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Although it’s been with us for over 90 years, over-the-air TV seems almost like a well-kept secret these days. You can watch some of the best TV shows, sports and specials for free with a decent signal, without paying a cable company or streaming subscription. But besides owning a TV, there’s just one small but vital accessory you’ll need: a TV antenna. And thankfully, TV antennas have come a long way since the rabbit ears of yesteryear. 

An over-the-air, or OTA, antenna feed is great for those events you want to watch live — NFL football, the Oscars, the evening news and more. Depending on where you live, you can watch anything on the following stations: NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, as well as PBS and other channels like My TV and The CW. (Disclosure: CNET is a division of CBS.) While a roof-mounted antenna or outdoor TV antenna would do the job, your TV already has a built-in tuner, and adding an indoor antenna costs less than $20 shipped.  

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

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We tested six different indoor antennas with prices ranging from $10 to $90. The best TV antennas were able to pull in more channels than the others and delivered stronger, more crystal clear TV signals, even better TV signals on “problem” channels. We tested in two different locations: Urban Manhattan and suburban New Jersey. Here are the six TV antennas we looked at:

Channel Master Flatenna 35 ($10 plus $7.50 shipping)

AmazonBasics Ultra Thin Indoor TV Antenna ($20)

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

Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse ($40)

Mohu ReLeaf ($34)

Channel Master Smartenna Plus ($59)

We also tested the highly rated U Must Have Amplified High Definition Digital TV Antenna, but it appears to have been discontinued. We have removed it from our recommendations as a result.

The best TV antenna we tested

Best overall

Channel Master Flatenna 35/Duo

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 signal 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 (plus $7.50 shipping) from Channel Master’s website or on 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

Best for Amazon Prime members

AmazonBasics Ultra Thin Indoor TV Antenna

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 $20 AmazonBasics ran neck and neck with the Channel Master Flatenna. It has an eerily similar design and also includes a removable coax. Only a higher price prevents it from beating the Flatenna. But maybe you want something in white.

See at Amazon

Best for power users

Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse

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 $40 Antennas Direct Eclipse won our shoot-out two years ago and performed very well again this time around. 

With its ankh-like looks and multi-directional reversible compact design, the ClearStream antenna is definitely unique. It comes with sticky tabs to attach it to your window, which is handy. And if you need more signal oomph, there’s a $20 amplifier available as well.  Read our Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse review.

The rest

Best for weaker TV signals

1byone Upgraded 2019 Digital Amplified Indoor HDTV Antenna

Sarah Tew/CNET

Detachable coax? No

Number of channels: 34 in Manhattan, 49 in New Jersey

Number of watchable channels: 6 out of 13 checked, both locations

The $23 1byone is one of two antennas in this list with a non-removable coax cable, and at only 10 feet long, it may not work in some rooms. The black plastic feels a little cheap compared with the others, though the model does come with a powered gain amplifier. It was toward the bottom of the pack in terms of signal performance, but it was the only one to pick up CBS at our Manhattan location (see below for details). Read more.

$22 at Amazon

Best for the environment

Mohu ReLeaf

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 $34 Mohu ReLeaf is a retread of the original Leaf, constructed from recycled materials. This Mohu antenna comes with small mounting holes on the top, for thumbtacks, but it lacks sticky applicators and the paper construction tears easily. It works fairly well, is multi-directional and gives you good reception, but it’s expensive. Read our Mohu ReLeaf review.

$32 at Amazon

Best for those who’ve tried everything else

Channel Master Smartenna Plus

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 an indoor-outdoor antenna, but the $59 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 TV stations than the cheaper models. It may thrive in some very specific circumstances, but it didn’t work for us.  Read our Channel Master Smartenna review.

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 $40 39 65 9

1byone Upgraded 2019 Digital Amplified Indoor HD TV Antenna $23 34 49 6

Mohu ReLeaf $34 29 66 6

U Must Have Amplified HD Digital TV Antenna (no longer available) $28 28 62 6

Channel Master Smartenna+ $59 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, nine miles from the closest broadcast towers. Depending on your location, you might receive broadcasts from multiple antennas. Hills or large buildings in the way will have an effect on frequency range and reception.

We situated each antenna in the same spot and connected it to the Channel Master DVR Plus, 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.