Free TV – HDTV Antenna Gets Great Reception – A Guide on How to Buy an Antenna

My wife and I didn’t sign up for cable television when we moved recently.  We had cable TV at our last place, and it’s crazy how much money a person puts into that system…  Now, about three months later, I’m still not sure what I’m missing – there was never anything good on, all the shows seemed to be repeats, and in a half hour show there’s really only about 12 minutes of unique content (the rest is commercials or the show repeating it self to tease it’s upcoming segments and recapping what happened before the commercials).  So again, what were we paying for?

Just the other night I installed an antennae that will run through our entire house.  A one time cost well invested.  I’m getting around 30 channels of HD / DTV crystal clear and free!

A one time installation of a TV Antennae means FREE TV Channels and no monthly fees!
A one time installation of a TV Antennae means FREE TV Channels and no monthly fees!

My house, like most, is pre-wired to all of the rooms.  I did have to do a long cable run from the garage attic where I put the TV antenna to the basement where the splitter is that goes to each room

I mounted the TV Antennae in the garage attic.  As you can see, there are no obstructions around it, which helps with reception.  Technically, the obstruction of the building hinders the reception, but planning on a stronger than needed antennae will help to compensate.
I mounted the TV antenna in the garage attic. As you can see, there are no obstructions around it, which helps with reception. Technically, the obstruction of the building hinders the reception, but planning on a stronger than needed antennae will help to compensate.

It can be difficult and confusing to pick the right antenna.  There are a large number of shapes, sizes, ratings that don’t always match from brand to brand, etc.  And now you see in the stores these new antennas that are flat as a sheet of paper and claim to work wonders.  I’ll admit – I’ve never used one of those models.  I’ve talked to a few people who have, and it’s not that they don’t work, but they typically don’t work as good as you might hope…  they can be a visual eye sore in your home, if they get bumped they need to be adjusted again, etc.  My solution is a permanently mounted and positioned solution that will not be disrupted.  And being in the attic, even the weather can’t bother its position!

I chose the ClearStream 2V by Antennas Direct for several reasons.  It’s compact, it has a long distance range, picks up both VHF & UHF, came with the mounting bracket, and got high reviews from other owners.  With any antenna, be sure to shop around a bit for price.  I paid about 50% of what the list price was on their site.  I bought mine at Walmart – and let me say that I found that online prices can often times be different than in-store prices.


Before you buy an antenna, make sure you know what to expect – so do some simple research before hand.  There are a few GREAT websites worth referencing to help you determine what it is you are looking for.

    • Simply enter your zip code and address into AntennaWeb’s site and they will give you a chart with reception information.  They show the distance the transmitting tower is from you and the degree in which you need to angle you antenna.  They give you the color code for that station (see below), as well as the channel number and RF Channel (see below).
  • FCC Digital Transition Maps
    • Enter your zip code or city and this tool will display a similar map to AntennaWeb.  Rather than showing the color codes, they show an estimated signal strength.  The one piece of information that I really liked from this tool though, was that they show whether your stations are broadcasting on VHF (or Hi-V) or UHF.  See below for more information on what this means.  You can also click on the stations call letters and get some more technical information if you’d like.
  • TV Fool
    • I’ll admit – this site isn’t as user friendly as the other two simply in that it is a bit more technical than the other tools.  So for the nerds like me, this is fun information to look at.  But might not be for everyone.  But again, put in your address and it’ll give you a very complete chart of information.  What I find most interesting here is the number of TV stations it listed.  Many of them are stations I’d never dream of being able to capture, but interesting to know that if I wanted to put up a 15 foot yagi I might have a chance…  ha!
  • Solid Signal
    • Solid Signal is a retailer that sells most all of the antenna brands.  In my mind, this is the best marketplace to find what options are out there.  You can search by color codes, they have reviews which are helpful, and a large variety of products.  They have customer service that will help you to pick what is right for you – I didn’t personally try that though so I can’t speak to it.  They also have a directory of what antennas others in your area are using.  Sadly there were none listed for me though.
  • Antenna Point
    • This app for your iPhone or Android device will show you the towers in your area, how many miles away they are and what channels you can expect to get from each tower.  This is a nice tool to add to your decision making.  Full discloser – this is provided by Antennas Direct – an ecommerce retailer of antennas.  But their aren’t pushing their products – just a great resource they provide.
  • The internet
    • Once you’ve found a few models that you think will work, do your self a favor and do some research.  Amazon has a lot of reviews for most products and they can be sorted nicely – see what others are saying.  There are many retailers out there, shop for the best price (don’t forget to factor in shipping).  The manufactures website often has more spec sheets and information than the retailers websites.

How to pick an antenna

There isn’t one magic antenna that will work for every home.  Each home has it’s own unique setting and situation and you do need to ensure you are buying what is right for you home.  There are many factors to look at when picking the antenna that is right for your home.

  • What color codes do you need to look for?
  • Do you need a VHF, UHF, or both?
  • How far are you from the transmitting towers?
  • What angle or direction from your home are the transmitting tower?
  • Where do you intend to mount the antenna and thus how large of an antenna can your space support?

Color Codes

The CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) has put together a color chart to help pick which antenna is right for you.  Using the AntennaWeb website listed above, you’ll know what color codes you will need to receive each channel.  If your list has yellow, green, and red listed, then find an antenna that at least shows the yellow, green and red colors on it’s label.  It’s really that simple.

The unfortunate thing is that not all manufactures are following this simple system.  You will see some show this, and have a sticker on the box in the store, but not all sadly…  That’s one thing I love about the Solid Signal website though is that you can sort their product listing based on this color code chart.

If your desired antenna doesn’t use the color code system, then you’ll need to look to the other specifications to ensure you are buying the right antenna for your house.

CEA TV Antenna Color Codes
This is the full CEA TV Antenna Color Codes chart. Most antennas will NOT handle all of the colors. But based on what AntennaWeb says you will need, you can look for this chart on the antenna to ensure sufficient coverage.

VHF (Hi-V) or UHF? Or Both?

I go into detail below on what the difference of these two are, but it’s as simple as this.  On your FCC Transmission Map report (see resources above) it’ll list either Hi-V or UHF for each station.  Hi-V is VHF.  So when shopping for your antenna, ensure that it will pick up that frequency.  If the antenna says it’ll pick up VHF, then yes it’ll get Hi-V (explained more below).  And if your station is UHF, then ensure the antenna is UHF.  And yes, they make a VHF & UHF antenna.


Size is important as it depends where you want to mount it (and if the neighbors will get upset).  If you are mounting outdoors, you obviously have the most space.  But keep in mind if you are mounting on the roof, that you have the pitch of the roof that may get in the way depending on the angle you are pointing and the length of the antenna and the height in which you are going to mount it.

If you are going to mount in the basement or attic, you have rafters, walls, “stuff”, etc. to work around…  Keep in mind that you need to angle this a certain direction as well, and possibly rotate it at times too.

Mounting height

The higher you can mount the better so as to get over the top of obstructions.  Also, while this might sound odd, to get out of the obstruction of the curvature of the earth, but that’s more for the longer distances like the 100 mile range.  But seriously, get this as high as you can.  Typically mounting on the roof of your house is best, but if you have tall trees around it would be good to put up a tall pole and get even higher.

But speaking more realistically, get it as high as you can.  I mounted mine at the peak of my attic and had good results.  That’s not to say everyone will have the same results, but it’s worth trying.  And I mean that seriously.  Try out various locations of the antenna before you do your final mounting.  Maybe your best choice location isn’t going to be the best location.  But try it, and if not, move it to a second option, etc.  But try to keep it up high whenever possible.

Shape / Style

There are rabbit ears – maybe the most commonly known style.  They get their name from looking like two rabbit ears sticking up.  If you live very close to the transmitting towers, these may work.  However rabbit ears are traditionally only designed to pick up VHF signals and don’t be surprised to find that most of your stations are UHF.  There are rabbit ear antennas that have a circle on them as well – the circle portion is for picking up the UHF stations.  So you can try that but again only if you’re rather close.  Also rabbit ears are designed to be mounted on or at each TV unit.  Not to say you can’t get crafty and try to run that through the house, but just saying.

The new craze in TV antennas is these flat antennas.  Some are as thin as a sheet of paper and are meant to work indoors, on a boat, etc.  I have heard mixed reviews on these – it’s not that they don’t work but maybe aren’t the greatest product.  If you want to know my honest opinion, I think it’s just clever marketing as really you could throw up a sheet of tinfoil on the wall and get a similar results.  (and yes, I’ve strung up tinfoil around my room before…)

The more traditional mounted style is the yagi antenna.  That’s the classic long antenna with a lot of elements running across it and often times what looks like the tail fin of an airplane sticking up on the back side.  Yagi antennas always have been and probably still are some of the strongest performing models.  However they are typically rather large – 4 feet and up – I’ve seem some around 15 feet long.  And they aren’t always the most attractive looking…

The Bowtie antennas seem to be the next best thing after a yagi antenna.  They are more compact, but share many of the same technical design principles as a yagi and thus get similar performance.  Typically they don’t reach the same distance, but not a bad option in my opinion and are great for attic or basement installs.

Distance from towers

How fare your house is from the broadcasting towers might be the single most important factor in if you’ll have success with your antenna or not.  Every antenna should have a rating of how far it will reach.  But keep in mind, this is a manufacture rating.  I’m not sure how each manufactured comes up with that number, but my guess is that it’s not consistent from manufacture to manufacture, and it’s probably tied to optimal conditions which most of us do not have.  So my personal rule of thumb is to take your actual distance and at least multiple it by 1.5 and find an antenna that will fit that number.  So if you are 20 miles from your furthest tower, look for an antenna that can reach 30 miles.

Also note that antennas often have different distances per frequency.  So VHF might be 35 miles and UHF might be 45 miles.  Again, use the resources above to know where your house sits per signal type and ensure you are buying an appropriate antenna.


The direction (angle) in which you need to point your antenna is important so that you are capture the signal correctly.  Point the front of the antenna in that direction based on the manufactures directions.

But it’s possible that you will want to reach two or three broadcasting towers and they are in different directions.  So first figure out what the difference is between those two.  So say you want to reach two towers that are at 200° and 258°, then you need to cover a 58° span.  The antenna should list what range it will cover, but sadly not all of them do…  Most seem to cover up to 60°, but beyond that you might have to look at a rotor.

A power rotor would be mounted on the antenna mounting mast and would rotate the antenna for you.  So say you want to watch a channel that is at 58°, the rotor will turn it to that angle for you.  Then later you want to watch a show that is at 146°, use your rotor to turn it to that angle next while still in the comfort of your easy chair.  This will really expand your opportunities!

This is kind of speculation, but I believe it would be possible for another option to mount more than one antenna pointed in different directions and then use a signal joiner to merge their signals into one.  Don’t quote me on this theory though and do your research.  I feel there could be issues here though as you might have ghosting from picking up the same station off of both antennas and such…  Just a crazy idea, but I thought I learned about this back when I worked at RadioShack.  But that was so long ago…


In the old days, amplifiers were useful for boosting the signal.  While amplifiers are still sold and can be used, they may not always help.  In the old days (pre 2009) with analog TV, a weak signal could be boosted.  But after 2009 with digital television signals, you either get it or you don’t.  That’s why there isn’t static anymore and your show may be choppy.  So the amplifier is essentially boosting something that doesn’t exist.

Now with that said, that’s the theory and the technical details that I’ve been told by engineers in the business.  In reality though, I’ve used some low amplification and had positive results.  So I’m not going to speak to be an expert here, but rather am letting you know that this is an option that you can explore if needed.  But I’d suggest not starting here, but rather look at amplifiers if the antenna it is slightly underperforming your expectations.

Mounting Location and Antenna Quality

There are some antennas that are designed to be mounted out doors, and some that aren’t.  Keep that in mind.  Mounting an antenna outdoors brings with it lots of weather implications that could affect the life of your antenna.  Are the connections covered by weather resistant boots?  Is it all plastic?  Is it mounted well enough to hold up to a strong wind storm?  These are all things to consider.  Mounting inside of course eliminates most all of these considerations.

What can affect your signal

There are numerous factors that could obstruct your signal and thus alter the results you get.  So while an antennae might claim that it can receive up to 25 miles, note that they have to say up to for many reasons.  Many consumers don’t understand this and thus end up with mixed results.  And frustration.

TV Tuner

Built into every TV is a TV Tuner.  This is what translates the signal it is getting be it cable TV or your new antenna.  With cable TV, the cable company ensures you have a strong signal for all channels so they just simply all work.  With an antenna, you will be receiving each channel with varying strength and clarity for reasons explained through out this guide, so your TV Tuner needs to be able to read these well.  Now the sad reality is not all TV’s come equipped with the same TV Tuner equipment, and there really is NO information out there about the quality or ability of the tuner in a particular model.  I’ve heard of many people having a great antenna setup and yet can’t get their TV to show the channels well – it’s a poor tuner.  It’s not that it’s defective, it’s just a poor tuner that was maybe designed more for cable TV than it was broadcast TV.  You might also notice that if you have multiple TV’s of different brands, models, etc. they might receive channels differently than others.

So all that said, what can you do about it?  If you are going to buy a new TV, do your homework and see if you can find reviews or information about the tuner.  Else hope for the best and/or rely on your stores return policy.  But like any electronics, you typically get what you pay for.  The larger name brand TV’s tend to perform better than the discount off brand models.

Cable runs

The length of your coax cable does make a difference in your signal.  Of course you will need to run a long cable to get from an outdoor mounted antenna to your splitter and then to your various TV’s.  And the splitter is another source of where you might get signal loss.  This all is another reason that I try to over buy on my antenna – to account for signal loss that I know will happen.

I believe it’s after 50 feet that you start to see signal loss.  It’s not drastic, but that’s the technical point that it starts to fade.  Also your splitters should be quality – the cheap dollar store ones aren’t always designed to handle some of the higher frequencies.  Likewise quality coax cable is important in this too – RG6 is the current standard.  In older homes though, you may have RG59 which isn’t as good.

Also, when running your cable try to not cross electrical cables on a perpendicular path.  Running parallel should be fine, but crossing them can cause interference.  I try to keep a few inches of separation just to be safe though – something learned in my education for the TV industry.  AV and electrical cables have different frequencies and they don’t play nice together.

Lastly, be sure to run cables safely and appropriately.  Use wire staples, tuck it where it won’t get interfered with, etc.  Just use common sense to ensure that your antenna will be worry free for a long time to come!

In addition to the running of the cable, the ends of your cable is important as well.  Engineers I know swear by the newer compression fittings.  While I agree with them that they are probably better, the tools and fittings are much more expensive so I’m only equipped with the lower priced crimp on fittings and have had good success with those.  But make sure you get the right fittings for your cable – RG6 or RG59, they are different sizes.

Obstructions / topography

At the base level, keep in mind what is happening here.  A broadcasting tower is transmitting a signal (at various wave lengths or frequencies per channel).  This signal needs to travel over a long distance – multiple miles.  In my case over 25 miles.  The signal is only good for so far, and actually at about 150 miles the curvature of the earth can get in the way of the signal being possible.  Also, between you and the tower could be many obstructions, hills, etc. that will block the signal.  So your antenna needs to be able to receive those transmitting signals despite all of those restrictions it might have.

The walls of your home are an obstruction as well.  While many people, my self included, have had success with attic mounted antennas, the roof, walls, rafters, etc. all are obstructions to air waves.  I have asphalt shingles, but I’m guessing that a steel roof would not be helpful as that will actually deflect some of the signal.

If you live in a valley region, you may have a harder time capturing a broadcast signal as the hills will act as an obstruction.  I’ve lived in a valley and had no luck with my “fancy” rabbit ears.  But when I lived on upper edge of the valley I had some success with the same set of ears.  I never did try a better antenna there though.

Technical Stuff

VHF vs UHF explained

Maybe the younger generations haven’t heard these acronyms, but I know growing up I was familiar with them.  They are used to describe what time of broadcast frequency a TV station (or radio station for that matter) broadcasts on.  The reason they are important is there is a different style of antenna for each.  So using the resources above, you can determine what type of signals are used in your area, and then when shopping ensure you find an antenna that covers the correct frequencies.

VHF stands for Very High Frequency.  VHF covers RF Channels 2 – 13.  VHF covers the 30–300 MHz frequency range.

VHF is broken into two groups – Low Band VHF (RF Channels 2 – 6) and High Band VHF (RF Channels 7 – 13).  These are also known as Low-V and Hi-V respectively.  As of the 2009 Digital Transition, Low-V is used for radio now, so when buying a TV antenna only and you need VHF, a Hi-V antenna will be sufficient.  However if you want to use your new antenna for capturing radio broadcasts as well, you may want one that covers the Low-V spectrum as well.

UHF stands for Ultra High Frequency.  UHF covers RF Channels 14 – 83.  UHF covers the 300–3000 MHz frequency range.

Note though, that not all UHF antennas will go up to RF Channel 83 – 69 seems to be the most common top limit.  So if you need that high of a RF Channel, be sure to do your homework and pick the right model.

Channel Number vs RF Channel

The Channel Number is the number that you tune your TV to.  Traditionally, this is 2, 4, 5, etc.  Since the digital TV transition in 2009, there are also sub channels noted by either a dash or a dot depending on the TV remote and/or listing service.  Each channel is allowed multiple depending on some technical details set by the FCC, transmitter, and other mumbo jumbo not worth getting into.  But this means that channel 2 can have 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, etc. and they are all essentially different TV stations with different programs, but all put out by the same TV station.

The RF Channel on the other hand, is the radio frequency channel that they actually broadcast on.  So based on the transmission frequency that station sends, a TV will interpret that frequency as a channel number.  When the 2009 digital TV transition happened, some channels had to broadcast on a different radio frequency than they used to prior to the switch.  For example, my local channel 2 is actually broadcasting on RF Channel 34.

So why two numbers?  Well using channel 2 as an example, they have used the number 2 in their marketing forever and prefer to stay on channel 2.  That’s what their viewers know them as.  So since historically they were channel 2, they are still allowed to be received on the TV as channel two, but they technically broadcast on channel 34’s radio frequency.

So why is this important?  When looking through the specifications of a TV antenna they will say what channels that device will capture.  You obviously need to ensure that the channels you want to receive are captured by that antenna.  So as explained above int he VHF vs UHF section, most antennas don’t capture channel 2 anymore by design.  But since I’m looking to capture an RF channel, not a Channel Number, that’s not a problem.

Happy TV Watching!

There is a lot of information here, I’m aware.  And it may sound hard and complicated, but it really isn’t.  Really, most people are just uneducated on what it takes to have success with a TV antenna.  Sadly, some homes are in an unfortunate location that you just can’t get much of a signal, but the majority of us are in a perfect location for success in receiving free TV channels!  I hope that my guide helped to educate you enough to make the right purchase on an antenna that will server your home for a lifetime!  This is a one time purchase that should serve you well.  So do your homework now, make the right purchase, and be happy that you don’t need to think about this again!

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I'll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information.