The following is a guest post from Grant Whipple, aftermarket consumer electronics product manager for Winegard, an antenna manufacturing company with more than 60 years of expertise in the industry.
The idea of canceling cable and satellite television packages—a.k.a “cutting the cord”—is an internal struggle for those who love television programming, but hate paying $90 (or more) every month for packages that can include hundreds of channels that they’ll never watch.
Those who make the decision to ditch cable and watch TV on their own terms typically rely on a combination of using an HDTV over-the-air antenna to pull in broadcast signals and services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
According to a study by GfK Media and Entertainment, a market research firm, roughly 19.3% of all U.S. TV households (that’s about 22.4 million) now get their programming for free from antennas. However, choosing the right antenna for your household can seem daunting, so we’ve put together five features every cord cutter must consider when making purchases.
VHF or UHF?
Digital TV signals are broadcast over two ranges: VHF (Very High Frequency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency). The best option is to find an antenna that offers both VHF (channels 2-13) and UHF (channels 14-51), instead of just one because the majority of TV stations in the U.S. transmit on both ranges.
The antennas that receive both frequency ranges are slightly larger due to the size of the signals. There are plenty of online resources that can determine which broadcast television signals are available in your area such as www.tvfool.com and www.antennaweb.org.
Directional or multidirectional?
Directional antennas point in one direction, whereas multidirectional antennas can pick up signals from multiple locations. The location of your home relative to broadcast towers is an important factor to consider. For example, the towers in some cities like New York and Los Angeles are consolidated into one spot. Directional antennas also tend to be better at avoiding interference than multidirectional because they point directly at the signal source.
Most broadcast stations are consolidated in one area. Multidirectional antennas are slightly easier to point, but they don’t provide the range and unwanted signal rejection.
So, if you determine that the broadcast towers in your area are in one location, it’s worth trying to find a directional antenna.
Amplified or non-amplified?
The question of whether you need to purchase an amplified or non-amplified antenna is, again, dependent on the location of your home in relation to the broadcast tower. An amplified antenna is ideal for people who live farther away from the transmitters (usually more than 30 miles), and the non-amplified typically have a range up to 30 miles.
Amplified antennas are also more effective in low signal locations. This type is generally recommended for those in rural areas, whereas its counterpart is effective in locations with strong station signals. Additionally, when looking for the perfect amplified version, it is important to choose a “low-noise” antenna which means less random noise will be added to the signal.
Indoor or Outdoor?
If you live far from broadcast towers (about 60 miles) or in low signal areas, then an outdoor antenna will be right for you to guarantee maximum reception. This is also ideal for consumers who are looking to receive broadcast signals for the whole house with one antenna.
Indoor antennas have made a comeback in recent years because they are easy-to- install and can be placed virtually anywhere near your TV set—on the wall, on the window and so on. Additionally, these are convenient for folks who live in condominiums or apartments who may be restricted with mounting outdoor antennas.
Antennas no longer look like the old, bunny ears that you may remember seeing in your grandmother’s living room. Instead, they’ve morphed into a sleek, razor-thin design that reflects flat-screen televisions and blend into your home entertainment system. Indoor antennas typically require little to no assembly, and are easy to hook-up and start using right away.
Cutting the cord is a big commitment, and it’s a decision that should be carefully thought out. It is helpful to keep a journal of program viewing habits for a few weeks, and if most shows are watched on broadcast channels or streaming services then canceling your cable or satellite subscription may the right move. At that time, you can use this article as a guide for purchasing an OTA antenna.