I started using indoor TV antennas in 2010 when I first canceled my cable service in Providence, RI. Since then, I've moved to Los Angeles and have amassed a collection of different types of indoor antennas. I figured it was time to re-test my TV antennas to make sure I'm still recommending the best ones. After all, what worked well in Providence might not work well in Los Angeles, right?
So, here's what I'm calling the "great antenna shootout". I've taken a representative selection of different types of indoor TV antennas and tested them in my condo. These are the ones I tested:
These represent some of the most popular types of antennas from some of the leading antenna manufacturers. All are non-powered. Which was the best?
In the past, I've taken a very clinical approach to testing, simply doing channel scans and recording the number of channels the antenna picks up. The one that picked up the most channels was the winner.
However, that is not necessarily a true reflection of the usefulness of an antenna. What most people really care about are a small number of channels, like the major networks, local English language stations, and PBS. Most people don't care if an antenna picks up a whole bunch of foreign language stations and duplicates. What really matters are the "important" stations.
Thus, I've adjusted my testing method to just look at the major networks, English-language local stations, and PBS.
So let the tests begin! (Skip to the end if you want to see the winner).
The HD Frequency Cable Cutter Metro is a flat metal "fractal" antenna. This is a newer type of antenna that relies on repeating geometric patterns for signal reception. HD Frequency offers three flat fractal antennas: the Metro, and the larger Cable Cutter. I found the rectangular Metro to be the best from my previous testing, so I'm using it for this test to represent the fractal antennas.
The Metro performed well in my testing. It was able to pick up all of the important channels that I wanted to get, but unfortunately, not all in the same position. I had to change the position to get PBS, which would cause me to lose some of the networks. But overall, this antenna was pretty good.
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The Channel Master STEALTHtenna 50 is technically an outdoor antenna, but it's small enough to be used indoors. It's known as a "Yagi" antenna, which is a very traditional design that you commonly see on rooftops. It's a directional antenna, meaning it works well if all of your TV signals come from one direction, which they do in Los Angeles.
Sitting outside in my patio, this antenna was amazing and picked up pretty much every channel I wanted to get. But once I moved it inside, the situation deteriorated quickly. By moving it around, I was able to get a lot of channels, but I had to hold it in the middle of the room pointing at my window - definitely not the way I wanted to mount this thing in my living room.
So, while this was a good antenna, the bulkiness made it impossible to position in practice for maximum reception. When I placed in a more discreet location, the Cable Cutter Metro brought in more channels.
Having said that, the STEALTHtenna works wonderfully when used outside. It's small enough to place in a patio. Read my full review of the STEALTHtenna when I tried it in my patio.
The RCA ANT150 is an old-school TV antenna with two telescoping arms and UHF loop. This antenna pre-dates digital broadcast TV, but still works for digital TV because the frequencies are the same.
For such an old antenna, it did surprisingly well and was able to pick up many stations. Unfortunately, I had to re-adjust the arms to pick up different stations - not something that is feasible in real usage. When left alone, it didn't do as well as the Metro. Plus, it was an eyesore. I don't recommend purchasing this type of antenna.
I had high hopes for the Antennas Direct DB4 antenna. This is the biggest and bulkiest antenna of the bunch, featuring four UHF bowtie antennas with a huge reflector.
But surprisingly, it didn't do so well. I'm not sure why, but the tiny Cable Cutter Metro brought in more channels. Even outside, the DB4 didn't do as well.
On top of that, this antenna is so bulky that mounting options indoors would be extremely limited, further hindering its performance.
Finally, I tested my trusty Mohu Leaf - the antenna I've been recommending for years. Would it still perform well in a totally new city?
The answer is "yes"! With careful placement, I was able to get more of my favorite channels using my Leaf than the Cable Cutter Metro! (Note that for all of these tests I'm using a high-quality RG6 coax cable, not the crappy cable that comes with the Leaf).
Like all of the antennas, it did suffer somewhat from what I call the "whack-a-mole" syndrome - i.e., you place the antenna to get good reception on one channel, only to mess up your reception on another.
But, I was able to find a happy medium which got me more channels than any other indoor antenna. And, because it's thin, it's easy to mount in a variety of positions.
I believe another advantage is that it bends, which seemed to help it pick up signals from different directions while the Cable Cutter Metro could only be tweaked for one direction.
So, the winner yet again is the Mohu Leaf 30! If you do get the Leaf, be sure to purchase a good RG6 coax cable with the correct length for it to reach a window in your home. The cable it comes with is not good.
I also love the Leaf because it's easy to mount and can be hidden without much effort. The importance of this is more than just cosmetics. Some of the other bulky antennas were good, but only when hanging in the middle of my living room - a non-starter!
Having said all of this, your results may vary. It's impossible to tell which antenna will work best in a given situation.
If you're happy with your antenna, DO NOT GO OUT AND BUY ANOTHER ONE. The differences between the antennas were subtle and positioning can have a bigger influence than antenna type.
By far, the most important thing you can do to improve your antenna reception is to move it outside. If that is not possible, here are more tips you can try.
What kind of indoor antenna do you use? Please leave your comments and questions below.
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