Weak or degraded antenna signal is often the bane of us cord-cutters when using over-the-air (OTA) TV signals. OTA antenna interference and degradation can be very frustrating when our favorite stations lose their receptions.
Of course, we can’t fix the problem if we don’t know the cause of the issue. In this article we’ll discuss common causes of antenna signal degradation and 10 ways you can get more channels with your TV antenna.
What Causes Antenna Signal Degradation?
We will divide these possible causes into two: external (that is, outside your home) and internal (inside the house):
Antenna Signal Degradation Causes: External Factors
Multipath interference is when the OTA signal is bounced around certain surfaces like nearby buildings, wet/snowy/icy surfaces near your house, or even a passing vehicle/airplane. Depending on your location, trees and terrains can also cause this issue.
When a signal leaves a transmitter, it finds the best direct path to your OTA antenna. However, when the signal is reflected by trees, hills, buildings, or others, the signal can bounce and reflect and it may become distorted and weak. This will, in turn, affect signal quality.
Also, if a signal is going through a tree, it may weaken the signal, and when the tree is blown by the wind, it might also distort and weaken the signal.
Although both our antennas and the television networks are now pretty advanced and impacts due to weathers are pretty rare, they are still possible. Since there are only a limited number of frequencies to deliver television signals, we need to re-use these frequencies over and over again.
As a result of this phenomenon, when certain weather conditions occur, television signals might travel further than expected. So, at these times, you can then receive different television services using a single frequency. When we receive more than one signal in a single frequency, it can cause various issues, mainly pixelation.
4G (and 5G) Interference
TV stations had to condense the allocated frequency bands to accommodate more 4G frequencies due to the increased demands for high-speed internet. As a result of this, 4G frequencies are commonly within the range of older antennas (and signal amplifiers), and these older antennas might not have filters to filter out these new 4G frequencies.
As a result, unfiltered 4G signals can interfere with your Digital TV signal, and since the 4G signal can be stronger than your TV signal, it may overdrive and distort the incoming signal. Also, if you don’t have a signal amplifier, the 4G signal can overpower your TV signal and cause corruption.
Antenna Signal Degradation Causes: Internal Factors
Cable Length and/or Signal Loss
This is probably one of the most commonly asked questions: will cable length affect your TV signal? The answer is a resounding yes. The longer your cable, the higher the potential for signal degradation.
The general rule of thumb is that a 50-foot cable can experience a noticeable signal loss, and a 100-foot cable can lose up to 30% of its original signal. This can be a significant issue depending on your antenna, especially for outdoor antenna where you might run a connection from one end of the house to the other.
Electromagnetic interference can be caused by various things like outside power-lines, bad weather especially thunderstorms, electric devices (LEDs, blenders, heaters, refrigerators, etc. ), and even solar flares can also cause interference.
In general, any appliances featuring electric motors can cause signal interference to any OTA antenna.
Inadequate Antenna Setup
Also, a common issue is when we use an old or broken antenna or inappropriate use of amplifiers.
How to Improve Antenna Reception to Get More Channels
Here are some important tips on how you can improve your antenna reception to get more channels:
1. Relocate your antenna as high as possible
The antenna’s height is a very important factor in maximizing its reception, and the idea is to place your antenna as high as possible. The higher your antenna is, the more likely it can pick weaker signals and avoid other obstacles blocking OTA signals.
This is why when you use various signal finder tools, you may be asked about your antenna’s estimated height. Also, this is the reason outdoor antennas tend to receive more channels than indoor antennas since you can put an outdoor antenna on your roof or at higher mounting locations.
With that being said, figure out the highest possible place to place your antenna while also considering other factors like cable length and possible signal reflections. Keep in mind that if you place your antenna indoor, you still want it by a window and near an outside-facing wall when possible.
Again, make sure not to use an unnecessarily long cable since it can degrade your signal.
2. Ensure Proper Alignment To Nearest Broadcast Tower
It’s very important to determine the locations of the nearest broadcast towers in your area before you set up your antenna. In fact, you should do this before you purchase your antenna so you can determine the right type of antenna you’d need and how powerful it should be.
There are various tools and websites you can use to locate TV signals in your area, and you might want to check our TV Station Locator tool here, where you can simply enter your ZIP code and check what towers and stations are available in your area.
With this information, you can figure out whether you’d need an antenna with a longer reception range (possibly those with amplifiers) or not. So, you can make a more cost-effective choice.
Below is a video on how you can use our TV Station Locator tool.
For example, you might have trouble picking up your local ABC affiliate, and with our tool, you can check the direction the corresponding tower is located, and you can also move the antenna to a window or outside-facing wall that faces this tower.
You can also determine the strength of the antenna this way. If, for example, most of the important towers near you are located within a 20-mile range, then you’d only need an antenna with a 20-mile reception range, and so you can ensure a more cost-effective investment.
3. Secure Your Antenna Against The Elements
Weatherproof your cable connections
We’d recommend two main ways to weatherproof your cable connections: using dielectric sealant (or dielectric grease) and grommets.
The idea here is to fill your coaxial connector with a properly formulated dielectric grease. Dielectric substances won’t conduct any electricity and also prevent transmission of electromagnetic waves. So, by blocking the cable core with dielectric sealant, we can prevent signal interference.
Cable grommets are typically made of PVC and other high-quality rubber materials like EPDM or TPR. Grommets are used to seal-off and also to protect cables over a long period of time, and they are very easy to install on any cables.
Compression connector attachments relatively new compared to solder attachment or crimp, but it is now quite popular because it offers a superior weatherproof capabilities and other benefits like:
- Very easy and fast installation even without any experience
- Stronger pull strength compared to crimp or solder
- Superior weather seal, as mentioned above
- One-piece connection without any components, easier to install and you won’t lose any component
Yes, compression connectors are relatively more expensive and you’d need a crimping tool, but they work best in optimizing your antenna reception compared to push-on, crimp-on, and screw-on coaxial connections.
Also, make sure to get a proper, high-end compression connector that can handle the highest available frequency to ensure performance. While cheaper connections can work, most of them can’t handle high-end internet signal or high-definition TV.
We recommend the Klein Tools Coax Installation and Test Kit to get the job done right.
Replace your old coax cable and keep them as short as possible
Like everything else, coaxial cables have a lifespan. As a coax cable gets older, the center conductor can get nicked, the connector will start to oxidize, causing signal loss, and the dielectric foam in the middle can degrade to allow signal interference. Also, the outer plastic and rubber materials can break down.
So, check the condition of your cable if you are using an older cable, and if they have really old and crimped connectors, it’s probably time to replace them. Another good indicator is when the cable seems thinner than newer cables.
We’d advise getting a good, high-quality, RG6 cable to replace your older coax cable, and here are our recommendations:
RG6 cables have a heavier gauge with larger conductors and also feature shielding and insulation for high-bandwidth, high-frequency signals (including HDTV signals). Also, RG6 cables tend to have thicker dielectric insulations to prevent interference.
Also, as discussed above, keep your cables as short as possible. The shorter and thicker the cable will determine the strength and quality of the signals. So, choose the right cable length and thickness according to your needs.
4. Eliminate electrical interference inside and outside your house
Various appliances in your house from refrigerators, heaters, and even your LED and fluorescent lights can cause interference. You can try to place your antenna as far away from the interference as possible, but in many cases, it can be quite difficult if you have many different electrical devices in your house.
In this case, we’d recommend getting a power conditioner, a device that can help ‘clean up’ dirty power and help reduce EM and RF interference in your home while also protecting your antenna from power surges. We’d recommend Furman Power Conditioner for this purpose.
You’d also need to consider 4G (or 3G and 5G) signal interference which can also distort and break your TV signal. Check whether your antenna is properly equipped with signal filters, and if not, you can invest in products like an LTE Filter for TV antennas.
These LTE filters are designed to stop signal interference by aggressively filtering out radio signals that are outside the standard TV broadcast band. It only affects signals traveling between the antenna and the TV (since it sits inline with the antenna cable), and so you wouldn’t have to worry about the filter affecting your phones and tablets.
It’s important to note that 4G signal interferences occur at various frequencies, and so you might need different filters depending on your house’s position and condition.
However, the Channel Master LTE filter above can filter down signals between 700MHz and 2,000 MHz, which covers almost all 4G bands in most areas, and so you shouldn’t have these issues.
5. Making sure your antenna is properly grounded
Ensuring your antenna is properly grounded is very important to ensure all electromagnetic interference is brought to the ground. This is also important to prevent damages in the case of lightning and thunderstorms.
Contrary to popular misconception, electricity does not try to get to the earth, but instead, it will always try to get back to its source (while using the earth/ground as a path when required).
You might want to check our previous guide on how to properly ground your antenna to learn further about this subject. However, you can get coax ground blocks to ground your antenna properly which are fairly easy to get and are inexpensive.
An antenna-mounted preamplifier (or a mast) is used mainly to offset the signal loss in the coaxial cable running between the antenna and the TV set. In locations that are relatively far away from the TV transmitter towers, a pre-amplifier is typically necessary to overcome signal loss, since the initial signal is already weak.
However, in areas that are relatively close to the TV transmitters, a pre-amplifier can be counterproductive at times since it may cause the signal levels to be too high and might be distorted.
The most accurate way to measure the level of the received signal is by using a professional field strength meter. However, it might be overkill if it’s a one-time installation. Alternatively, you can use our TV Station Locator tool and review the available channels at your location. If most of the stations you want to view have weak signals, you might need to install a pre-amplifier.
Above, we have mentioned keeping your cable runs as short as possible. However, if your coaxial cable is too long for one reason or another, installing a preamplifier can help overcome the signal loss. If you use more than 50 feet of cable between the antenna and TV set, a pre-amplifier can help.
Also, don’t forget to check whether your antenna is already amplified since a pre-amplifier cannot be used with amplified antennas.
We’d recommend the Winegard LNA-200 Boost XT if you need to overcome long coax cable runs.
Another possible case to use a pre-amp/distribution amplifier combination is when several TVs are being fed from a single antenna source. In this case we’d need an efficient way to not only need to compensate for the long cable runs.
Due to the physics, splitting your signal naturally cause a signal degradation. We’ll discuss the use of distribution amplifiers next.
7. Install an antenna distribution amplifier
Splitters, as mentioned, will cause signal loss since the signal is split into more than one TV outlet. If, for example, you have three TVs in your home being fed by a single antenna, you’d most likely need a distribution amplifier. Obviously, if you own a hotel/motel or similar establishments, you’d also need one.
As a general rule of thumb:
- If you use a 2-way splitter, you’ll lose around 4dB of signal
- If you use a 3-way or 4-way splitters, you’re going to lose around 8dB of signal
- With an 8-way splitter, you’d lose 15 dB of signal
Also, remember that even ports are unused on a splitter, you’ll still suffer the same amount of signal loss.
So, the objective of the distribution amplifier here is to increase the strength of the received signals to their original (or even stronger) levels before they are split.
It’s important to place your distribution amplifier at a relative center between the TV sets since the longer the distribution line, the more signal loss will be produced.
Our absolute favorite distribution amplifier is the Channel Master 4-way SCT such as the one depicted below.
8. Use a Motorized Antenna Rotor
An antenna rotor is a motorized device allowing us to rotate (and redirect) the TV antenna in any direction. Typically you can use a remote control to perform this rotation, and it is more commonly used for outdoor TV antennas that are often hard to reach.
In such cases, a control unit is placed near the TV set, which is connected to the rotor device via a multi-conductor wire.
A motorized antenna rotor is useful when the TV signals arrive at your location from various different directions (that are often widely spaced). In such cases, you can’t use a single, fixed-positioned antenna to receive all these signals.
When you should use an antenna rotor?
An antenna rotor is especially useful for cord-cutters that live between two TV markets. So, by manually rotating the antenna, we can get TV signals from both markets. We certainly can’t point our antenna in opposite directions at the same time, and so an antenna rotor is the most cost-efficient solution.
When you should not use an antenna rotor?
If your antenna feeds more than one TV set in your home, then an antenna rotator might not be a good idea. For example, your children are currently watching their TV station, and then you suddenly rotate the antenna, causing signal loss.
Since antenna rotors are typically installed outdoors, these devices are more susceptible to wear and tear. So, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on how you should care for the rotor device.
We’d recommend RCA VH226F Outdoor Antenna Rotator with remote control if you need an antenna rotor to grab all the best signals antenna TV has to offer.
Antenna stacking is a method to improve the signal reception/gain of the antenna by placing two different antennas side by side or one on top of the other. We’ll then use a signal joiner or coupler to combine the two signals.
Power Tip: Antenna stacking tends to work best when the two or more antennas are touching metal-to-metal.
Antenna ganging, on the other hand, is actually a different technique although the two terms are often used interchangeably. Antenna ganging is when you point two or more different antennas at two or more TV transmitter towers and then join the incoming signals together using a signal joiner or coupler.
As you can see, whether you want to do antenna stacking or gaming, you’ll need a good signal coupler, and we’d recommend:
- Antennas Direct VHF / UHF Antenna Combiner
- Winegard CC-7870 Antenna Coupler
- Stellar Labs 33-2230 UHF/VHF Signal Combiner
When stacking or ganging your antennas, it is very important to keep the cables as short as possible and with exact same length. This is to ensure the two (or more) signals are “in phase” with each other.
Out of phase signals will instead cancel each other out, causing poorer signal receptions than before you combine the signals together.
9. Upgrade Your TV Tuner
Most of the TV sets nowadays feature built-in TV tuners, especially if your TV is relatively new. However, they aren’t always the best in quality, and getting a dedicated network tuner (or tuner box) might significantly improve your antenna’s reception.
Another advantage of getting an HDTV network tuner is that you disconnect or un-tether your antenna from your TV set completely. With this, you won’t need to be concerned about how far your antenna run is from your TV set, and you wouldn’t need a splitter.
In most cases, a dedicated tuner box will be built with better quality components compared to your TV’s built-in tuner, and usually are fine-tuned with tighter specifications. So, you’d get a better and more reliable picture quality.
A tuner box essentially streams your antenna signals to any TV, and here are our recommendations:
10. Upgrade Your Antenna
This is the last resort when you’ve tried all the above tips but haven’t got the desired results.
However, before you purchase a brand new HDTV antenna, it’s important to first figure out what signals you can receive at your home and how strong your signals are. Again, you can use our TV Station Locator tool for this purpose, which can detect what channels are available in your area.
Another important aspect to consider is the direction the TV signals are coming from. In most cases, you’ll find that the TV transmission towers are clustered in a general direction. This is why a unidirectional antenna is usually a great choice.
For most cases, we’d recommend an outdoor antenna unless it’s absolutely impossible for you (i.e. you live in an apartment complex). Our recommendations for an outdoor antenna are:
Outdoor TV Antennas
Pros and Cons
- Very reliable reception of weak signals
- Broad reception of UHF signals
- Can be pointed in two different directions for versatility and precision
- Very easy to assemble
- Doesn’t need a preamplifier in most situations
- Relatively large, require a strong mount
- Can’t receive VHF signals (need an additional element to receive VHF)
Pros and Cons
- Very easy to assemble, almost fully assembled from the package
- Easy to install and setup
- High-quality reception for great picture and sound
- Great signal finder app to detect how we should set the antenna
- Flexible design, easy to direct the antenna
- Not very durable and sturdy
If you can only use indoor antennas
No matter what, indoor antennas will always be weaker than outdoor ones, so you need to be realistic about what you can receive at your location.
This is even more important in this age of digital broadcasting: with digital signals, you either see a really high-quality picture or picture that appears and disappears regularly (or nothing at all).
So, be extra careful when choosing an indoor antenna. If you’re interested we did a comprehensive indoor antenna guide. However, here are some of our top picks:
Indoor TV Antennas
- Made from 100% recycled cable set-top boxes, environmentally friendly while wasting fewer energy sources
- Can effectively capture OTA signals in up to 30 miles range with 75, including ABC CBS NBC PBS Fox Univision and more
- 4K ready, multi-directional and reversible HDTV antenna
- 10-ft high-performance coaxial cable included
Pros and Cons
- Although doesn’t involve an amplifier, it has great reception
- Fabricated primarily from recycled materials, environmentally friendly
- Detachable coax cable gives you the option to customize the length
- 30-miles reception range
- Easy setup
- Might not be strong enough if you live far from broadcast towers (need an amplified antenna
- Not very durable compared to others
- Affordable amplified indoor antenna with advanced Smart Boost technology to optimize the best signal transmission.
- Superb distance reception, can receive from 130+miles range.
- Protection against interference with other signals to maximize signal reception
- Extra-long 17ft coax cable for extra versatility
- Simple finger switch to select an appropriate mode to find more channels
- Black classic and trendy design to match your decoration
Pros and Cons
- A relatively affordable option that offers an amplified signal booster
- Impressive reception range, can receive from 130+ miles
- Slim design with a black color tone can complement most home decors
- Lightweight and compact
- Easy to install
- 17-feet coaxial cable for more versatility in placements
- Some noise on long-range setting
- Issues with signals
Above, we have shared ten actionable tips on how you can improve your antenna’s signal reception. We have discussed the common external and internal causes of signal degradation and signal loss, and their potential solutions, and you should first check whether these issues are prevalent in your location.
Last but not least, we have also recommended some indoor and outdoor antenna replacement options in case you are in need of a new antenna.
In this digital TV broadcasting era, it’s very important to ensure the quality of your signal reception, and the tips we’ve shared above should help in avoiding signal loss, signal interference, and many other issues we discussed.