Believe it or not, the video quality of your thousand dollar entertainment system can hinge on an inexpensive antenna. These are not the same rabbit ears you might remember from your Dad’s old photos. Just as TVs, cell phones, and computers have made huge technological leaps, so has the humble antenna. The science of broadcasting a signal hasn’t changed, but improved technology has made it easier to capture high quality over the air signals. Modern antennas are small, easy to install, and high-tech compared to their predecessors.
Shopping for an antenna that boasts unfamiliar acronyms and claims of must-have features can make the process of choosing one feel intimidating. The truth is, it’s a fairly straightforward piece of technology that’s been around for decades with improved components. The trick to buying an antenna is avoiding one a cheaply manufactured model with sub-standard industry parts.
Good quality is less expensive than you think
Most HDTV antennas range from $30-$100. When you’re talking about a relatively inexpensive purchase, there’s not much of a gap in the price point between a quality antenna and a cheap model that breaks easily or one made from shabby components. In fact, a lot of the cheap antennas cost the same as their reliable counterparts.
The simplest way to weed out the cheap knockoffs that will cause you a headache is to choose a reputable seller. It’s worth investing in a name brand with good reviews that will be backed up by solid customer service, knowledgeable employees, a fair return policy, and high-quality manufacturing practices.
Why you should pick a name brand antenna
When watching broadcast channels, your entertainment experience is riding on a purchase of about $50. You may have the latest technology, the biggest screen, and the best sound system, but the signal you receive determines your viewing experience.
The biggest difference between a name brand antenna and a cheap knockoff is reliability. Companies like NoCable, Winegard, and Mohu stand behind their products. Reputable companies will help you understand your purchase, what to expect from each model, verify that product reviews are authentic and offer customer service and support.
Get a recommendation for what type of antenna you need
The first step when shopping for an HDTV antenna is to determine how close you are to the broadcasters in your area. Enter your street address at www.nocable.org to see if you can use an antenna, which stations are available via antenna, how far they are from your address, and see the best match for your circumstances.
The distance determines what type of antenna you’ll need. The effective range for an HDTV antenna can range from 25-85 miles, depending on the model. But other factors can affect reception quality, like buildings, trees, or mountains that can obstruct the signal. For the most part, longer range antennas cost more.
Reputable companies offer service and support
Even though this isn’t a high-dollar purchase, there are so many variables involved that it’s a good idea to do some research. Look for service level agreements, stated return policies, customer reviews and real customer service. In my experience, the three brands that consistently get good ratings from tech publications are Mohu, Antop, Winegard and us. Heck, we even built iOS, Android and Alexa apps to help our customers get the most out of their antennas. See if the cheapest brand on Amazon provides this level of help.
Even with proper research, the variables of your location, building construction, and TV setup might prevent clear reception. Once you’ve tried troubleshooting tips like moving the antenna to a different location in the room, putting it near a window, or placing it in a higher location like your attic, then you’ll want to be able to contact support for help. Purchase from a company that offers support and states a deadline for a response.
If your home is 25-30 miles from one of the channel’s broadcast tower and you’re getting marginal reception, or have encountered an unexpected obstruction, you might need to upgrade to an amplified antenna. Find a company with a generous return policy so that you can exchange the product and upgrade to a more powerful model without hassle.
If you read online reviews, make sure that they’re from trustworthy publications. When the reviews for a product look too good to be true, they probably are. A good tool for determining if reviews are authentic is FakeSpot, which can check any review and let you know if it is real.
Stay away from low-quality antennas sold by shady companies
In your research, you’ll run across manufacturers that make outlandish claims of antenna performance. For example, avoid purchasing if a product description claims you’ll get 60-95 mile reception from a flat antenna, while 50 miles is the maximum range of flat antennas. Another common claim is that you’ll be able to get channels like CNN, ESPN, and Fox Business. These cable channels are not available OTA in any format. Companies that encourage purchases based on false claims aren’t going to stand behind their product.
It’s hard to avoid an antenna made from cheap materials because you can’t see the poor construction or thin wires are until it arrives. Trusted sites like Amazon will eventually remove companies with poor quality control due to poor ratings over time. The company might be long gone before you decide to pursue a refund, but a new one will pop up in its place. Purchase from a reputable company that will be around later.
Aesthetics? Sometimes it matters
Just about anything would be better than rabbit ears decorated with tinfoil. One factor that you’ll get from a name brand company is attention to design details. Companies like NoCable invest in design attractive, less obtrusive models that can be mounted flush on a wall and painted to match your decor. So even if the design isn’t your first concern, all other things equal, it would be nice for it to be invisible or at least unobtrusive.
If you don’t have one yet, this is the year to get it
A new over-the-air standard launches this year in many major TV markets. Commonly known as Next Gen Broadcast TV, the ATSC 3.0 standard is stronger and will transmit over greater distances and deeper into buildings; not only will broadcast TV be better, but the reception will be as well. The game-changing technology is the first time that a broadcast format has the advantages of broadband. Cord cutters eager for the enhanced picture and audio will line up to buy antennas and TVs enabled with the technology.
Next Gen TV brings the features to over-the-air broadcasts that you now consider requisite in streaming applications. Broadcasters hype the new format to having the benefits of over-the-top with the costs of over-the-air. Audio and video content broadcast over-the-air, while a separate data portion is sent over IP and integrated before being displayed.
You can look forward to new services like video on demand, mobile viewing, 4K Ultra Hi-Def, enhanced emergency alerts, a high frame rate, more colorful picture, and immersive audio – all delivered free with an over-the-air antenna.
One thing that makes people hesitate to cut the cord is having to choose an antenna. Antennas are a relatively inexpensive part of your entertainment system setup, but they have a disproportional impact on your experience.
For the best performance, use a website like NoCable.org to get a recommendation. Then purchase a name-brand model from a reliable, trusted manufacturer that offers service and support.
If you haven’t cut the cord yet, 2018 is a great year to do it. The hardware is unobtrusive, the broadcast technology is about to make another huge leap, and the cost is much lower than cable. Find your antenna and join the ranks of cord cutters for a great experience.
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