Who should buy an indoor antenna?
Cable, satellite, and FiOS TV subscriptions can be expensive, but often we forget that broadcast TV is still free and features some of the most popular programs from major networks like CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, The CW, Univision, Telemundo, and PBS. Anyone who wants a cheap and easy way to get HD programming from major and local networks should give an indoor TV antenna a try. They’re also a good fit for people who can’t or won’t install a roof or attic antenna. The models we looked at can be placed in your window, on a wall, or behind your TV; they’re designed for a simple, unobtrusive setup.
How we picked and tested
We started by assembling an extensive list of indoor antennas based on the top recommendations from various editorial and customer reviews. There are literally hundreds of indoor TV antennas available, so we narrowed our search to only popular, well-reviewed, and easy-to-find models. We prioritized antennas that came with their own coax cable, though it wasn’t a necessity. For the most part, the antennas we tested used flat, omnidirectional designs, though we did try two larger antennas to see if the extra bulk equated to higher quality.
We tested indoor antennas in two locations: Hatfield, Pennsylvania, and Brooklyn, New York. To read in detail about the broadcasting conditions of each location, please see our full guide to indoor TV antennas.
We assessed each antenna by evaluating the signal strength and quality of eight major networks, as well as some local broadcasters. We scanned for channels multiple times with each antenna, and recorded the total number (which was often higher than 40). We also used a Silicon Dust HD HomeRun external tuner to objectively test each channel’s signal strength using software.
For good measure, we also built our own antenna using aluminum foil, cardboard, and coax cable. Our “Trashtenna” performed surprisingly well in New York, but fared less favorably in Pennsylvania. It also ripped the first time we tried to move it, proving to be the least durable of the antennas we tested.
In our tests, the 35-mile-range Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse proved to be the best-performing antenna in both locations. Its design and extra features, alongside its overall strong performance, made it our pick.
The Eclipse takes the flat-antenna concept in a slightly different direction by eliminating much of the plastic casing. It’s essentially a flat, circular piece of plastic with the antenna element inside. Thanks to its tacky Sure Grip substance, you can easily attach and remove the Eclipse from the wall. We love this feature because proper placement of an indoor antenna is almost as important as its design. The Eclipse also includes a 12-foot removable cord.
The sample antenna we tested came with a plug-in amp, and our results with the amp varied depending on where we used it. The amped version costs a little more, and in our tests the unamped antenna worked well enough that we suggest you try that model first, especially if you’re within 15 miles of a broadcast station. If you’re farther away than that, or separated by mountains or other obstructions, give the amped version a try, and be sure to move the antenna around to find the best location.
A budget option
If the Eclipse is sold out or otherwise unavailable, or if you just don’t want to spend that much money on an antenna, the Channel Master Flatenna is a good alternate.
In our initial tests in Pennsylvania, the Flatenna pulled in 49 channels. All the target channels came through, although NBC had some slight breakup (but not enough to make it unwatchable). The Flatenna performed slightly better when placed behind the TV, except that then it couldn’t pull in The CW. In New York, the Flatenna pulled in all channels in decent quality, and nine channels in exceptionally high quality.
However, the Flatenna is very basic, with the antenna wire embedded in a flimsy plastic case that’s easy to damage. Another knock against it is the short, nonremovable cord. If you plan to mount it behind your TV, the length won’t matter, but if you need to move it any farther than six feet from your TV, you’ll need to add cable with a coupler.
Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.