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Cord-Cutters: Do You Need an Antenna?

Q. I’ve been thinking about getting a rooftop antenna to get my local channels. I hear the picture is better and I could get rid of my cable TV service and cut the cord, as they say. So, Answer Man, is it true? Is the picture better? Should I get an antenna? — Mark, Kansas City, Missouri.

Yes, your local channels can deliver a better HD picture via a TV antenna. Cable and satellite (and telco) TV services compress the signals of local channels, which tends to dilute the picture quality. The TV providers do this for several reasons, including creating more system room to deliver more channels.  The signal your antenna receives directly from the local channel is purer (layman’s term, folks) and therefore a better one.

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However, before you run off to buy an antenna (and drop your cable or satellite service), you need to know that depending upon the location of your home, your antenna may not be able to pick up the signals of all your local channels. You may live too far away from the channel’s tower to get a decent signal, or you could have a major obstacle in the signal’s path, such as a high-rise office building or mountain.

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Also, since the nation’s transition to Digital TV, many antenna owners complain that it’s been more difficult to capture local signals. Unlike the old analog signal, you need a perfect connection to capture the digital signal or it will not display on your set. There is no middle ground. You either get a digital signal or you don’t.

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So how can you tell if an antenna at your home will receive all your local channels?, a web site co-sponsored by the Consumer Technology Association and the National Broadcasting Association, offers an easy-to-use guide to determining what kind of antenna you would need — and how many channels that antenna will pick up.

You type in your address, zip code and whether the antenna will be 30 feet or higher above ground level and then will display a list of stations that you probably will be able to receive. I say ‘probably’ because until you actually test it at home, you can’t be 100 percent sure.

The web site also tells you what kind of antenna you’ll need to receive a specific station.

It’s a great resource tool.

Finally, in the last few years, the antenna companies have done a great job of beefing up their products, offering indoor antennas now that can pick up signals as far away as 50 miles. Yes, indoor antennas.

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Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at Please include your first name and hometown in your message.

— Phillip Swann

About TV Answer Man (979 Articles)
The TV Answer Man is veteran journalist Phillip Swann who has covered the TV technology scene for more than two decades. He will report on the latest news and answer your questions regarding new devices and services that are changing the way you watch television.

2 Comments on Cord-Cutters: Do You Need an Antenna?

  1. is wonderful. Use it, Indoor antennas can work depending where you are, but you are much better off with a roof mounted outdoor antenna. I recommend Winegard. I’ve had a Winegard antenna on my roof going on thirty years now and it still looks and works great. The other thing you may need to add is a preamp depending on length of RG6 cable and how many TV’s you have connected. Winegard sells these also as do other antenna makers. If you are not doing the install yourself, talk about that with your installer.

  2. David Beaney // March 2, 2018 at 3:42 pm // Reply

    I used to have a rooftop antenna that did a killer job of bringing in everything local (Bangor, Maine market) at between 80 and 90% with the help of an antenna rotator. Wish I could remember the brand so I could recommend. Then one day the NBC affilliate, literally overnight, became impossible to get in, followed by the ABC/Fox affilliate a month or so later. I contacted both companies but they claimed they never reduced power. Frankly, I don’t believe them, and there has been no significant construction or tree growth (I live in a rural area) that would have caused this. Aren’t they required to make sure their signal is available to all of the viewing area? Has this happened in other markets? All of the towers are within 25 miles of me. The CBS/CW tower is only about 5 miles away, so I can still get that one on an indoor antenna (I took down all the rooftop stuff and gave it to my son-in-law) Just curious if this a common occurance.

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