Most people think of TV antennas as a relic of the 1950s: huge metal devices mounted on rooftops that delivered poor-quality signals to three or four channels on the living room’s 19″ Quasar TV. This is no longer true.
Since broadcasting went digital, they’ve been sending free TV out over the air (OTA) in high definition. And now there are subchannels. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, KGO offers its normal ABC affiliate station as well as Localish (lifestyle) and Laff TV (movies, sitcoms).
As a result, people are returning to OTA TV. But how do you share that one antenna with multiple TVs and other devices? There are two ways to do this: with a physical splitter or a wireless tuner.
Below, you’ll find step-by-step instructions for both approaches. Plus there’s information on improving, troubleshooting, and integrating your antenna with streaming services like Sling TV and FuboTV.
5 Steps to Connecting Your Antenna to Multiple TVs With a Physical Splitter 1. Install Antenna
The first thing you must do is to get an HDTV antenna. And this will mostly come down to whether you want it to be indoor or outdoor. An outdoor antenna can provide you with more channels than you thought possible. But unless you are very far from major broadcast towers, an indoor antenna should be fine.
See our discussion below for more details about what kind of antenna to get.
Regardless of what kind of antenna you get, you want to position it for best reception. This generally means two things: place it as high as possible and in a position that is closest to the broadcast towers near you. We discuss placement further below.
2. Connect Coaxial Splitter
Once you have your antenna all hooked up, the next thing you need to do is connect a splitter. This is an inexpensive device designed for splitting an antenna cable into multiple cables. This lets you use one antenna for multiple TVs, so you can watch your local channels on every television in your house.
TV antennas have low (75 ohms) impedance coax outputs. And TVs have the same inputs. These connections (directly or through a spitter) are best made with RG6 coaxial cable. RG59 will probably be fine but it wasn’t designed to deliver the bandwidth of modern HGTV. If you are going to run a lot of cabling (eg, to other buildings), you will probably want to RG11.
Connect the antenna to the input of your splitter.
3. Connect Main TV
It is important that you do not connect the splitter to all your devices at once. Simply connect one of the outputs of the splitter to your first TV. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, you want to make sure that your base system is working. As you attach more devices, your signal strength will decrease. If you aren’t getting a good signal with a single TV, you may need to adjust your antenna or install a preamp (see Step 5 below).
Second, if you connect multiple devices to the splitter, it will be harder to troubleshoot any problems that show up.
Once you have connected your TV, do a channel scan. This will show you if you are getting good signals from the channels that you want. See Available Channels below to determine what channels you should be able to get.
4. Connect Secondary TV(s)
Once you have the first TV working as expected, hook up your second TV. Physically separating the cable will cause signal loss. In general, the two output signals will have half the power of the input (antenna) signal. As a result, your first TV might now have poor reception. Check both it and the second TV. If there is a problem, go to step 5.
You can do the same for a third TV and so on.
5. Install Amplifiers (If Necessary)
There are two kinds of amplifiers that you may need for this process:
Preamplifier: a preamp is connected between the antenna and the splitter. It amplifies the entire signal. Before investing in a preamp, however, make sure your antenna is well-placed (see discuss below). Channel Master offers three units to fit any particular situation: CM-7778V3 Titan 2 Medium-Gain PreamplifierCM-7777V3 Titan 2 High Gain PreamplifierCM-7777HD Amplify Adjustable Gain Preamplifier Distribution amplifier: a passive splitter will usually be fine if you are only connecting two TVs to a single antenna. However, if you lose channels as you add more TVs, you should invest in a distribution amplifier. Basically, it is a powered splitter, copying the input single to each of the outputs rather than dividing the input signal. Both Channel Master and Antennas Direct offer good distribution amplifiers: CM-3410 Ultra Mini 1 (1 port)CM-3412 Ultra Mini 2 (2 ports)CM-3414 Ultra Mini 4 (4 ports)Antennas Direct CDA4 (4 ports)CM-3418 Ultra Mini 8 (8 ports).Antennas Direct CDA8 (8 ports)
Amplifiers need power. This can be challenging, especially for a preamp, which might be located on your roof. Channel Master also offers the CM-3400XPIPS, which plugs into a wall and then distributes power through the coax cable. It is inexpensive and makes the set-up and design of your system much simpler.
And that’s it. Under most circumstances, setting up a couple of TVs to work with a single antenna shouldn’t take long. Read on for more options and details if you are interested.
3 Steps to Connecting Your Antenna to Multiple TVs With a Wireless Tuner
The process outlined above is tried and true. People have been using splitters with their cable lines for decades. And it has the advantage of being simple. If you want to view content from your antenna, just set your TV to that (default) input and you are ready. But it isn’t the only way to share an antenna.
In fact, if you want to connect your antenna to a smartphone or tablet, using a physical splitter won’t work. Luckily, there is another approach: go wireless!
1. Install the Antenna
This step is the same as above. Just find a good place for your antenna. If you only get weak signals, you may need to install a pre-amp. But anything else is unnecessary.
2. Connect the Wireless Tuner
The one downside of the wireless approach is that you need to purchase a device like the HDHomeRun with ATSC-compatible tuners. These run between $100 and $200. But over the lifetime of the device, this is a good investment.
These units normally provide two or four tuners. This determines the number of devices that can use the antenna signal at once. See below for a couple of ways around this.
A wireless tuner device has two important connections. First is a coax connection that you attach to your antenna. This is the same as discussed above when connecting the antenna to the splitter.
The other is an ethernet port, which you connect to your wireless router. And that’s it! There’s very little in terms of physical set-up.
Most units also have a USB connection for an external hard drive. This allows you to set up a DVR for your antenna connection
3. Connect Devices to a Wireless Tuner
To use the wireless tuner device, you will need to install the device’s app. They are available for most devices. SiliconDust (makers of the HDHomeRun) provides apps for Android, iOS, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and more.
And you are done. Watch all the channels your antenna provides on all your devices!
Other Ways to Share an Antenna Connection
There are other devices that allow you to share a TV antenna like the ClearStream TV Wireless Tuner Adapter. However, these are more limited in terms of devices. The set-up is similar, however.
You could also have a hybrid system. You could use a physical splitter to connect all your TVs and your wireless tuner device. Why would you do this? If you have a very large household and want to stream on more than 4 devices at once, this approach would take the TVs out of the calculation.
You could also attach multiple wireless tuner devices to an antenna through a splitter.
A Guide TO OTA Antenna Basics
There is a lot to know about over the air TV reception. Below, we are going to provide useful details that will help you get the most out of your HDTV antenna.
It’s good to know what channels you can get before you buy an antenna. But it’s essential to know where these channels broadcast from when you are setting up your antenna.
Thankfully, the US FCC provides an exceptional web-app, DTV Reception Maps. You just enter your address and it will show you all the channels available along with their signal strengths.
As an example, we entered the address of the Bayhill Shopping Center in San Bruno, California, and this is what the app returned:
Output of the FCC’s DTV Reception Maps tool for San Bruno, CA.
We cropped the page. In total, it returned 23 channels of various strengths: 8 with strong, 9 with moderate, and 6 with weak signals.
The page also provides the following information:
Callsign: the official identifier of the channelNetwork: the network affiliate associated with the channel (if appropriate)Ch#: the physical TV channel numberBand: whether the channel is broadcast on UHF or VHF. VHF is subdivided into Lo-V (VHF-Lo) and Hi-V (VHF-Hi).IA: incentive auctions provide information about RF channels (if appropriate).
To get more information, click on a station’s Callsign. In the example below, we clicked on KNTV. This provides you with information about signal strength and the tower distance and location. It also changes the map to include a straight line from your location to the tower, which will help in your efforts to find the best place for your antenna.
Output of the FCC’s DTV Reception Maps tool for San Bruno, CA — details for KNTV. Indoor vs Outdoor Antennas
In the introduction, we made a bit of fun of the large rooftop antenna of the past. But they are still around. And you would be amazed what you can do with them. Here, north of San Francisco, we are able to get dozens of channels.
Outdoor antennas are generally larger and more powerful. If you can mount an outdoor antenna, this is the way to go. They aren’t much more expensive than indoor antennas and if you amortize the cost over years of operation, the cost difference is trivial.
Unless you are very far from broadcast towers, however, you should be fine with an indoor antenna. One advantage of an indoor antenna is that you can, if you choose, attach a different one to each TV. But you will probably be better off using a single antenna that you can tune for the best reception.
See our hardware guide for more information on choosing an antenna.
Antenna Placement: How To Do It
Before you start: be very careful! Even indoors, you can fall trying to place an antenna in an awkward location. When it comes to rooftop antennas, you may want to hire a professional. Know your limits. No one should risk injury for a better TV signal!
You will almost certainly be using an omni-directional or multi-directional antenna. These antennas receive signals from all directions. They are not, however, perfectly symmetrical. You may be able to get better signals by making minor adjustments to the antenna’s orientation.
More important is the physical placement of the antenna. The first consideration here is height — the higher the antenna, the better. So an outdoor antenna is best placed on the roof. Similarly, an indoor antenna should be placed in an upper floor or attic if possible.
The second placement consideration is to provide your antenna as clean a line of site as possible. If the major broadcast towers in your area are to the north of you, you should place you antenna on the north side of your house or apartment.
Similarly, an indoor antenna is best placed next to a window, if possible. Otherwise, against an outside wall is a good choice.
For all antennas, avoid any exterior impediments to your signal like trees or buildings — at least as much as possible.
Signal Loss With Splitters
There are two issues to watch for when it comes to physical spliters:
Insertion loss: this happens because the signal is split. So if it is split in two, each of the outputs will be roughly half the strength of the input. As discussed above, distribution amplifiers address this problem. Also, consider using terminators on unused outputs.Line loss: the longer a signal is transmitted through a cord, the weaker it gets. This is not normally a problem unless you are running very long lines (100 meters). You can limit this by using good cabling. If necessary, you can use amplifiers like the CM-3410 Ultra Mini 1. Existing Wiring In Your Home
Because people have been using cable TV for decades, you will often find that your home is already wired. Before running your own wiring, see what’s available. This can save you a lot of work.
Integrate Antennas With Streaming Services
For most cord cutters, a streaming service like FuboTV and Hulu + Live TV is the backbone of their systems. Unfortunately, using this kind of service with an antenna generally means that all your TV options lack integration.
For example, with a physical splitter, you will watch local stations on your TV input and your streaming service via an app on an HDMI input running Roku or an Amazon Fire TV stick. It would be better to have all channels listed in one convenient location.
Sling TV’s Free & Discounted Antennas
Sling TV is a great low-cost ($35/mo) option for live TV streaming. But the low-cost comes with one major disadvantage: relatively poor local channel availability. Because of this, Sling TV is the only major service that has taken the antenna integration question seriously.
You can get an AirTV device that delivers content from your antenna directly to the Sling TV app running on various devices. And Sling TV is so committed to this that they provide hardware bundles for free and greatly reduced prices if you sign up for two or three months.
Some of these units will also work as a DVR with an external storage device.
Philo TV & Antenna Combo
Philo TV is another low-cost ($25/mo) live TV streaming service. It includes no local channels at all and next to no news. By connecting your antenna through a Fire TV Recast, a Fire TV will place the Philo and OTA channels in its On Now guide.
Other Options With Streaming Services
There are other ways to get an integrated guide like using the Channels DVR Server. But these methods are reasonably complicated and don’t necessarily result in the best interface.
Unfortunately, it isn’t likely that this situation is going to get better soon. Most streaming services have invested heavily in providing direct access to local channels. Even Sling TV is offering some local channels in select markets.
And an antenna is all some cord cutters need, especially when combined with a Hulu On-Demand plan. For most of the rest, the lack of integration isn’t a big deal. But if you do want to do an integration, there are solutions if you are willing to work at it.
Adding an antenna to your home TV system is a great idea because there is more HDTV content delivered OTA than ever before. And delivering it to multiple TVs is just as easy as it is with a cable connection.
If you want OTA channels on your mobile devices, that’s easy to do too — although it may cost you a little money for the hardware.
Today, cord-cutters have more options than ever before. And as the instructions above show, it isn’t even that hard.
FAQs What is a digital TV antenna?
Starting June 13th, 2009, TV stations throughout the US were required to broadcast in digital. This change caused some disruptions but provided many advantages — in particular, the broadcast of HDTV and subchannels. A digital TV antenna allows users to pick up these signals and deliver them to TVs.
Do I need a separate antenna for each TV?
It is not necessary to have a different antenna for each TV. A single antenna connection can be split — either physically with hardware or digitally with a wireless tuner device. However, for very simple set-ups, it can be easier to attach an antenna to each TV.
How many TVs can you hook up to one antenna?
Theoretically, you can hook up an unlimited number of TVs to a single antenna. But the antenna’s signal strength goes down with each TV you add. This signal loss can be avoided by using a distribution amplifier. But the largest unit we’ve seen has eight outputs. So as a practical matter, you are probably limited to eight TVs per antenna — barring Herculean engineering efforts.
Can you connect two antennas to a single TV?
Most people use multi-directional antennas. But if you want to get channels from distant broadcast towers in different directions, it is possible to use two directional antennas. The process is much like using multiple TVs with one antenna — but in reverse. You will need a combiner, which you can usually get for less than $20.
Does a splitter weaken the signal?
A physical splitter weakens the antenna signal with each device that is added. Roughly speaking, splitting a signal in two will reduce the output signals to 50%. To avoid this, use a distribution amplifier. And to avoid interference and signal degradation, use terminators on all outputs not in use.