Yes, the rumors are true - there are actually more than a dozen over-the-air channels that you can get for free with an indoor TV antenna. These are the evolution of the rabbit-ear antennas you remember growing up but with the added bonus that they can pick up 1080p HD broadcasts.
Unfortunately the fact that TVs can receive these channels is a fact that has largely been obscured by cable companies that are all-too-eager to sign you up for an expensive cable plan. That said, while over-the-air broadcasts are much more limited than any cable package out there, they're totally free and still usually carry the biggest sports match-ups (the NFL on Sunday, the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup), plus sitcoms, dramas and comedy shows from NBC, ABC, CBS and more.
How do you get access to this treasure trove of content? Well, you buy an antenna obviously, and for both better and worse, there are dozens of options that can make the process harder than it needs to be. You've got a lot of different types of antennas to pick from – those that sit (or stick) near your TV, those meant for an attic, and others that can be mounted to the side of your building.
With that in mind, knowing the right one to buy can be challenging, but we're here to help you decide. We've done the research to find the best indoor TV antennas to suit every budget.
Antenna scams you should know about
Recently there have been a number of misleading product pages on Amazon that have promised customers outrageous features like a 120-mile range and 4K resolution. Do not take them at their word. These claims are misleading and, with our current technology, impossible.
You can read a great breakdown of lies antenna manufacturers tell you over on TechHive, but suffice it to say that the curvature of the Earth prevents more than an 80-mile range for broadcasts and no broadcast station in America currently puts out a 4K OTA signal. That is going to be part of the next set of ATSC standards that's currently in development, but it's still a long way from adoption.
Best indoor TV antenna: how we tested
For this piece, we tested indoor antennas that remain near your TV, both standard antennas that connect solely via coaxial cable, and amplified ones that add a USB connection for a powered-up range boost.
We tested several current indoor TV antennas from the top makers in the business, watching to see how many channels each antenna could find, how easy it was to set up, how crisp the signal looked, the style and size of the device, and the price and overall value.
Our testing environment was a two-story house just outside of Chicago, less than 15 miles from downtown. Each antenna was tested on two televisions: one on the first floor, and another upstairs on the second floor.
Even if modern antennas are more reliable than the old versions, they can still be fickle: your distance from broadcast towers is important, but so too is where you place the antenna, where you are in your home, and what's around it. Your experience may vary to ours, as a result, and you may need to experiment with location to yield the most channels to watch.
These are the best indoor TV antennas that we've tested so far, and we'll be adding more to the list once we try more models.
1. AmazonBasics Ultra-Thin Antenna (50-Mile Range)
Cheap and effective – an excellent value
Range: 50 miles | Amplified: Yes | Dimensions: 11.6 x 10.5 inches | Cable length: 16ft
Amazon hardware is usually cheaper than the competition and lacking some flash, but when it comes to an indoor TV antenna, most people don't need anything fancy.
The AmazonBasics Ultra-Thin Antenna is boosted via USB cable or power adapter to provide a strong 50-mile range, and it works just as well as any other flat antenna we tried. We pulled in more than 50 channels in crisp 1080p HD with supported content.
It's no-frills from start to finish: it comes in a plain brown box and is a simple sheet of plastic with white on one side and black on the other. It comes with pins and Velcro dots for affixing it to a wall (if you want t), and it only takes a couple of minutes to get it set up and plugged into your TV.
At $25 for this 50-mile range version, it's easily the best value of the antennas we've tested. There are cheaper 35-mile and 25-mile versions that aren't amplified, so you might save a few bucks if you live close to a downtown area. But even at $25, this is a steal.
2. TERK MTVGLS Indoor Plate Antenna
Larger and pricier, but also more powerful
Range: 65 miles | Amplified: Yes | Dimensions: 12 x 11.3 x 1.2 inches | Cable length: 6ft
TERK's MTVGLS model indoor antenna is flat like some of the others on this list, but it's not paper-thin – instead, it's just over an inch thick and runs about a foot in either direction. It comes with a little stand that can be screwed in on the bottom if you want to lay it flat, or on a side if you wish to stand it up, or you can opt to mount the antenna to a wall.
No matter how you choose to arrange it, TERK's amplified plate antenna should satisfy: it proved to be the most consistently powerful antenna of the bunch of TV antennas we tested, yielding 58 channels with the ground-floor TV and 60 channels upstairs. The 1080p channels looked sharp, plus it's capable of 4K signals once that becomes a reality.
Also, the 65-mile range of this omnidirectional antenna could come in handy if you're further out from the towers. At a regular price of $80, though, you'll pay for that extra power and range: it's quite a bit pricier than some other nicely-capable devices on our best indoor TV antennas list.
3. Antop AT-127 Paper Thin Indoor Antenna
Put a little wood grain on your antenna
Range: 40 miles | Amplified: No | Dimensions: 13 x 9 inches | Cable length: 10ft
It's obvious from a glance that the Antop AT-127 is different than the flat competition. It's sturdier than Amazon's antenna, but the faux wood grain – dark walnut on one side and light oak on the other – is also an intriguing touch. Antop has plenty of plain-looking antennas, but we can't help but dig the look. It feels certifiably retro, like the casing of a decades-old TV.
The AT-127 isn't amplified, so it just connects via a coaxial cable. Still, we found more than 50 channels in both locations, and everything looks crisp and clear in 1080p. Antop says it's 4K ready, but we'll have to test that whenever American networks begin broadcasting in Ultra HD resolution (probably not any time soon). You can mount this one to a wall or window, but Antop also provides a little black, plastic stand that you can slot the antenna into, in case you want to tuck it behind your TV.
4. Antop Flat-Panel Indoor/Outdoor Antenna AT-402
Huge and pricey, but plenty powerful
Range: 60 miles | Amplified: No | Dimensions: 4.53 x 5.12 x 23.82 inches | Cable length: 40ft
Antop's AT-402 antenna isn't like any other on our best indoor TV antennas list. It's two feet tall and stands on its own with a removable stand, looking almost like a shrunken tower fan – and it can also be mounted outside. In fact, the "indoor" part of the description seems like an afterthought. Between the large size and 40-foot cable, it almost seems silly to set something this large next to your TV.
But it sure is powerful. The AT-402 doesn't require an amplifier, yet it still offers a 60-mile range, making it an ideal option if you're a fair distance from the city. In our testing, it pulled a few more channels on the ground floor than the paper-thin antennas we tried, comparable to the TERK antenna on that front (although the TERK antenna found a couple more upstairs). Also, the AT-402 and TERK antennas were the only ones to pull a clear CBS signal on the ground floor.
We've seen the AT-402 routinely sold for just under $70 recently, which makes it pricier than some other antennas on this list. But the extra range and seemingly stronger pull might make this a good option for anyone worried about signal issues, or anyone who hopes to snag a few extra fringe channels in the lineup.
5. Winegard FlatWave Amped FL5500A
Strong, amplified flat antenna for a bit more cash
Range: 50 miles | Amplified: Yes | Dimensions: 12 x 13 inches | Cable length: 18.5ft
Winegard's amplified FlatWave FL5500A antenna checks all of the same boxes as the AmazonBasics model listed above. It offers a 50-mile range, is flat and nearly paper-thin with black and white sides, and delivers a strong 1080p signal. In our testing, it found just over 50 channels in both locations. We have no complaints about the device itself.
Really, our only issue that the FlatWave FL5500A costs more than double the price of the AmazonBasics 50-mile option, and truth be told, we couldn't tell a difference between them in use. They are nearly identical across the board, but based on current pricing, you'll save more than $25 with Amazon's model. It's great, but there's no clear reason to pay extra that we could see.
6. Mohu Blade Indoor/Outdoor Bar Antenna
Sleek and appealing, but frustratingly finicky
Range: 40 miles | Amplified: Yes | Dimensions: 18 x 5 x 0.7 inches | Cable length: 10ft
Mohu's new Blade antenna is a one-of-a-kind – instead of a floppy sheet, it's a thicker, rectangular plastic panel that you might not be compelled to hide. You could mount it on the wall below the TV like a soundbar, or there's a little attachable kickstand if you'd rather put it on a TV stand. In any case, it's stylish in a way that most antennas simply don't strive to be. And if you want, you can mount it in an attic or even outside.
But that style comes with frustrations. We struggled mightily to attach a coaxial cable or 90-degree coaxial adapter to the back of the antenna, because its coaxial connector is wedged so tight to the backing. Ultimately, we used a screwdriver to remove the spongey support ring on the back to give our hands a bit more room, and then had to use pliers to tighten the adapter because it wouldn't budge using our fingers. It was a real pain.
Once it was finally up and running, we searched multiple times and found fewer channels with the ground-floor TV – just 44 max, compared to 50+ with the others. None of the omissions were crucial, but it was still a difference. Upstairs, we had to play around with the location before hitting the same 50+ mark as the other antennas. The Blade is sleek and stylish, but the smaller size brings a couple of frustrations along with it.