Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
- An indoor antenna allows you to watch free local channels on your TV without a cable plan.
- Modern antennas can be attached to your wall or placed on a stand for easy installation.
- Our top choice is the Channel Master FLATenna+ thanks to its simple setup and strong reception.
An indoor antenna is a cheap and simple way to get local TV channels without a cable or streaming subscription
Most antennas today are as thin as a sheet of paper and can get dozens of channels as far as 60 miles away. You can tape some antennas right on your wall for easy setup. Others are as compact as a salt shaker, letting you easily place them behind your TV.
Instead of paying a hefty monthly bill, you can score a solid antenna for a one-time payment as little as $19. This affordable investment will get you free access to local stations like ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox. But, before you pick up an antenna, you'll want to use the AntennaWeb tool to see exactly what stations are available in your area.
Depending on whether you live in a big city or a more rural area with access to fewer channels, antennas may or may not be the right choice for you. You'll also want to consider what channels are exclusive to cable/streaming services versus what channels you might find with an antenna.
For most people, an antenna can be a cost-effective way to score live TV without a recurring cost. After testing several different models, we've picked the best antennas you can buy, all for under $100.
Here are the best indoor antennas of 2021:
- Best indoor antenna overall: Channel Master FLATenna+
- Best budget indoor antenna: Channel Master FLATenna Duo 35
- Best indoor/outdoor combo antenna: Antennas Direct ClearStream 2Max
- Best compact indoor antenna: Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse Amplified
- Best indoor antenna for easy setup: Mohu Leaf Fifty
The Channel Master FLATenna+ is a lightweight antenna with a wide range, reliable reception, and an affordable price.
Pros: Amplifier addresses choppy picture, subtle design, includes 3M tape for attaching to your wall, coaxial cable included
Cons: Takes longer to install due to amplifier
Out of all the antennas we tested, the Channel Master FLATenna+ offers the best bang for your buck. For $40, you get a reliable indoor antenna that’s relatively easy to install and offers a range of around 50 miles.
The model is paper thin and you can stick it to any part of your wall or window after applying the included 3M tape to the back. After I hung up the antenna it firmly held itself to the wall for over four weeks while testing.
The downside is that it takes slightly longer to install, but that’s due to Channel Master’s MicroAmp that you can screw in to improve reception. Channel Master claims its MicroAmp helps receive difficult-to-reach channels and, while that may be true, it makes this model a little less plug-and-play friendly.
In my area, the antenna picked up eight 1080i channels, including CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, government channels, and Telemundo. It also picked up 62 other local stations while eliminating a number of channels that appeared choppy on Channel Master’s FLATenna 35 model.
In fact, none of the channels I watched with this antenna were choppy. It’s a breeze to flip through stations and, over time, none of the channels disappeared from my lineup. When stacked up to other antennas we tested, this model also had shorter delays when picking up a station.
If you’re looking for an affordable indoor antenna with a simple design and reliable reception, this one is your best bet overall.
The best budget indoor antenna
Channel Master’s FLATenna 35 Duo is one of the most affordable antennas on the market, and it delivers solid reception for local channels.
Pros: Inexpensive, simple setup
Cons: Channels get choppy at times, coaxial cable isn’t included when you buy from major retailers, no amp
If you’re looking for a more affordable version of our top pick, the Channel Master FLATenna 35 costs less and is nearly identical. The main difference here is that this model does not include the MicroAmp or coaxial cable. We found that the MicroAmp helped provide better reception, but if you’re on a budget, the base model is still a good buy.
Just like the FLATenna+, this model is paper thin and you just need the 3M tape included in the package to install it on a wall or window. Channel Master is currently including a 12-foot coaxial cable for free if you buy the antenna through its site, but this model doesn’t usually come with a cable.
The FLATenna 35 received my local ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox channels. It also found a lot of Spanish language channels including Univision, Azteca, Estrela, and more. Other local stations, like Crime and GetTV, came through without any issues. I received 22 channels with a picture quality of 720p or higher.
Compared to other antennas I tested, the only major channel the FLATenna couldn’t pick up was PBS Kids. But while I received 79 channels, a handful of those stations came through with choppy images, which isn’t ideal. Since it doesn’t include the MicroAmp, this model is rated for a shorter range of 35 miles, which might account for the choppiness.
The best indoor/outdoor combo antenna
The Antennas Direct ClearStream 2Max features a solid, stable design that can be used indoors and outdoors.
Pros: Unique design, sturdy feel, solid channel reception, designed for indoor and outdoor use
Cons: Pricey, difficult setup, no coaxial cord included
The Antennas Direct ClearStream 2Max stands out from other models with its interesting design as, once you lift it up, the antenna looks like a bird flying in the sky.
The setup takes roughly 10 minutes and, while it was difficult to put the mount on at the bottom, it remained sturdy throughout my use. There wasn’t any choppy picture on any of the channels I tested, and it managed to receive all the major local offerings, such as ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox.
While this model firmly stands on its own after setup, it’s important to note that it doesn’t come with a coaxial cable. This isn’t a huge hassle, however, as coaxial cables are sold at many stores. But, the omission is still disappointing given the antenna’s already high cost.
Although it’s pricier than our other picks, this model has the added flexibility to be used outside instead of indoors if you want a better signal. The model’s mounting base allows you to clamp the antenna onto your roof or home to capture signals outdoors.
The best compact indoor antenna
The Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse is a thin amplified antenna that takes up little space.
Pros: Quick access to channels, thin and compact, coaxial cable included
Cons: PBS channels difficult to find in my area
Although the Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse Amplified picked up about nine channels less than the 2Max model in my area, it’s actually much quicker to set up. After I started my timer, I clocked in my installation process at about two minutes.
The ClearStream Eclipse Amplified can mount to your wall by peeling tape on the back of the unit. You can take it down and put the model somewhere else, as well, and it will still hold up at a different location. It picks up a solid amount of channels thanks to its in-line amplifier, too. The small, external amplifier is simple to install, and the antenna itself is the most compact of all the units I tried.
Some of the channels I received include local CBS, Fox, NBC, and ABC. One downside is it doesn’t pick up my local PBS channels or government channels, such as NYGov and NYLife, like some of the other models do.
This antenna also received the least amount of 1080i channels, six compared to the roughly 10 channels I received from other antennas. Still, I received zero choppy channels and had no trouble waiting for channels to appear on my screen. This stands out among the other models I tried.
The best indoor antenna for easy setup
Mohu’s Leaf Fifty is an ultra-thin and easy to set up antenna with the same range as larger models.
Pros: Thin and subtle look, stable picture, wide range, easy setup, coaxial cable included
Cons: Strong plastic smell after opening box
The Mohu Leaf Fifty is as thin as a sheet of paper but its range is strong compared to other, larger size models.
The Mohu Leaf comes with a 16-foot coaxial cable and small push pins and tabs that you can use depending on how, and where, you want to place it. This enabled the easiest installation of any antenna I tested. The push pins are about the size of a single hair, and prevent the antenna from popping out on my wall like it would with tape behind it.
After I scanned for available channels, I picked up 74 stations including 10 channels with 1080i video and 11 channels in 720p. All of the major local channels were easily picked up, including Fox, CBS, NBC, and ABC. None of the channels were choppy and each loaded on my TV in a matter of seconds.
It should be noted, however, that just before I installed the antenna, there was a strong smell coming from the product. The odor went away after a few minutes but if you’re sensitive to certain plastic scents, you may want to leave the box open a bit before installing right away.
How we test antennas
All the antennas we test are either indoor-only antennas or models that are designed for both indoor and outdoor use. We tested each antenna at the same location under the same conditions at a third-floor apartment in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, New York.
The same smart TV is used with each antenna. The units are set up about two feet from a window with no visible obstacles, like trees or wires outside of the building, that could impact the signal. All antennas are placed in the same location above or near the TV. We judge each antenna’s channel support by comparing it to a list of channels that the AntennaWeb tool predict will be available at our address.
We also account for cost and design when evaluating each model. We determine picture quality based on whether we notice any signal losses or choppiness during our testing period.
To test each antenna, we watch variety of channels for about 45 minutes. As far as the installation process goes, we use an iPhone timer to record the time it takes to unbox each antenna until it’s set up near the TV.
One important takeaway from our testing is that the manufacturer’s listed range does not necessarily translate to better performance compared to antennas with lower listed ranges. For instance, an antenna we tested with a listed range of 60 miles actually picks up fewer channels in our area than an antenna listed with a 35-mile range.
On that note, it’s important to keep in mind that overall antenna performance will vary depending on your specific location.
What else we considered
During our testing, we also considered a few other antennas. Here are the other antennas we evaluated for this guide, and why they didn’t end up making the cut.
Antennas we don’t recommend:
Amazon Basics’ Amplified Indoor/Outdoor TV antenna: While this model is around the median price of other units we looked at, it was the most complicated to set up. It took me roughly 20 minutes to install since the unit was missing a pair of screws in the package. Amazon did send me a replacement, however, which included the screws. This was also the largest model we tested, which makes it less convenient. And, while it got 70 channels on my first try, most of the 480p channels were choppy and broadcasts dropped in and out.
RCA Multi-Directional Antenna: This antenna received the least amount channels – 42 – out of all the models I tried. Although the antenna is on the cheaper side compared to others, we recommend spending a bit more for a model with better reception.
Clear TV Premium HDTV Antenna: This is an antenna that might be familiar to infomercial watchers. The package comes with a salt shaker-size antenna and is one of the cheaper options I’ve come across. While the rabbit ear design could bring back memories, nine of its 68 channels — such as HSN, PBS, and Fox — appeared choppy on my TV. This is a decent option if you’re looking for a bargain, but you can get better consistency with a slightly pricier model.
What we look forward to testing
Other antennas we hope to try out in coming months include Antop’s HD Smart Antenna SBS-301. This model allows you to connect to two TVs at once and also claims to have a range of up to 80 miles.
There’s also 1byOne’s Indoor/Flat Amplified HDTV antenna, a model that promises reception of channels up to 200 miles away. We also want to test Phillips’ Modern Loop Rabbit Ears Indoor TV antenna. That model takes us back to our childhood with the classic, retro TV antenna design and also features a small size for easy placement.
What do I need before I purchase an antenna?
Before you purchase an antenna, you’ll want to make sure your TV includes an integrated digital tuner. This is standard for virtually any TV you can currently buy, but if you still own a very old set you might need to purchase a separate digital tuner.
You’ll also want to check whether or not the antenna you’re considering comes with a coaxial cord. The cord is the only way you can connect your antenna to your TV so you’ll need to buy a separate one if it’s not included. If you want to place your antenna in the window or in a space away from your TV, you should measure the distance beforehand to see if the cord is long enough.
What channels can I get with an antenna?
Antennas pick up over-the-air broadcast channels that are available in your area. This typically means local networks like NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox, along with a few dozen other stations. Channel availability, however, can drastically differ depending on whether your community is more rural or urban.
One way to check available channels in your community is through the AntennaWeb tool. Just enter your address in the search bar and a list of channels that can be picked up in your area will show up in the results.
Are there any limitations with an antenna?
Antennas, unlike cable or streaming services, will only pick up local channels. If you want to see content from the likes of ESPN, AMC, FX, Disney Channel, and more, an antenna probably isn’t for you. We recommend getting Sling TV ($35/month) for streaming access to more networks, as it’s cheaper than most cable services.
Antenna reception can also be limited by external factors in your area. This means things like the amount of trees outside your home or nearby buildings could impact your viewing. The location of broadcast towers in your area, weather, and your room’s shape and design can also impact your reception. In other words, the performance you get from an antenna can be rather finicky compared to cable and streaming.
Unlike most cable boxes, an antenna on its own won’t let you record and store shows, though some external DVRs can be bought separately to record TV broadcasts from an antenna. Depending on your TV, you also might not get any kind of on-screen guide for navigation. This means, you have to manually go through each channel. With that said, some smart TVs now include guide integration for antenna playback.
What video and audio quality can I get with an antenna?
Most over-the-air broadcasts currently offer high definition (HD) picture quality with either 720p or 1080i resolution. This matches the resolution that most cable and live TV streaming services provide.
With that said, antenna-based broadcasts can actually look better than cable. Cable tends to compress video and audio quality more than antennas, so over-the-air TV will typically provide the clearest quality you can find in a broadcast. That is, as long as your reception is strong.
Over the next few years, some over-the-air stations will begin to broadcast in 4K through the new ATSC 3.0 standard, aka NextGenTV. NextGenTV’s 4K broadcasts are already available in markets like Pittsburgh and Phoenix, and will make their way to cities like Buffalo and Orlando throughout 2021.
If you want to keep your current antenna, you can, but you’ll have to buy an ATSC 3.0 tuner or a 4K TV with a built-in ATSC 3.0 tuner to actually watch in 4K. You can find more information on when 4K broadcasts will become available here.
Can I get local channels without an antenna?
Yes. If you don’t want to purchase an antenna or you don’t already get local stations through cable, there are several streaming options that provide local channels over an internet connection.
Ways to stream local channels without an antenna include live TV streaming services like Sling TV, Fubo TV, Hulu + Live TV, and YouTube TV. Each service offers a different assortment of channels, including many cable networks you can’t get with an antenna, so you’ll want to ensure that the stations you want are available.