these antennas, but over time, you may encounter pixilation during bad weather, or poor reception on overcast days.
Anyone can make a simple antenna, and even an excellent antenna that gets lots of channels. It all comes down to design. And that’s really what you’re paying for. A well-designed antenna will pull a maximum number of UHF and VHF channels.
As far as price goes, here’s my rule of thumb with buying most hardware, especially 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 TV channels on someone else’s terms. Now you’re buying your own infrastructure that you plan to use for years to come without ever having to deal with a monthly bill again.
Allocating one month’s worth of your old cable bill for an antenna and possibly other equipment like a streaming device or DVR is a more than reasonable investment.
So which indoor antennas do I like best?
The Best Indoor TV Antenna
My picks for the best indoor TV antennas are purely results driven. But before I finally make a decision, price and availability of a TV antenna play a factor as well.
The ClearStream Eclipse indoor HDTV Antenna
Despite its manufacturer delivering some newer indoor TV antennas to the market, the Eclipse still hits the sweet spot for excellent performance at a very reasonable price. I came close to recommending the ClearStream FLEX as my top pick, but really there’s only the slightest difference in channel reception between the two antennas.
The Eclipse has a better price, and is more widely available than the FLEX.
I’m recommending the amplified version of the Eclipse, but I suggest that you try it first without the amp to see if you need it. The amplifier can be plugged into an electrical outlet or a UBS port on your TV. You shouldn’t need an amplifier if you’re 15 to 20 miles within range of broadcast towers.
In Boston, I pulled in 58 channels using an amplifier, and found just as many channels when I moved closer to broadcast towers mid-year. In Maine, the Eclipse drew in 15 channels, which was the same number that the FLEX drew in the year before.
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 Sure Grip adhesive that makes it easy to stick to a window or wall.
Runner up: Antop Paper Thin Smartpass
The Antop Paper Thin Smartpass
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, I picked up more than 50 channels total including corresponding sub-channels.
ANTOP AT-101B Paper Thin Indoor HDTV Antenna – $43.99
Retail Price: $62.99
You Save: $19.00
from: Antop Antenna Inc
ClearStream FLEX Amplified Indoor Antenna
The ClearStream FLEX
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 FLEX and the Eclipse gives you the option of using an electrical outlet or USB port to power the amplifier.
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. The antenna lives up to its advertising on the box, drawing in channels from more than 50 miles away. This is an ideal indoor antenna for drawing in close-by towers, and ones that are much further away and hard to reach.
HD Frequency AEROWAVE: Best un-amplified indoor TV antenna
The square, metal design of the HD Frequency Aerowave is deceptively simple. I hooked up the Aerowave to my HDHomeRun Quatro tuner. So it became my go-to antenna for anything I recorded with my OTA DVR setup.
I was surprised how many channels that Aerowave could pull in without any kind of amplifier that needed to be plugged in. The Aerowave picked up 58 channels in Boston, and 15 channels in Maine.
I used this antenna for six months while living 15 to 30 miles away from broadcast towers, and later in the year when I was only a few miles away from some a few of them. The Aerowave was remarkably consistent, and I never worried about getting a bad picture with my recordings or watching TV across my home network.
Mohu Leaf Glide: For VHF challenged homes
The Mohu Leaf Glide
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 use a 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.
Mohu Blade: Best “table-top” indoor antenna
I’ve used a number of table top antennas from some of the best antenna manufacturers in the last few years.
And each time, I come away with the same opinion. A table-top antenna isn’t nearly as powerful as an indoor TV antenna mounted on a wall (or ideally, in a window). If you are dead-set on buying a table top antenna anyway, the Mohu Blade
The Blade can also be mounted to a wall, so you are not restricted to putting it on your TV stand or a nearby table. Its metal-bar design makes it a fairly stylish piece of hardware that performs well.
The Blade picked up as many channels as the Antop and Antennas Direct models that I’ve tested. But again, you’re better off near a window or placing the antenna higher than a table top to achieve these results.
With the Blade, the amplifier can be plugged into an electrical outlet or a USB port in the back of a television. A 10 foot coaxial cable is included in the box, and Mohu says that you can even mount the Blade outside.
If you mount your TV to a wall, then putting a Mohu Blade just above or below your display might be a good way to add a lot of free HD channels without sacrificing your home décor. A number of manufacturers claim that table-top antennas can be placed anywhere, and you’ll get great reception. But I’ve never found that to be true. Placement of antenna is always important.
Alternative pick: ClearStream View Wall Frame Antenna
If you don’t want a black ring or Monolith-style leaf antenna hanging on your wall or window, then get the ClearStream VIEW
The View has the same loop-design technology as the Eclipse, and you can add family or vacation photos as a way to dress it up a little. It comes with 12 feet of coaxial cable and a 20dB in-line amplifier. The cords have rounded ends, which make it easy to connect to the frame.
The actual antenna is the back panel of the picture frame. It snaps into place with four plastic side locks. Hanging the picture frame is pretty easy.
You’ll still have a wire connected to your frame. During my testing last year, the View performed as well as the ClearStream Eclipse and ClearStream FLEX.
What’s the best indoor TV antenna?
Top pick: ClearStream Eclipse
Runner up: Antop Paper Thin Smartpass
VHF challenged: Mohu Leaf Glide
The ClearStream Eclipse
The Antop Paper Thin Smartpass
The Antop Thin Smartpass can be purchased at the Antop store.
There’s no question that the Mohu Leaf Glide
What’s your favorite indoor antenna? Tell fellow readers in the comments below.