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The Smart Guide to HD Antennas

Before you pick a streaming device and start shopping for streaming services, think about getting an HD antenna.

What Is an HD Antenna?

An HD antenna, also called a digital TV antenna, is a device that pulls broadcast signals out of the air and puts them on your TV. This kind of TV is sometimes called over-the-air TV, or OTA TV—as opposed to over-the-top content, or OTT. They’re the modern equivalent of bunny ears.

Why Do HD Antennas Work?

Major networks transmit signals over the air. The broadcasts are paid for by the network’s advertisers. That’s why you can get these signals for free. Of course, this has always been the case, but back in 2011, networks transitioned from analogue signals to digital ones. Without getting too technical, this means that the new digital over-the-air signals are now in superior high definition.

What Are Some Advantages of OTA TV?

For one thing, over-the-air TV is free. For another, you can sometimes get superior sound and picture quality. Cable and satellite companies have to compress their signals. With over-the-air TV, you get unadulterated high definition TV.

What Channels Will I Get?

It depends on where you live. Head over to TVFooland use their Interactive TV Coverage Browser. All you need to do is enter your city and province. You’ll get a list of call signs, channels, and networks. If you’re unclear as to what call sign corresponds to what channel, just past it into Google and you’ll get a Wikipedia page. For example, if we search High River, Alberta, the first call sign is CBRT-DT. Wikipedia tells us that it belongs to CBC Calgary.

TVFool will give you a good idea of how many channels you can get and what they are, along with estimated signal strength.

What Is Signal Strength?  

In very simple terms, we’re talking about whether or not an HD antenna will be able to pick up a particular channel.

What Factors Matter For Signal Strength?

The placement of your HD antenna matters. A lot of walls or other objects will diminish your signal strength. An indoor HD antenna loses about 50% of its strength or range when it’s indoors.

Outside interference matters too. For example, if you live in a small house and you’re surrounded by tall buildings, you will have diminished signal strength.

Weather can impact your signal strength. It isn’t as bad as the old analogue days, but extreme weather can disrupt some channels.

It’s also important to note that most HD antennas need to be pointed towards your local broadcast tower. To figure out where this is, go back to TVFool and use their TV Signal Locator. It will show you where, on a compass, where the broadcast towers are. Returning to our High River example, we should aim our HD antenna north-northwest.

What Kinds of HD Antennas Are There?

There are set-top antennas that go on top of or near your TV, attic antennas that you install in the upper part of your house, and outdoor antennas that are typically roof-mounted. In general, set-top antennas are cheaper and roof-mounted ones are more expensive.

How Much Are HD Antennas?

A small indoor HD antenna can cost as little as $25. A big outdoor one can cost $200, or what an average Canadian household spends on cable packages in just over three months. HD antennas can be purchased at major electrics retailers like Canadian Tire, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Amazon, and more.