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Published Sep 17, 2022 9:00 AM

Streaming may be king, but cord-cutters still need a TV antenna to fill in the gap left by cable and pick up regional channels to watch sports and local news. Fortunately, the technology is better than ever—from classic, spiny, yagi antennas to modern flat models you stick on your window, there’s a perfect antenna out there for you, no matter your budget. And if you have access to an attic, the best attic antennas offer convenience and reliability.

In most cases, it makes sense to either get an outdoor antenna to mount on your roof, or place an indoor antenna near a window in the same room as your TV. However, there’s a third, less obvious option that splits the difference between the two: mounting your antenna inside your attic. An attic antenna should give you a stronger signal than an in-room antenna while avoiding the hassles of having a rooftop antenna installed. It’s also the most discreet way to mount it. Besides, what are you using that space for, anyway? If you’re thinking about placing a new TV antenna in your attic, we can help you pick the right one for your space.

How we selected the best attic antennas

I’ve written about consumer technology for nearly a decade at sites like Digital Trends, GameSpot, and Lifewire as an industry journalist and critic. Most recently, I have covered home media and gaming here at Popular Science, including televisions and antennas. I also edit the Uber Engineering blog. Picking an antenna depends largely on your location, so the best antenna for a rural home would be complete overkill for someone living near a large city. Attic-mounting has more to do with placement than the antenna itself, so we’ve chosen a range of antennas at various price points and strengths, with a focus on quality and value. 

We’ve surveyed the best-selling, most reviewed, and most recommended products on the market and extrapolated a representative list of the best value options for a variety of price points and use cases. All of our recommendations are well-reviewed by customers and critics alike, and from brands we trust.

What to consider before buying a TV antenna

When you put an antenna in an attic, you have the freedom to set up either an indoor or outdoor antenna. Whatever you pick, make sure you’ll have the hardware necessary to secure it. Since you don’t need to worry about how it looks, an unfinished attic likely provides the most flexibility of any option. You can secure it to the floor, ceiling, walls, support posts, or a window if you have one. The higher up from the ground you can get, the longer its effective reach becomes.

Before picking out a new TV antenna, you should do a little research and find out how far away your local signals are. There are several free tools, such as the Federal Trade Commission’s DTV Reception Maps, that will let you type in your address to find nearby local stations. They’ll also show you useful information on each station, including its distance, signal strength, frequency band, and relative position. (You may need some of this to optimize your antenna position.)

For over 95% of homes in the United States, you should be able to get local affiliates of FOX, CBS, ABC, NBC, The CW, and PBS, plus any nearby local channels. Your ability to watch faraway channels will depend on the signal strength of the station and your antenna’s range.

HD and 4K

Gone are the days of coaxing an image out of crackling white static by delicately manipulating set-top antennas like a locksmith. In 2009, a federal government mandate forced all over-the-air (OTA) TV broadcasts in the United States to transition to digital signals, rather than the older analog format. Digital broadcasting is much more information efficient (only sending changes from frame to frame, rather than replicating the whole image every single time), so your local news and sports are likely going out in beautiful 1080p, or possibly even 4K. Many people report that the picture quality of an OTA broadcast is better than what you get from a cable provider, which compresses the signal more in order to serve it packaged alongside all the other channels.

Range and gain

The most important spec to keep in mind with a new antenna is its range, which gives you an approximate indication of how far an antenna can reach to still pick up a broadcast from a nearby station. Your actual range may vary a little bit, depending on the particulars of local interference like trees, buildings, and hills. Again, an OTA mapping tool can tell exactly what stations are in your area, and how much range your antenna needs to pick them up.

After range, most antennas will list gain, which indicates how well an antenna can pick up distant signals in one particular direction. The higher the gain—listed in dBi, or “decibels relative to isotrope”—the more focused an antenna’s reception. Theoretically, a zero-gain antenna would perfectly detect any signal on the edge of its range in every direction. In reality, every antenna will be at least slightly better at picking broadcasts when it’s pointed toward the source of the signal. A high-gain antenna is useful when you need a lot of range and most or all of your signals come from one particular direction, such as the nearest major city.

UHF and VHF

Every channel broadcasts on specific frequency bands, all of which fall into one of two categories: UHF and VHF (short for ultra- and very-high frequency). Channels operating at higher frequencies can send information more efficiently but within a slightly smaller range. Most channels take that tradeoff and broadcast on UHF now, though there are some stragglers on VHF bands. 

Most UHF antennas can pick up VHF signals even if they aren’t built specifically to receive them, so you shouldn’t worry too much about being unable to pick up VHF. That said, if enough of your stations will be in VHF, it may make sense to pick a VHF-compatible antenna.

The best attic antennas: Reviews & Recommendations

Getting better signal quality out of the airwaves keeps free over-the-air broadcast TV relevant, even as we upgrade to 4K TVs and the broadcast environment shifts. You can upgrade any streaming setup with an attic antenna, which will bring free, local broadcasts to your living room without a gaudy black panel on your window or putting something on your roof. No matter your budget or needs, we’re confident that the best attic TV antenna for your home is here among these picks.

Best overall: Antennas Direct 8-Element Bowtie

Antennas Direct

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Why it made the cut: The Antennas Direct 8-Element Bowtie is a powerful and versatile antenna that you can tuck away in an attic.

Specs

  • Range: 70 miles
  • UHF/VHF: Both
  • Installation: Mast clamp
  • Gain: 17.4Dbi

Pros

  • Great performance
  • Flexibility from multiple aimable panels
  • Lifetime warranty on parts

Cons

  • Very large
  • Includes mounting hardware, but requires mast and coaxial cable

The four sizable rectangular panels of the Antennas Direct 8-Element Bowtie antenna are its greatest strength, and also make it well-suited for tucking away in an attic. Because the panels are mounted on two independently rotating masts, you can either spread them out to capture signals in different directions or focus them to better capture in a single direction. That versatility, paired with its 70-mile range and 17.4Dbi gain, makes it powerful enough for most situations. The only real tradeoff for all that power is its commanding size, at 3 x 4 feet, which is why it’s particularly perfect for hiding in your attic if you have the room, rather than commanding attention on your roof.

Best for rural areas: Free Signal TV Marathon Plus HDTV Long-Distance Antenna

FREE SIGNAL TV

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Why it made the cut: The Marathon Plus HDTV Long-Distance Antenna offers great reach in a compact form.

Specs

  • Range: 110 miles
  • UHF/VHF: Both
  • Installation: Wall, pole, floor, ceiling
  • Gain: 40 dBi

Pros

  • Long range
  • Compact
  • Flexible installation

Cons

  • Expensive

The Marathon Plus HDTV Long-Distance Antenna looks more like a Wi-Fi router than a TV aerial but that sleek, compact appearance belies some serious power with a 110-mile range. Its compact, rectangular form also makes it extremely versatile in its installation, letting you clamp it to poles like most antennas, but also hang it on the wall like a picture frame or place it on the floor. It’s expensive, but the performance and form factor are worth the investment if you want something powerful and discreet.

Best compact: Antennas Direct ClearStream 2V

Antennas Direct

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: Compact and dependable, the Antennas Direct ClearStream 2V offers a great balance between size and power.

Specs

  • Range: 60 miles
  • UHF/VHF: Both
  • Installation: Wall, pole, floor, ceiling
  • Gain: 10.4 dBi

Pros

  • Great performance
  • Compact

Cons

  • Assembly required

Antennas Direct‘s ClearStream 2V sits in the middle of its smaller ClearStream line for windows and TV stands. The 2V stands out because of its longer range, UHF/VHF support, and pivoting mast for installation flexibility. It requires a little more day-one assembly than the other options on our list, and its unique design combining rings and a grid tends to stand out when used indoors or on your roof, but its range, features, and price are all on point, so it’s a perfect pick to set up in your attic.

Best for furnished attics: Antop AT-500SBS HD Smart Bar

ANTOP ANTENNA

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: Simultaneously large and unobtrusive, the Antop AT-500SBS HD Smart Bar will blend right in with any modern home theater setup.

Specs

  • Range: 80 miles
  • UHF/VHF: Both
  • Installation: Wall mount, floor stand
  • Gain: N/A

Pros

  • Great performance
  • Sleek design
  • LTE filter

Cons

  • Large

The Antop AT-500SBS HD Smart Bar is almost 30 inches long, but its sleek, black form is designed to blend in among any other contemporary consumer hardware, looking more like a speaker bar or heat pump than a television antenna. It configures both vertically and horizontally, either free-standing or mounted onto the wall for maximum flexibility in getting the best possible signal. It delivers great performance with an 80-mile range and all sorts of useful features, including a 4G LTE filter to block interference from cell signals, and an adjustable range dial for tuning in precisely on signals.

Best budget: GE Attic Mount HD Digital TV Antenna

GE home electrical

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Buy it used or refurbished: Amazon

Why it made the cut: The GE Attic Mount HD Digital TV Antenna gets the job done and costs less than our more powerful picks.

Specs

  • Range: 60 miles
  • UHF/VHF: Both
  • Installation: Wall, pole, floor
  • Gain: N/A

Pros

  • Flexible installation with included hardware
  • Great performance
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Lower range

The GE Attic Mount antenna is a solid performer from a dependable brand that’s designed specifically to be hidden away in your attic. The included mounting hardware and helpful instructions should make it a breeze to install on the wall, floor, post, or ceiling. At 60 miles, it’s a lower range than the other indoor/outdoor antennas on the list, but its performance is solid within its reasonable range, especially for its price.

FAQs

Q: Do antennas in the attic work? 

Yes! As with any antenna placement, the particulars of your space and any local interference will affect performance, but installing an antenna in your attic is a solid option. It splits the difference between small indoor antennas designed to sit near your TV, which usually have lower ranges, and large roof-mounted antennas. Just be prepared to experiment a bit with placement to get the most bang for your buck.

Q: Can an attic antenna attract lightning?

No, an attic antenna is inside your house, shielded by your roof, so it should not attract lightning.

Q: Does putting a TV antenna high above the roof give a better signal? 

Yes, it does. Generally speaking, placing your antenna higher reduces interference and produces a better signal. That’s why an attic is a great option: You get your antenna high off the ground without actually installing it on the roof, which can be complicated and dangerous to do yourself.

Final thoughts on the best attic antennas

We live in the age of streaming, but you shouldn’t give up on broadcast TV just yet. Antenna technology keeps getting better, so now you can pick up crisp HD content without ever leaving the comfort of your home. Indoor antennas are feasible for many but, if you’ve got access, the best attic TV antennas can be a great way to boost your performance without going through the hassle of running cable outside and onto your roof.