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 another building. That usually translates to a less powerful signal and poorer reception. An outdoor TV antenna can be larger and can reach the site line with the transmitting antenna without obstruction.
Some of the disadvantages of an outdoor TV antenna include possibly complex installation and longer cable runs. If you want the best TV reception in your area and are trying to cut ties with your cable company or 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 can place the same digital antenna in two different locations and get very different reception results. That means that the performance of any TV antenna will largely depend on its location. The best thing to do before purchasing an outdoor TV antenna is to perform a signal analysis.
What is signal analysis? Websites like AntennaWeb.org and TVFool.com give you the best opportunity to predict what type of antenna you need before purchasing. You provide them with basic information about your location and their software will perform an analysis of the type of HD antenna that is most likely to give the best results.
As an example, I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It happens to be the largest city in Virginia and unsurprisingly has several television stations nearby. In fact, I live 10 miles from several stations and they are all in roughly the same direction from my home.
To do an analysis, I entered my zip code at AntennaWeb.org. Their analysis showed me that there are no less than 48 channels from 23 stations that I should be able to receive at my location. For each local TV channel, it lists the RF channel, its distance from my location, and the direction relative to the channel’s transmitting antenna. From my location, most of the canals are southwest of us within 25 miles. That means most UHF / VHF antennas should work fine for us.
Not everyone lives in a large metropolitan area with many local TV channel options and where almost any digital TV antenna will work. If you live in a small town in eastern Montana, for example, you may only be able to get four channels from two stations and only if you use a large outdoor HDTV directional antenna mounted high on a mast.
The AntennaWeb.org site can be a bit overwhelming. If all you want to see is a good map of your local TV stations and their relationship to your location, you can go to CopRadar.com. Enter your address and the 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 at TVFool.com and AntennasDirect.com.
What should you look for in an outdoor antenna?
Antenna power is misleading because antennas are passive and don’t actually generate any power. It actually refers to antenna gain, which measures how much power from the transmitting antenna your antenna can actually receive. The higher the gain, the better the reception. Gain is also a complex issue, which is why most antenna companies choose to publish the antenna range in miles. It is not a good comparison tool as the range is sensitive to a number of local conditions between you and the transmitting antenna. That said, for the average consumer, it’s probably the only spec you’ll be able to compare.
Television stations broadcast on UHF and VHF frequencies. To have the best chance of receiving the most channels in your area, you should choose an antenna with both UHF and VHF capabilities. The only time you would like to choose an antenna with a single frequency range capability is when you only have a choice of one or the other at your location. For most, a UHF / VHF dual TV antenna is the way to go.
Directional or multidirectional
Point a directional antenna in only one direction to try 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 around you in multiple directions, then a multi-directional antenna would be a good choice.
You may have guessed that placing a higher outdoor TV antenna will improve your range. You may not be aware that it can also reduce the effect of nearby interference and improve reception quality. For channels that are far away from your location, you may need to mount your directional or multi-directional antenna on a pole for the best reception.
Interference makes it harder for your TV receiver to distinguish the TV signal from background noise.
Electronic interference is everywhere and it’s getting worse. When you add wireless devices, electrical equipment, and appliances to your home, the potential for interference increases. Also, you may have to deal with physical interference from tall buildings, water towers, hills, and other tall objects that reflect, distort, and interfere with television signal reception.
You can improve reception by raising the antenna higher off the ground, moving it outside, or away from local noise sources.
Indoor or outdoor
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, if all other factors are equal, a larger outdoor antenna will offer better reception than a smaller indoor antenna.
Indoor antennas also have the disadvantage of receiving their signals through the construction materials of your home or other building. Dense materials like concrete and metal are particularly troublesome. An antenna placed close to your television will probably have to fight the most electronic interference. Interference from both your building and electronic devices will adversely 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 is obvious is not always practical. If you live in a strict subdivision that bans outdoor antennas, you might get stuck installing it indoors. Placing it high up in an attic is better than placing it inside your home. An attic is taller and is also further away from interference within the building. Without an attic, you may be forced to use an indoor television antenna.
A TV antenna booster is usually placed on the antenna to amplify the signal from the antenna to your TV receiver. It may improve the quality of the reception, but it is not a miracle cure for a poor signal. Any noise reaching the antenna is also amplified by the amplifier and can degrade reception. Placing the amplifier close to the antenna delivers the best possible signal to the amplifier and reduces noise that can get into connecting cables and connectors.
The best use of an amplifier is with an outdoor antenna where the antenna is too far from the TV receiver or in the situation where you need to provide the signal to your entire home. Some antennas have built-in amplifiers.
A low cost, mid-range outdoor TV antenna will give most users the range they need to bring even longer range channels effectively.
We sincerely hope that this article has provided you with valuable information to help you choose the best outdoor TV antenna for your needs.