What Makes A Good Quality TV Antenna
As overseas sellers have bombarded the US market with new models, you can no longer rely on antenna range claims today on TV antennas. They’re essentially worthless. You’ll sees such trends as 150, 250, 500, 990, and even 1000 mile plus range antennas this is also just hype. A big slap to the US consumer is they’ll typically write the most outlandish claims on the least performing antenna. In fact, now a days the antennas with the lowest range claims often have better range then the antennas that claim the highest ranges today. So is there a way to figure all this out and truly know if you’re getting what you’re paying for in quality and performance. Well the good news you can. There are some attributes that cannot be “made up”. Instead of reading their claims, look at the antenna size and its elements (these are what creates true antenna gain”.
Here are things to look for in a quality versus less so quality antenna:
- Which frequency bands does it operate on? Most stations in most areas granted have largely moved to UHF, however VHF-hi is still used to some degree in many areas (VHF low is very rare however, but does exist in just a few cities such as in Philadelphia). If you’re not in the, Philadelphia area, you likely don’t need to worry about VHF low at all, however UHF and VHF-hi are still in use in many areas (especially UHF).
- How many true antenna elements it has for each tuned band? Antenna elements are no doubt the number one method to determine “true” antenna gain. Today you’ll want an antenna with a lot of UHF antenna elements, if long range capability is your goal. VHF-hi is still important in many areas as well, just not as many stations are on VHF hi in comparison to UHF. A quality antenna should have at least a handful of VHF elements and maybe a dozen or more UHF elements. We included a photo below showing what parts are the elements. They are the metal prongs (typically aluminum) that stick out perpendicular. The short 6 to 12” long elements are for the highly used UHF band, whereas the 18 inch and longer elements will be the VHF-hi elements.
Note in this photo is a common antenna you’ll see advertises as 150 to as high as 990 mile range online (same antenna, just different antenna claims). Look how few antennas it has (only five on UHF and 1 for VHF). This is not a deep fringe antenna by any means.., don’t be another US consumer duped by these outrageous claims.
Size Does Matter – A longer antenna and an antenna with a taller / wider reflector (we uses an oversize reflector elements for this purpose) will also have more gain than a smaller antenna.
Granted since VHF-low is essentially extinct in approx. 97% of the country, this has allowed for smaller antennas (these took up a good chunk of space on the old analog antennas) however this has been taken too far such that the needed UHF and VHF-hi band performance has suffered due to antennas being too small with an inadequate amount of elements.. Now it’s hard to find antennas more than two feet long and more than a handful or two of elements on them. However this has been taken to the extreme. You can’t simply increase the range more and more by adding a signal amplifier circuit. The limitation to weak signal work is getting signal from above the margin of noise and adding a signal amplifier may be great at fixing high install loss, but not so create for digging for signals near the noise. They actually add more noise than signal by the way.
Antenna spins in the wind: A lot of these low budget antennas with the claims of 150 and higher ranges has a tiny R/C car sized motor (no joke) without any braking system. At first this may seem like a nifty feature, but it quickly become a large annoyance? Why? Well there is no way to tell which direction the antenna is aimed (no control point to display its setting / orientation) and often also spin in only one direction, and don’t have a braking system. Why is the braking system necessary? Simple, once turn the antenna a strong wind will push it in another direction. This creates a situation of constantly fidgeting around with the antenna to “get it right again”.
A good antenna such as our insane gains are stationary with a very solid mast clamp with teeth that will mount on multiple diameter of masts snugly and tightly and won’t move in the wind. Once set they are stout.
You can add a real rotator, however since a directional antenna will pick up stations to a degree at its sides and behind it, in many areas it’s usually a set it and forget it. You can aim it toward the weaker cluster of stations and the stronger stations typically will come in through it’s the sides or behind the antenna. However in some areas turning antennas may be necessary. In that case, a true rotor / rotator with an azimuth readout (most also have memories as well) and braking system are a welcoming upgrade.
Are amplified antennas a good idea? - At first it may seem getting an amplified antenna is the way to go, but they can often be a downfall. I’ll explain why. It’s due to three main reasons:
- Reduced durability / longevity (once these things go out, typically the whole antenna just stops working, due to the short that’s created.
- The signal amplifiers inside have to be super cost effective to keep the price down, therefore usually cheaper parts with higher noise figures are used (having a low noise signal amplifier is crucial to picking up the weakest of stations).
- You can replace, remove, or upgrade the amplifier. The amplifier circuits are almost always build inside the antennas themselves and cannot be removed (even if/when they go bad). It’s not as simple as adding another signal amplifier (the noise introduced from the built in signal amplifier is still added to the system).
With a passive, non-amplified antenna you have the freedom to add, replace, or upgrade to any signal amplifier of your choosing (not in many installs with only low to moderate install loss adding one isn’t beneficial or needed, but you’re going to add one, add a quality one with low noise specs to preserve as much signal quality /SNR as possible).
Does it use a lot of plastic?
Plastic is inferior to metal when exposed to the elements. Overtime plastic can become brittle in the below freezing temps or UV and temps can decorate it in the summer. Usually these 150 to 990 mile claimed antenna use a lot of plastic to hold things in place. IF you want something to last a long time, seek good grade corrosion resistant aluminum for the antenna’s structural components.