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Best TV antennas for cord-cutters, starting at just $10

Looking to cut your TV bill all the way down to free? We tested seven antennas to find out which one works best.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Even though it's been with us for 90 years, over-the-air TV seems like a well-kept secret. Did you know that you can watch some of the best TV shows, sports and specials for free, without paying a cable company or streaming subscription? Well, almost free as you'll want to purchase one very important piece of equipment. That would be a TV antenna, of course. They used to look like rabbit ears but they've come along way since you were a kid. So you might be wondering which exactly is the best TV antenna in 2019 and you know we got you on this one. 

An OTA antenna feed is great for those events you want to watch live -- the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Final Four and more. Depending on where you live, you can watch anything on ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC, as well as PBS and other channels like The CW and My TV. (Editors' note: CNET is a division of CBS.) Your TV already has a built-in tuner and adding an indoor antenna costs as little as $10. 

Related reading: Best live TV streaming services for cord cutters 

The downside is that in some places, the TV signal of some channels is spotty or nonexistent due to proximity to TV stations and their towers and obstructions that break up the signal. Unlike a live TV streaming service, OTA TV is restricted to a single TV and won't work on phones or other devices. Unless, of course, you kick it up a notch with an OTA DVR.

Now playing: Watch this: How to cut the cord for $10: installing an indoor antenna

We tested seven different indoor antennas with prices ranging from $10 to $90. The best of the best were able to pull in more channels than the others and delivered stronger, more watchable TV signal, even on "problem" channels. We tested in two different locations: urban Manhattan and suburban New Jersey. Here are the seven TV antennas we tested:

Disclosure: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.

The best tv antenna we tested

Best overall: Channel Master Flatenna 35/Duo ($10)

Sarah Tew/CNET
  • Detachable coaxial cable? Yes
  • Number of channels: 50 in Manhattan, 61 in New Jersey
  • Number of watchable channels: 9 out of 13 checked, both locations

The Flatenna 35 has been upgraded with a removable antenna since our original test two years ago. It seems that performance has also improved -- it is now the best of our seven models at pulling in channels, beating our previous recommendation, the Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse. 

And yes, the best tv antenna is just $10 from Channel Master's website (more at places like Amazon). It's called either the Flatenna 35 or Duo depending on where you buy it from. Best reception and cheapest price? We have a winner.

See at Channel Master

Runner-up: AmazonBasics Ultra Thin Indoor TV Antenna ($20)

Sarah Tew/CNET
  • Detachable coaxial cable? Yes
  • Number of channels: 41 in Manhattan, 64 in New Jersey
  • Number of watchable channels: 8 out of 13 checked, both locations

The Amazon Basics ran neck and neck with the Channel Master Flatenna. It has an eerily similar design and also includes a removable coaxial cable. Only a higher price prevents it from beating the Flatenna. But maybe you want something in white.

See at Amazon

Best alternative: Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse ($33)

Sarah Tew/CNET
  • Detachable coaxial cable? Yes
  • Number of channels: 39 in Manhattan, 65 in New Jersey
  • Number of watchable channels: 9 out of 13 checked, both locations

Maybe you've tried the other two with so-so results and want to give it another shot. The Antennas Direct Eclipse won our shoot-out two years ago, and performed very well again this time around. 

With its ankh-like looks and reversible design, it's definitely unique. It comes with sticky tabs to attach it to your window, which is handy. And if you need more oomph there's a $20 amplifier available as well. 

See at Amazon

The rest

1byone Upgraded 2019 Digital Amplified Indoor HD TV Antenna ($23)

Sarah Tew/CNET
  • Detachable coaxial cable? No
  • Number of channels: 34 in Manhattan, 49 in New Jersey
  • Number of watchable channels: 6 out of 13 checked, both locations

The 1byone is one of two antennas in this list with a nonremovable cable, and at only 10 feet long it may not work in some rooms. The black plastic feels a little cheap compared to the others, though the model does come with a powered gain amplifier. It was towards the bottom of the pack in terms of performance -- but it was the only one to pick up CBS at our Manhattan location (see below for details).

See at Amazon

Mohu ReLeaf ($39)

Sarah Tew/CNET
  • Detachable coaxial cable? Yes
  • Number of channels: 29 in Manhattan, 66 in New Jersey
  • Number of watchable channels: 6 out of 13 checked, both locations

The Mohu ReLeaf is a retread of the original Leaf, constructed from recycled materials. The ReLeaf comes with small mounting holes on the top, for thumb tacks, but it lacks sticky applicators and the paper construction tears easily. It works fairly well, but it's expensive.

See at Amazon
Read full review

U Must Have Amplified HD Digital TV Antenna ($28)

Sarah Tew/CNET
  • Detachable coaxial cable? No
  • Number of channels: 28 in Manhattan, 62 in New Jersey
  • Number of watchable channels: 6, or 7 with amplifier, out of 13 checked, both locations

The U Must Have is the only antenna with a sticky pad preinstalled on the back. Its nonremovable cable is relatively long, at 18 feet. The included amplifier gives it some flexibility and the product feels more solidly made overall than the 1byone, though they performed similarly. 

See at Amazon

Channel Master Smartenna+ ($89)

Sarah Tew/CNET
  • Detachable coaxial cable? Yes
  • Number of channels: 31 in Manhattan, 53 in New Jersey
  • Number of watchable channels: 5 out of 13 checked in Manhattan, 3 in New Jersey

This upgrade to the original Smartenna is basically a completely different model. The old one was indoor/outdoor, but the Plus is indoor-only, with an onboard amplifier/processor designed to "automatically select the best reception pattern." 

Based on our testing in numerous locations it didn't work so well, though. Even in a poor reception area it didn't pick up any more channels than the cheaper models. It may thrive in some very specific circumstances, but it didn't work for us. 

See at Amazon

Best antennas compared

Price No of channels (Manhattan) No of channels (NJ) No of watchable channels (out of 13)
Channel Master Flatenna 35 $10 50 61 9
AmazonBasics Ultra Thin Indoor TV Antenna $20 41 64 8
Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse $39 39 65 9
1byone Upgraded 2019 Digital Amplified Indoor HD TV Antenna $25 34 49 6
Mohu ReLeaf $40 29 66 6
U Must Have Amplified HD Digital TV Antenna $28 28 62 6
Channel Master Smartenna+ $89 31 53 5

How we tested the TV antennas

Much like real estate, how well a TV antenna works is based on location, location and location.

We tested the antennas in two main locations: in midtown Manhattan just a half-mile from the broadcast antennas on the Empire State Building -- albeit obscured by other buildings -- and in suburban New Jersey, 9 miles from the closest broadcast tower. Depending on your location, you might receive broadcasts from multiple antennas, and hills or large buildings in the way will have an effect on reception.

We situated each antenna in the same spot and connected it to the Channel Master DVR+, which gives signal strength data as well as a total channel count. We used two different metrics to determine which TV antenna performed best. The first was a raw measure of the number of channels it could detect, while the second involved a number of predetermined "problem channels." For these we consulted a list of channels culled from various forums, for both testing areas, and gauged how well the antennas pulled in each channel.

Our list of "problem" channels in Manhattan was WABC 7.1 (ABC), WNET 13.1 (PBS), WPIX 11.1 (CW -- Manhattan only) and WNJB 58.1 (PBS -- NJ only). In addition we added popular channels CBS 2.1, WNBC 4 (NBC), and WNYW 5 (Fox).

While the results will vary depending on where you live, and how far you are from a tower, we found that the best tested models received more of the most popular channels as well as additional radio broadcasts and Spanish-language channels.

Most of the TV antennas are based around the same rectangular design, but there was one important consideration: the cable. Did the antenna have a long coaxial cable or, even better, a detachable one? You'll be sticking one of these in your window, which could be a long way from your TV, so longer is better.

It's worth noting that three of these antennas -- the 1buyone, the U Must Have and the Channel Master Smartenna+ -- include gain-boosting amplifiers. While two will also work without the amps attached, the Channel Master won't. Based on our experiences in a number of locations, however, amplifiers offer a wildly unpredictable benefit. If you can't get TV reception with an indoor antenna then a gain amp may not actually help you, and in other cases it could make your reception worse by overloading channels that already have a strong signal. 

Installing an indoor antenna

Unlike our original 2016 crop, most of these antennas include some form of adhesive to attach them to your wall or window. If for some reason they lack this option you could try packing tape or poster putty instead.

You will definitely need to experiment with the placement. A wall may actually be better than a window, depending on the orientation of your living area. Also, if possible keep the antenna away from magnetic metals such as security bars or the like, since they can interfere with your signal.

If you buy a model with a short, captive lead like the 1byone, be aware that you may need to buy a male-female extension lead, and more coaxial cable, to get it to reach your equipment.

Finally, if you live in a poor coverage area an indoor antenna may not be for you. We tried using the antennas at a location in the Hudson Valley and none of them worked at all, even the signal-boosting Smartenna. That's why it's best to test the waters with a cheap antenna first, instead of spending a hundred bucks on something that might not work in your location.

Originally published Dec. 15, 2016.
Update, March 14, 2019: Updated with new antennas, all of them retested.