Consumers who are spending thousands of dollars on LCD or plasma TVs are saving their money elsewhere: their TV programs. Antennas for a high-definition television may seem like a ludicrous idea but local TV channels, broadcast for free in HD over-the-air, offer superior picture quality over the often-compressed signals sent by cable and satellite TV companies. Compression involves removing some data from the digital signal in order to have enough room to send hundreds of other channels through the same cable line or satellite transmission.
Before cable and satellite existed, people relied on antennas to receive analog signals from local TV stations' broadcasting towers. Stations still send out analog signals, but most now transmit HD digital signals as well. One major difference with a digital over-the-air signal is it doesn't get snowy and fuzzy like the old analog signal. Instead, the picture will turn into tiny blocks and go black. "You either get it or you don't. Some people can receive it with rabbit ears, it depends where you are," said Dale Cripps, founder and co-publisher of HDTV Magazine. Schneider recommends indoor antennas only for customers within 25 miles of a station's broadcast tower. An outdoor antenna will grab a signal from up to 70 miles away as long as no mountains are in the way.
The disadvantage to using just an antenna is that only local channels are available. Some consumers partner an antenna with cable or satellite service. HD antenna prices range from $20 to $150 for indoor and outdoor versions. The advantage is that it's a one-time fee; you won't be paying monthly for local television channels.