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Should a Cord-Cutter Buy 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?

Antennaweb.org, 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 antennaweb.org 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.

Check out these best-selling antennas at Amazon.com.

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

— Phillip Swann
@swanniontv

About TV Answer Man (1094 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.

1 Comment on Should a Cord-Cutter Buy an Antenna?

  1. I subscribe to Philo and YouTubeTV, which carries local channels in my area, but I still have a large antenna in the attic which is back-fed throughout my home using the old coaxial cable which was no longer being used when we dropped Spectrum. Took a little bit of work to identify which existing coax was for the Internet, but now one antenna feeds 5 televisions throughout my home. My primary purpose for the antenna is for emergency backup. I like knowing if an emergency is occurring, I can watch local programming live when the Internet is down. Plus, if a tornado is approaching, you don’t want to be watching your streaming service which will be 1-2 minutes behind real time.

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