A small, flat rectangular-shaped device that can receive hundreds of channels from up to 2000 miles away?
Online marketplaces are full of listings for aerials that claim to be able to solve your reception problems, giving access to a wide range of free TV channels.
Sites such as eBay and Amazon are selling aerials that purportedly can enable indoor reception from stations thousands of miles away or give you access to 4K TV channels.
But how truthful are their claims? Whether you’re looking at a traditional Yagi aerial, found on rooftops up and down the UK and Ireland, or a new style flat aerial, that can be fixed on your window, RXTV has looked at the facts behind seven descriptions made by online sellers:
1. “Long range” aerials (120, 250, 2000 mile reception)
Unless you live on top of a mountain, it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to receive TV signals on a regular basis from more than a hundred miles away. Depending on your location, you may struggle to get a signal from a transmitter 40 miles away.
That’s because terrestrial TV relies on line-of-sight or near line-of-sight to a transmitter tower. The curvature of the earth, hills, buildings and trees all help limit the range of the signal.
You may be able to temporarily receive distant TV signals during certain weather conditions. Locations near the coast may be able to receive signals over the sea from a neighbouring country, in the absence of any obstructions.
Never buy a TV aerial based on claims based on long-range reception. Ignore the channel logos suggesting reception of US or Canadian channels is possible.
2. HD / 1080p aerials
Despite the marketing claim, there’s strictly no such thing as an ‘HD aerial’ or a ‘1080p aerial’.
Aerials receive streams of data sent over the airwaves. TV aerials are designed to receive the frequencies used by terrestrial TV services, but they can’t tell if the signal carries SD or HD channels.
If you’re missing HD channels that could be due to your receiver (older receivers don’t do HD) or because of recent changes in terrestrial TV frequencies.
Between 2017 and 2021, TV services in many parts of the British Isles moved to new frequencies. As a result, some older aerials may struggle to receive services, including HD channels, on their new frequencies. Any new wideband aerial should be able to receive HD channels, although you may need a high-gain aerial in weak signal areas.
Bear in mind that HD and SD channels are bundled together in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, so if you’re missing HD channels, you’ll also be missing at least some SD channels.
3. 4K UHD aerials
Also not a thing. And your aerial won’t be able to receive 4K UHD channels in either the UK or the Republic of Ireland, regardless of the marketing claim. That’s because there aren’t currently any 4K UHD channels broadcast terrestrially. There are also no plans to do so at this stage.
4. Boosted or amplified aerials
Boosters should generally only be used in genuine weak signal areas.
If you want to use an indoor or portable aerial, reception is usually only possible in areas where outdoor reception is already good or very good. Using a booster with an indoor aerial may help stabilise your TV reception in some instances. However, a booster can’t compensate for a poor location within the house. For example, if your neighbours have rooftop aerials facing south towards a transmitter, and your indoor TV aerial is in a room facing northwards, a booster may not be able to compensate for your installation on the side of the house facing away from the transmitter.
Boosters may also boost any interference. Interference can come from a variety of sources, including hairdryers and vacuum cleaners.
Picture and audio glitches are not just a sign of a weak TV signal. A signal that’s too strong can cause the same effect. Don’t use a booster if you live near a TV transmitter mast, e.g. if you can see the mast from your house. You may need an attenuator to reduce signal strength.
A local aerial installer will have the equipment to check the signal level where you are. They can also advise on whether you need a booster or attenuator or nothing at all and advise on the best place to install an aerial without needing a long cable run.
5. Watch Sky through your aerial
Some aerials display the Sky logo in their advertising.
However, you’ll only be able to receive Sky’s free-to-air channels. In the UK, these are Sky News, Sky Arts, Pick and Challenge via Freeview. These are not broadcast from every transmitter. In the Republic of Ireland, these are Sky News and Challenge via Saorview.
6. VHF aerial
Television services in the UK and Republic of Ireland transmit on the UHF frequency band, not VHF. VHF is for FM/DAB radio.
7. 4G 5G digital TV aerials
Another confusing marketing term. A TV aerial won’t help you receive 4G or 5G mobile services. Although there’s pilots testing broadcast TV via 5G in some countries, that’s not happening in the UK or Ireland.
However, what the marketing may be trying to refer to is that the aerial may be designed to filter out interference from mobile networks. If you live near a mobile phone mast or operate a 4G or 5G phone in the vicinity of an indoor aerial, a filter will help reduce interference.
A filter may be required because mobile services now use frequencies previously used for TV services. In the UK, Restore TV has advice on this subject. Between 2013 and 2017, during the initial roll-out of 4G services on former TV frequencies, just over 20,000 cases of interference from mobile masts were recorded.
The bottom line
A well-installed TV aerial will give you access to a range of free-to-air channels from the biggest broadcasters.
- Modern flat style aerials will also give you indoor reception of SD and HD channels, where the signal is strong enough.
- But they can’t pull in stations hundred of miles away, except perhaps briefly during certain atmospheric conditions.
- And they won’t be able to pick up 4K UHD services in the UK or Ireland.
Some of the aerials being sold are designed for international use.
- Some countries use the VHF frequency band to transmit services rather than the UHF frequencies used in the UK and Ireland. Some places use different broadcasting standards to transmit terrestrial TV services.
- Different frequencies and standards will produce different environments for TV reception, that are not applicable to the UK and Ireland.
Local aerial installers will be able to give you the best advice, if you have any doubts. The Freeview channel checker uses computer modelling to predict which channels may be available at your address. In the Republic of Ireland, visit Saorview’s coverage checker.
TV aerials can’t be used for satellite, cable or online TV services.