How to Get the Most out of Your HD Antenna

Here's how to get the best reception possible on your HD antenna and the right DVR to go with it

Now, we’ve done videos on HD antennas before. In fact, we learned that you can actually just use a metal spoon taped to a paperclip to make an HD antenna. But you probably want to go the more reliable route and get an actual HD antenna. They’re not very expensive, and once you have them, you get free TV. Pretty sweet, right? But there are a few things that you can do to get the most out of that HD antenna.

I’m going to talk about two of them or at least two broad categories with a lot of suggestions within those. We’re going to be talking about how to get the best reception out of your antenna, and we’re going to be talking about another device that you can add to that to make that antenna really shine. Stick with me here. Let’s dive in.

Antenna reception

The first thing that we need to note is that you need to get good reception out of the antenna, and there are a few things in this category that you can do to get the best reception possible.

The first step in this is you need to figure out what sort of reception you should be getting. Actually, at the FCC’s website, they have a DTV coverage map, and you can go there. You can see which stations are in your area, which signals should be pretty strong in your zip code, and you can even see where the transmitters and local towers are at. I’m in the Salt Lake City area so there’s mountains all around me. You can see which mountains the transmitters are on. It’s pretty cool.

It’s good to know that information because the next thing is you may want to get an amplified antenna. You could get either an antenna with a built-in amplifier, maybe one that you can switch on and off, or you can get separate amplifiers to plug the antenna into. Now, that coverage map is going to come in handy with this next thing, which is considering an amplifier.

The coverage map will tell you, like I said, where the transmitter is located. If you’re just a little bit too far away from the transmitter to get a good signal, then an amplifier might help you do that. Or if you’re in an area like where I grew up in Seattle, where there’s just a ton of hills everywhere, and you happen to be in a valley and the transmitter’s a few valleys over, well, it might be tough to get that signal. An amplifier could help you with that.

Now, amplifiers are a little bit tricky because, anecdotally at least, if you turn on an amplifier, people report getting a poorer signal if they are really close to the transmitter. You may not actually need it, but it is something to consider just in case you do.

Now again, another piece of anecdotal data here, an RG6 cable. Some of the antennas that you’ll get will come with an RG6 cable within the package already. But some of them don’t, and they use a lower quality cable. It’s possible that if you’re not quite getting the reception that you want out of your HD antenna, then if you switch to an RG6 cable, you could get better results. Now, not all antennas have detachable cables. Some of them you’re stuck with what you’ve got. If you’re hunting around for an HD antenna to buy, then consider one with a detachable cable.

Antenna placement

Let’s talk about the antenna itself and what you can do with that. First of all, higher is better. If it’s sitting low in a window, then considered taping it a little bit or pinning it a little bit higher up in the window. Or if you have a window that’s higher up in the room and you can run it all the way up there, that might get you a little bit better results.

The second thing is a lot of these HD antennas are designed to go flush with your window. You put them up in the window and that’s fine. That works well a lot of times. But it is possible that if you fiddle with the positioning of that antenna, that you could get some better results. If you’re struggling and it’s up in the window, consider taking it down and putting it on a tabletop. Sometimes just putting it horizontal will change the way that it’s receiving its signals and could help you get better reception. I’ve even seen stories of people who drop it on their floor and suddenly they get better reception. You never know, so if you’re struggling a little bit with that, then fiddle with that positioning just a little.

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DVRs and antennas

All right. Let’s move on to another device that you can add to your repertoire. Now, the nice thing about HD antennas is that essentially you pay 20–30 bucks, then you get free TV. Well, this suggestion does involve devices that are not free and sometimes come with subscriptions if you want to get the cool stuff. And that is DVRs. Okay. You’ve had DVRs in the past, or maybe you’ve used cloud DVRs with a streaming service. Well, you can get DVRs for an HD antenna as well. Amazon has their Recast system which is okay. TiVo’s actually got a really nice one. It’s got six tuners so you can record six shows at once. It’s got SATA connections and USB—it’s got not just HDMI. The optical audio jack lets you hook it up to all sorts of stuff. It’s a really nice DVR.

Or you can opt to go the budget route and go with something like Tablo. Now, Tablo does have some more expensive units, but they’ve also got things like the Tablo dual LITE. Now, it’s called the dual because it’s got two tuners so you can record two shows at once. You can plug in an external hard drive so that you can record shows there. Or if you sign up for their service, you can essentially get your own cloud DVR, where your recordings are just uploaded that way instead of having to have an extra piece of equipment attached to it. With those devices, they also can come with a grid view so you can see the timing for your shows and that sort of thing, and of course, it’s going to show you your storage there.

One of the nice things about a device like this is actually that you don’t have to have the antenna attached to the TV anymore. My Tablo is in a window on the other side of the room where it makes more sense and it simply connects via Wi-Fi or Ethernet to the TV so that I can watch shows there, or I can watch them on my phone, or I can watch them on my computer. Anything that’s connected to the same network as that DVR, you can watch your shows on that device. Pretty slick.

Now, this isn’t a full review of the Tablo or anything there, I just wanted to give you an idea of what these things can do. Maybe I’ll do a review a little bit later. If you have any questions about those devices and how they work, let us know so that I can make sure I cover those if I eventually do a roundup of over-the-air DVRs.

Final comment

Yeah, there you go. First of all, make sure you’re getting the best reception possible, and second of all, possibly consider putting a DVR in the mix to get the most out of your HD antenna. If you have any other tips or comments, hit those comments. I’d love to hear them. I’d love to have a discussion with people who are getting the most out of their HD antennas.

Want to learn more about HD antennas? A good place to start is our Cord-Cutting 101 episode about HD antennas, but we also have a roundup of our recommended HD antennas here.