For cord cutters, everything old is new again — at least when it comes to using an antenna to pick up free, over-the-air (OTA) TV. As a growing number of people become tired of the rising costs of cable TV and all of the other hassles that come with it, many are cutting the cable in favor of streaming TV and OTA TV. Unsurprisingly, antenna sales have increased in recent years, with retailers like Antennas Direct reporting huge spikes in sales numbers.
Simply put, it’s cool to have an antenna again.
If there’s one drawback to dusting off the old bunny ears, however, it’s that setting up your indoor antenna properly to pick up all of the stations in your area in crystal-clear HD can be challenging. After broadcasters made the switch from analog to digital back in 2009, finding a signal became a little trickier. That’s because with a digital signal you either get a clear picture or no picture at all. For those who aren’t allowed or are unable to install an outdoor antenna on their roof, that means putting the antenna in just the right spot is more critical than ever. Even the newer, more advanced “flat” antennas that are multi-directional and don’t have to be “pointed” at a precise angle, like the highly-rated, popular Mohu Leaf, can still require a little work to get positioned just right to pick up the best signal possible.
Thankfully, there are some simple tips and tricks that will help you get optimal reception with your indoor antenna.
1. Find out where the broadcast towers are in your area
The first thing you need to do before even attempting to set up your antenna is to identify the locations of the broadcast towers in your area. Ideally, you’ll do this before you even buy your antenna because this will help you better understand how powerful the antenna will need to be to pick up the stations you want to watch.
There are a couple of excellent websites for locating TV signals in your area – TVFool.com and AntennaWeb.org. Either of these online tools will allow you to input your street address and see a map outlining the distance and direction of the various broadcast towers in your area.
Why does this matter? Let’s say you’re having trouble picking up your local NBC affiliate. Using the map, you can see which direction the tower is located in and move the antenna to the outside-facing wall that faces that particular tower. It can also tell you what strength antenna you’ll need to pick up the channels in your area. For instance, if most of the towers are within 30 miles, an antenna with a 30-mile range should work. However, if you live further away from the broadcast towers, you might need a more powerful antenna with a 50-mile range or more.
2. Place the antenna in or near a window
The fewer obstructions between your antenna and the broadcast towers, the better. And make no mistake–thick walls and ceilings are certainly obstructions. That’s why placing your antenna in or near a window often yields the best results. Many times, this can give you the clearest line of sight to the broadcast tower, provided there isn’t a major obstruction right outside of the window, such as a big tree or your neighbor’s brick wall.
A couple of important notes about placing your antenna in a window. First, beware of heat absorption from the sun. With the Mohu Leaf, the manufacturer recommends making sure “the white side faces outside so the antenna absorbs less heat from the sun.” Also, if you’re using a flat antenna, make sure you securely tape all four corners to the window so that it doesn’t bend or warp over time as this will hamper reception.
3. Go high
One of the things you’ll notice when you use the signal finder tools on TV Fool, AntennaWeb, or other similar sites is that you’ll be asked to input the estimated height of your antenna. There’s a very important reason for this. Typically, the higher your antenna is placed, the better your reception will be. That’s why outdoor antennas tend to pick up so many channels.
With that in mind, you should try to place your antenna as high as you can in your room (keeping in mind that you still want it near an outside-facing wall and by a window, if possible). In some cases, such as when the TV is down in a basement or broadcast towers are far away, this may mean placing the antenna up on a higher story or even in the attic, and it may require a slightly longer coaxial cable. Just make sure that you don’t get an unnecessarily long coax cable because long cable runs can degrade the signal.
4.Keep the antenna away from any metal
Metallic surfaces near your antenna can cause interference with the digital signals and block your reception. For example, if you place your antenna in a window but there are metal burglar bars or a metal bug screen just outside the window, this could cause issues. Likewise, if you have a metal roof in your home, installing your antenna in the middle of the attic probably won’t yield positive results.
“Try to keep as much distance as practical from these [metal] objects (6 feet or greater is ideal),” Antennas Direct recommends.
5. Test different antenna placements
While it would be nice to plug in your antenna and immediately start picking up every channel in your area in beautiful HD, the fact is you’ll probably have to test a few different locations for your antenna until you can find the position that offers the best results. Using the tips in this article, try out a few locations in your home. Each time you place the antenna in a new spot, run a channel scan on your TV and see which channels are picking up. If you’re using a flat antenna, I recommend using clear adhesive tape to temporarily place the antenna when running your scans.
With a little research and some patience, you should be able to get great reception with your indoor antenna.
Steve Belk is on a mission – to show people just how easy it is to cut the cord and get rid of cable. His website, Cut Cable Today, offers an easy-to-understand, step-by-step guide for getting rid of cable once and for all. You can follow Steve on Twitter @CutCableToday.