What the Tech: What you should know about antenna claims

Browsing Amazon and Walmart for TV antennas, we ran across quite a few questionable listings that aren’t 100% true.
Published: May. 17, 2023 at 12:22 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - As more and more people cut the cable and satellite cord in favor of streaming, sales of TV antennas are up.

Once thought of as antiquated technology rabbit ears, rooftops, and attic antennas are important again.

One of the most obvious reasons is the ability to watch totally free TV channels including local stations and their sub-channels. An antenna also provides the ability to watch breaking news and weather even when the internet goes out.

As you might expect, when there’s a demand for a new, or in this case old, technology, companies aim to sell that technology at a premium to people who don’t know the facts about the devices and gadgets.

Browsing Amazon and Walmart for TV antennas, we ran across quite a few questionable listings that aren’t 100% true.

Here’s what you should know about those claims before adding an antenna to your shopping cart: It’s true that attaching a TV antenna to the cable or coaxial connection will get you free channels in high-definition.

It isn’t just HD but a higher definition that you’ll find streaming a local channel.

It’s true 1080 HDi while the same channels are only in 720p on cable and streaming. But let’s look at the claims that are flat-out lies.

We saw one ad on Walmart that says the antenna can get ESPN, CNN, HBO, and other cable channels. That isn’t remotely true. An antenna will get network TV stations near you. You’ll likely see those stations’ sub-channels that offer old TV shows.

You’ll also see quite a few shopping and religious channels. Most antenna listings claim to get stations hundreds of miles away. Not true. Antennas must be able to “see” the station transmitter. A mountain can be in the way.

And the earth’s curvature prevents a line of site over 70 miles or so for any antenna, indoor or outdoor.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be that close to the TV station itself but to either the main broadcast tower or a repeater. The smartphone app “Antenna Point” shows where TV transmitters are located, which will help you decide where to put the antenna. One close or affixed to a window facing the TV tower is best.

Indoor antennas can generally get stations from 20-30 miles away. Outdoor antennas might get stations 70 miles away or so. If you place the antenna on the rooftop, you may get stations that are unavailable to you over cable, satellite, or streaming.

And again, they’re free. If you live in an older house check the attic. Back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, many homeowners put box antennas in the attic and they’re probably still there.

You won’t get 4K TV, at least not right now as stations don’t broadcast signals in 4K over the air. You will get full HD which is a much better picture than you’ll get from cable, satellite, or streaming.

Free out-of-the-air broadcasts are usually a few seconds ahead of streaming too.

Why get an antenna? For cord-cutters who only subscribe to Netflix or Hulu, an antenna will allow you to see network programming and, more importantly, local news and weather, which is extremely important during storms. How much can you expect to pay?

Maybe $30-$40 depending on whether the antenna is for outdoors or indoors and whether it is amplified or not.

But if you’ve got an old antenna somewhere, even one your grandparents used, that’ll work just as well.

If you have an antenna, it’s a good idea to re-scan for channels every few months. The signal might have improved, and you may get a channel you didn’t get the last time.