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You can watch broadcast television for free if you have an over-the-air antenna. How do you know which one you need?

The thought of purchasing and installing an over-the-air (OTA) antenna in your home may sound intimidating, but it might not be as scary as you think. Some people, especially those in urban areas, may not need more than an indoor "rabbit ears"-style antenna. If you're wondering what the difference is between each type of antenna and which one you'll need for your home, read on to find out more.

What's the difference between antenna types?

There are a handful of antenna types to consider when making your purchase. You can invest in an indoor or outdoor antenna, unidirectional or multidirectional, and choose either small, medium, or large. The type of antenna you need depends on your TV signal transmission line of sight.

Indoor vs outdoor

Indoor antennas are obviously not going to be nearly as strong as an outdoor antenna mounted to your roof. However, if you live in a metropolis, it's likely that local broadcast transmitters are close enough to you that you'll be able to get most, if not all, channels in your area.

If you live in a populated city in a valley or on a somewhat flat geographic location, you'll be fine with an indoor antenna. I have a "rabbit ears" style antenna sitting in my window sill and it reaches most of the broadcast channels in my area.

Outdoor antennas have a much further range, and if you've got a multidirectional model, the range is wide, too. When you mount an outdoor antenna on your roof with a tall mast, you can overcome terrain obstacles, like tall buildings or mountains.

If you live in a rural town or are surrounded by mountainous terrain, you might need an attic-mounted or outdoor roof-mounted antenna.

Unidirectional or multidirectional

If you are choosing an attic-mounted or outdoor roof-mounted antenna, you'll also need to consider whether to get one that is unidirectional or multidirectional

Just like it sounds, unidirectional (sometimes just called "directional") antennas receive signals from one location in a cone-like range. Directional antennas can reach a further distance and cut out noise or distortion that can be caused by outside interference. If most of the broadcast transmissions in your area are within a 20-degree range, you'll get the most out of a directional antenna.

A multidirectional antenna will pick up a lot more signals from all around but doesn't quite reach as far as a unidirectional one. If you live in an area where broadcast transmissions are all over the place, you would benefit from a multidirectional antenna. You may need to invest in a large multidirectional antenna to get the furthest signal possible.

Color coding for antennas

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) have created a convenient, color-coded graph to help you identify which type of antenna you will need. Yellow transmission areas will only require a small antenna, usually indoor or small outdoor, while violet transmission areas are furthest away (60 miles or more) and will require the biggest outdoor antenna. You may also need a preamplifier to reach transmission towers far away.

Antennas that have been certified by the CEA will have these color code labels on the box to help you find the one you need. If you don't need to reach past the yellow transmission areas, get an antenna with the yellow CEA code. Need something with more range? Look for something with a blue CEA label.

Which antenna type do I need?

Now that you know all about the different type of antennas, you'll need to figure out which one is right for you. There are two very informative OTA broadcast websites that can help you find what you need. You can enter your address or just the zip code and find out where broadcast signals are transmitting from and which color code range you will need in order to reach them. Once you get your signal locator report, you can determine what type of antenna will work best for your needs.

TV Fool offers a helpful signal analysis tool that shows you which channels are in different ranges. It's very comprehensive and provides a lot of additional details and tools. It's a fantastic resource for cord cutters that are tech savvy and pretty good with a screwdriver.

Use the TV Signal Locator at TV Fool

AntennaWeb also has a signal analysis tool to help you see where channels are in relation to your location. This website is geared toward the average consumer, and is therefore easier to understand. It's the perfect resource for cord cutters just getting started with adding OTA broadcast TV to their network of media entertainment.

Use the TV Signal Locator at AntennaWeb

The best indoor antenna

ClearStream Eclipse

ClearStream Eclipse

The ClearStream Eclipse indoor antenna has a 35-mile range and is 1080p-compatible, with the ability to receive UHD 4K signals. It can be mounted to a window or flat wall and can be easily repositioned. CNET named it the best indoor OTA antenna.

The Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse is one of the most complete indoor kits you can get with plenty of convenience [sic] features, like adhesive and a replaceable cable, included in the box.

It is double-sided, with black on one side and white on the other. Oh, and it is paintable, so you can paint it to match or compliment your wall color.

If you're looking for the perfect indoor antenna, the ClearStream Eclipse is the right one for you.

See at Amazon

The best outdoor antenna

Outdoor antennas are a little more complicated, depending on whether you need a unidirectional or multidirectional model, and whether you need short or long range (and if you need a preamp), but here are the ones that are best in their class.

Channel Master ExtremEntenna

Channel Master ExtremEntenna

The ExtremEntenna is a large outdoor roof- or attic-mounted multi-directional antenna that has an 80-mile, 180-degree range. It's coded for yellow through violet on the CEA color code spectrum. It comes preassembled, so installation is easy. It does not, however, come with a mast or coax cable, so you'll have to add both of those to your shopping list. This is the most full-ranged antenna you can get.

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RCA Yagi

RCA Yagi

RCA's directional outdoor HD OTA antenna is highly rated for its easy setup and powerful range. When mounted in your attic or on your roof you can get a signal range of 60 miles or more. It supports 1080p broadcast channels, it comes preassembled, and it even includes a mounting mast and coax cable for super quick installation. It has a fold-out UHF reflector, so you can get a wider range of channels. If you want long range but broadcast transmissions are located in one area, the Yagi is the most powerful antenna for its size.

See at Amazon

Any questions?

Do you have any questions about OTA antennas or how to choose the one that's right for you? Put them in the comments and we'll help you out.