Most powerful broadcast TV antenna...
January 24, 2014 1:21 PM   Subscribe

So I don't have cable. I just watch broadcast TV using an antenna. And that's just fine. But sometimes we get an annoying about of stutters and lost signal. It's annoying! So what's the best kind of HD digital antenna I can get to make sure I never lose signal when watching The View in the afternoons? I can't afford to miss even one syllable of the genius of Jenny McCarthy!

I don't need the cheapest antenna, but I also don't want to break the bank.

posted by chasing to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
My motto: when in doubt, go with the Wirecutter's pick. It's around $90 although they also liked a cheaper alternative at $35.
posted by bcwinters at 1:27 PM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have this antenna and it's fantastic. The only time I've ever encountered a stutter is when it was literally having a tornado outside.

Funny, I recall it being half as expensive when I got it a year and a half ago.
posted by phunniemee at 1:32 PM on January 24, 2014

I'm sure you would already know if this is the case, but if there's a cable jack behind your TV that doesn't actually correspond to any cable service, you should try plugging your TV into it and see what happens.

This is what I do. I think I get such great reception this way because the old jack connects to the remnants of an old sattelite dish on my roof, acting as a much better antenna than any rabbit ears ever could. But honestly, I couldn't tell you why it works.

If you don't have an old cable jack back there, I've read good reviews for the Mohu Leaf.
posted by Sara C. at 1:34 PM on January 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

HDTV broadcasts in mostly UHF, but some channels in some cities are VHF. VHF requires a different kind of antenna. So, to start with, you need to determine which frequencies you need to receive.

There are 2 good websites i know of for this:
TVFool and Antenna Web They will tell you what stations are in your area based on your address, and what direction they are in. Many antennas are directional and need to be pointed in the correct direction.

On the websites if the "Real" or "RF" channel is in the range 2-13, you need a vhf capable antenna, which will look more like the classic rooftop antennas of the past (which still work fine!).

Be wary of amplified or powered antennas, they cost more and amplify the noise along with the signal, so usually work poorly for the cost.
posted by TheAdamist at 1:35 PM on January 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

It really, really depends on how far away you are from the transmitters and the bands you watch on. If you're at the location in your profile (Manhattan) you're close to the transmitters which transmit on both UHF and VHF. The flat Mohu antenna will probably work. It's not as efficient at VHF but your signal strength will probably be high enough. One thing you will have to worry about is multipath, where the signal bounces around off buildings. On analog TV you'd see this as ghosting of the image. If multipath is a problem, having an aimable antenna (which the Mohu is not) can help. But sometimes it's not a problem. I'd give the Mohu a try.
posted by zsazsa at 3:01 PM on January 24, 2014

I built a Bowtie Antenna and it worked way better than my store-bought one. Cost about $5 and took only 1/2 hour to make.

But I think your reception would be much more dependent on your location w.r.t. the broadcast tower and any intervening obstacles.
posted by TDIpod at 3:25 PM on January 24, 2014

I used to just get TV through the cable jack, like Sara C. Cable companies used to be required to broadcast local QAM channels, so I was able to get ABC, NBC, CBS, etc. through the coaxial, but then the FCC's B1 Encryption Order allowed the cable companies to scramble the channels. Predictably, Comcast rushed to do so in the hopes of getting more of us cord cutters to pay them for basic cable. So I bought a Mohu leaf.

I've been quite pleased with it. I get a lot more channels than I did through the coax, and the picture quality is very good. There have been a couple of days in a row recently where the picture got all pixellated and I missed a couple of my favorite shows, but the problem seemed to have resolved itself. Maybe sunspots or something.

I still watch shows I really care about through a laptop plugged into my TV, but the Leaf does a good job when I want to watch live broadcasts.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 4:21 PM on January 24, 2014

Through my coax cable plugged into a mystery jack, I get the big 4 networks, a few different PBS affiliates, some local/CW/random syndicated reruns channels, and dozens of cable access channels in just about every language that corresponds to a Southern California ethnic enclave (Spanish, Armenian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, possibly Khmer and/or Thai, Persian, etc).

Also some shopping and informercial channels.

A dozen-odd years ago when I did this I also got a lot of free basic cable like TNT, the Food Network, etc. but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore.
posted by Sara C. at 4:40 PM on January 24, 2014

I can't afford to miss even one syllable of the genius of Jenny McCarthy!

There's a vaccine for that.
posted by w0mbat at 5:03 PM on January 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'll disagree about powered/amplified antennas; if you're having trouble with reception, it's probably a good idea to get a good* amplified antenna.

*good, for an amplified antenna, means low-noise. The antenna I ended up happy with after many others had failed (Winegard FL5500A) says it has a 1 dB noise figure. That is nice and low according to some radio personnel with whom I am acquainted, but it is hard to compare it against other amplified antennas, since none of them that I tried actually advertised their noise figures.

In any case, that particular antenna worked while other similarly-priced antennas failed, and that's all I really know about it.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 7:16 PM on January 24, 2014

Note that over-the-air digital TV receivers seems to be particularly susceptible to RF overload problems. That is to say in plain English, too strong a signal can be as much a problem as too weak a signal.

You'll mostly likely see this show up if you use an amplified antenna when you are close to the source of the TV signals. Like, if you live within a metro area where the TV stations and their antennas are located, you don't want to use an amplified antenna at all. The only time an amplified antenna is going to be useful is if you live way, way, way, way out in the country very far from any of the originating TV stations' antennas. Like 30, 40, 80, 100 miles away.

I found this out when I bought the expensive antenna, thinking "Why not spend a little more to get the best?" This antenna brought in one station, barely. All the others suffered from the RF overload problem, meaning I got no reception at all.

When I exchanged that fancy antenna for the absolute cheapest antenna they had, I got all the stations in our area without a problem. We do need to turn it/position it a little bit here and there to optimize it for various stations.

Some related info here.
posted by flug at 7:15 AM on January 25, 2014

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