If your over-the-air (OTA) antenna is set up but you feel like it’s not giving you all the channels you should have, you’ve got plenty of options. Gone are the old days where banging on the side of the TV set or wrapping some aluminum foil around your bunny ears were the top tips when it came to troubleshooting weak broadcast signals.
These days, in the digital-broadcast era, most TVs won’t even let you attempt to watch channels that haven’t reached a certain threshold of signal strength. However, given the sophistication of most of the antennas on the market today, even small changes can give you big results.
Here are 10 tips for getting better reception from your OTA antenna.
Adjust The Position
If you’re using an indoor antenna that’s installed near your TV, like those popular flat ones, the best tip for improving your reception is to reposition it. This sounds obvious, but with a little easy research, it can vastly improve your experience. Use a free tool like those offered by AntennaWeb or TV Fool to figure out where exactly the broadcast signals in your area are coming from and move your antenna accordingly.
For example, if you see that the majority of the major broadcasters in your area have their towers east of your home, try to get your antenna as close to an easternmost window as you can. After moving your antenna, re-scan the channels on your TV and see if it made a difference. You may want to do this several times in different locations.
This tip is only for people using directional antennas, which are usually only installed in attics or on the roof. This type of antenna features a long rod that sticks out in the direction where you want to focus its powers, as opposed to omni-directional ones that pick up signals from a wider range but with less precision. Aiming these antennas in the optimal spot is key but keeping them level is also important.
You can lose precious signal strength if your directional antenna has tilted toward the ground at all. Break out your level and make sure the antenna’s tilt stays between the bubbles.
Switch To An Outdoor Or Attic Antenna
This tip isn’t quite as easy as the others on the list but it will likely get the most drastic results for anyone disappointed in the reception of their indoor antenna. Outdoor and attic antennas are especially great for people who live in suburban or more rural areas that are further from the broadcast towers in the area. We’ve rounded up some great options here and GE offers a particularly high-rated one for less than $40 that works best in attics.
If you go with an outdoor one, just be sure it’s pointed in the right direction and check on it at least once a year because the elements can mess up your once-careful setup.
Get A Better Cable
If you’re using the coaxial cable that came with your antenna, especially if it’s an indoor one, chances are it’s costing you some reception. Low-quality coaxial cables can weaken the signals your antenna is working hard to bring in by the time they hit your TV. An easy way to tell if the cable you’re using is less than optimal is if it goes slack when you hold it out.
Cables that stay stiff when you hold them out are better. If you’re looking to buy a new coaxial cable, look for one that’s labeled as an RG6. You can find these online in virtually any length you could need and they should boost your antenna’s performance at least a little.
Keep The Cable Away From Power Cords
The signals coming from broadcast towers to your OTA antenna are already subject to countless bits of interference in the air, so don’t hinder them more before they hit your TV. Appliances with electrical motors, including ceiling fans, and high-power objects like refrigerators and hair dryers have been known to cause signal interference. Keep your antenna as far from these devices as possible and also try to keep your coaxial cable from running to close to power cables.
It’s always tempting to bundle all your wires together, but in this case, it can hurt your antenna’s performance.
Add A Preamp
Signal preamplifiers are a go-to device for professional installers who are trying to get the most out of an OTA antenna. These are especially useful for anyone who has at least 50 feet of cable between their antenna and TV, as they help make up for the loss in signal strength that distance causes. There are budget-friendly options available online but, without fail, the top-rated ones from buyers are in the $75-$100 range, including the Titan 2 from Channel Master.
Another bonus of using a preamp is that most have an FM trap built in, which will limit the interference caused by powerful radio towers in your area. Some antennas have a preamp built in, but if yours doesn’t need to be plugged into an outlet to work, it probably doesn’t have one.
Upgrade Your Cable Splitters
It shouldn’t surprise you to know that using a cable splitter to divide your antenna’s signal among multiple TVs will hinder the overall reception. However, a distribution amplifier can fix that issue. These look like fancier versions of the classic cable splitters and use power to offset any strength lost by splitting your signal.
You can get them with splits for one to eight TV sets for roughly $40-$60, including high-rated options from Channel Master and Antennas Direct.
Add An LTE Filter
The increasing demand for ultra-fast cell service across the country has resulted in more powerful LTE towers that can cause your OTA antenna’s reception to weaken. To combat this, LTE filters can be bought and screwed onto the end of your coaxial cable with little effort. Reviews are somewhat soft for these devices across the board so far but they are pretty cheap to come by. Philips offers one for less than $10 that some buyers have said will clear up pixelated pictures.
Install An Antenna Rotator
Again, if you’ve got a directional outdoor or attic antenna, this can be a great option. Antenna rotators are installed at the base of your OTA antenna and allow you to change where they are aimed with the touch of a button. This is a great option for people who live in a place where there’s a drastic directional difference between two or more broadcast towers.
This way you can rotate your antenna at will to focus on certain broadcasters if there’s a big game or something on a certain channel that you want to watch that night. It’ll save you trips to the attic or roof as you work to fine-tune your reception. A top-rated system comes from RCA can be purchased for about $120. Beware of lower-cost options which combine rotators and amplifiers with the antenna itself as they are prone to failure from being exposed to the elements for even short periods of time.
Add Another Antenna
The practice of antenna stacking refers to using multiple antennas to work together and simultaneously feed their signals to your TV. It can definitely work, especially in areas where your broadcast signals come from drastically different locations, but there are certain guidelines to follow.
For best results, the antennas will need to be at least 6 feet apart, your coaxial cables will need to be of equal length and quality and you’ll need to use a signal combiner. Antennas Direct offers a highly rated combiner for less than $25 that also includes mounting hardware.
This is also the best approach for those who want to record over-the-air TV as OTA DVR models are not compatible with rotators.