How to Boost Your Outdoor Antenna TV Signal

By Greg Martinez / November 4, 2019
How to boost your outdoor tv signal

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At one point or another you might’ve experienced reception problems and wondered how you could pick up more channels.

In this case, you might’ve considered getting a TV antenna amplifier.

An amplifier is an AC-powered device that applies electric current to your antenna coaxial cable to boost your TV signal and improve reception under certain conditions.

For example, if your antenna is located indoors and is weakened due to the walls of your home, an amplifier strengthens the signal you receive and can increase your reception quality.

But are amplifiers the magic bullet for all reception issues?

I’ve personally found that an amplifier has improved my TV reception by increasing the number of available channels.

By some estimates, a properly installed amplifier can help you get up to 10-20% more channels.

But they won’t work in all circumstances, and may even hinder your reception in some cases.

Below, I’m going to describe where and when it makes sense to use an amplifier, as well as situations when you shouldn’t.

What is a TV Antenna Amplifier?

Let’s start with the basics.

An amplifier is a device that strengthens the TV signal travelling down your antenna or along the coaxial cable to your TV or converter box.

Notice I said, “travelling down your antenna or along the coaxial cable.” That’s key to understanding amplifiers.

They strengthen your already-received signals, but they won’t help you get broadcasts you otherwise wouldn’t receive at all (say, from another country or from an alien galaxy).

You normally install an amplifier by attaching it somewhere along the line from your antenna to your TV, and then plugging the amplifier in to an AC power outlet.

The power it’s adding to the signal is referred to as amplifier gain, which is measured in decibels (dB). (Elsewhere on this site I’ve also talked about “antenna gain (dB)” but that’s a different kind of gain — it’s basically the passive, receptive power of the antenna itself based on its own design.)

A good preamplifier that I always recommend to people is the RCA TVPRAMP1Z (shown below). Since you can use this thing to power both a VHF and UHF antenna at the same time, it offers two different (max) gain figures for these frequencies: 16 dB for VHF and 22 dB for UHF.

This means it can add up to 22 dB of extra gain – for UHF signals – to offset any losses (“signal attenuation”) along the line caused by a lengthy cable, distant transmission towers, etc. – below I give some signal loss scenarios along with estimated loss numbers.

TV Antenna Preamplifier vs. Amplifier

What makes terms relating to antenna amplification confusing is that people often use different words when they mean the same thing.

For example, people talk about boosting their reception, so they call it an antenna booster, or an aerial booster. Boosters are actually amplifiers. Some refer to them as amps.

Now let’s talk about true distinctions. There are two types of amplifier:

  • A preamplifier attaches directly to the mast or antenna itself, and boosts the TV signal immediately received by the antenna
  • A distribution amplifier boosts the TV signal in conjunction with a splitter device that you install in order to split the signal among multiple televisions. Unlike a preamplifier you attach to an antenna outside, a distribution amplifier is usually located indoors (e.g., directly after the coaxial cable enters the house and before or after the splitter)

Normally you’d use either one of these, although there are situations where you might consider using both, which I describe further below.

When Do You Need an Amplifier?

First, let’s talk about when you won’t need an amplifier.

Have you noticed that many long-range directional antennas — like the RCA ANT751R — don’t come with a preamplifier?

Such antennas have an antenna gain that’s sufficient for receiving most, if not all the stations within their range, and without resorting to electrical amplification of the signal.

An antenna’s gain measures how well the antenna converts radio waves arriving from a certain direction into electrical power.

Thus, its antenna gain means it probably won’t need extra amplifier gain to boost the received TV signal.

But that’s just speaking about the antenna itself.

Nevertheless your particular situation may be difficult for antenna reception. You may not be satisfied with the number of channels you’re getting.

For instance, you may have looked at a signal report for your location from tvfool.com and found several more stations (within the line of sight and range of your antenna) that you’re not receiving.

In these cases, an amplifier may be beneficial if:

  1. The length of the coaxial cable from the antenna to the television is longer than 50 feet
  2. You’re distributing the television signal to more than two TVs in different rooms
  3. You’ve installed the antenna indoors or in the attic, and are concerned about too much interference from your attic walls or roof
  4. The distance to the nearest transmission tower is greater than 20 miles

What Causes TV Signal Loss?

Let’s look at points #1 and #2 above, which represent some of the biggest reasons for getting an amplifier: you need to overcome signal loss along the line from the antenna to the TV.

Think of your antenna and coaxial cable, and all the devices attached to them as a leaky system.

Your TV signal, once received by the antenna, is losing strength the farther it travels down the line.

It’s also getting weakened the more it’s split up or dissipated by attached devices such as grounding blocks and splitters.

Believe it or not, the signal even gets weakened (slightly) as it jumps across connections between the cable and devices such as splitters or your TV.

Below are some attenuation scenarios and estimated loss numbers along your TV coaxial cable (keep in mind these aren’t to be taken as exact figures and may differ greatly from your own situation).

Signal Loss Numbers

Description

Signal loss (decibels)

A high UHF signal (e.g., radio frequency channels 14-69) travelling along 50 feet of RG6 coaxial cable

~ 2.5 dB

2-way splitter

~ 3.5 dB per output port (~7 dB total loss)

4-way splitter

~ 7 dB per output port (~28 dB total loss)

F-type connector on a television set for the coaxial cable

~ 0.5 dB per connector

Why Are These Numbers Important?

You add up these numbers to arrive at an estimate of the total signal loss along the coaxial cable. Your amp should offer sufficient amplifier gain to offset this sum total.

The better you can estimate this number, and the more precisely the amplifier gain matches this number, the higher the quality of the reception you’ll get.

If you were to just buy and install the most powerful amp out there, which greatly exceeded your signal loss, you’d again end up with poor reception.

Why? Because too much noise would be introduced into the TV line.

Types of Amplifiers

The following video from Channel Master explains the purpose of preamplifiers and distribution amplifiers:

With permission from Channel Master

Preamplifiers

Many people first consider getting a preamplifier (or simply “preamp”) to give the signal a boost directly at the antenna before it travels along the coaxial to the TV.

Usually a preamp will provide sufficient offset for signal loss and no other steps for boosting signal will be needed.

IMPORTANT: Many people who buy a preamplifier decide to install it further away from their antenna. Ideally, a preamplifier should be installed on the antenna mast for best results. The farther away a preamplifier is from the antenna, the less performance it will have.

Distribution Amplifiers

In another scenario, you may want to distribute a TV signal to several rooms in the house, and find that the signal is weakened (somewhat) as a result of attaching, say, a 4-way splitter to a long coaxial.

A distribution amplifier would potentially offset this kind of signal loss from a splitter. Some splitters are actually combination amplifier/splitter, like this 4-Port DTV Distribution Amplifier (CDA4).

It provides a boost of 7.5 dB per output port, completely overcoming the traditional signal loss of a passive 4-way splitter.

Amping Up Your TV Reception

You may notice you’re receiving fewer channels when compared with TV Fool’s signal report for your location. 

For example, let’s say you’ve got an 70-mile multidirectional antenna, but you’re not picking up several channels that are apparently within range of your antenna.

TV Fool website

Maybe there’s a dense forest between your location and these stations. Or perhaps your antenna is installed in the attic, where materials such as insulation or your roof’s radiant barrier may be interfering with signal.

In this situation, you might consider attaching an AC-powered preamplifier to your antenna’s mast to boost signals weakened by interference caused by physical obstacles.

Usually this will be enough to provide clear reception of TV signals.

But what if you’re using a splitter to distribute the TV signal to, say, four rooms in your house over coaxial cables that run over 50 feet to the TVs?

If you find that splitters and long cable runs might be causing you to lose additional channels, then you might additionally consider attaching a distribution amplifier to the cable before the splitter (or buying a combo splitter/amplifier).

Lastly, make sure the amplifier you’re getting (regardless of type) matches the frequency band your antenna picks up.

For instance, if your antenna receives both UHF and VHF signals, read the amp’s specs to ensure it allows both UFH and VHF signals to pass through it (some amps sold only allow either UHF or VHF signals through).

How to Hook Up a TV Antenna Amplifier

Attaching a preamplifier or distribution amplifier to an antenna coaxial cable isn’t terribly difficult.

Depending on its type, you install it at a certain location on the line to your TV.

You should however ensure there’s an AC power supply like a wall socket available nearby.

Installing an Antenna Preamplifier

You typically attach a preamp to the antenna or antenna mast, where it boosts the signal at the received source.

You plug some brands of preamplifier directly into an AC power supply; others include a separate device called a power inverter or power inserter that feeds electrical power up the coaxial cable to the preamp attached to the antenna mast.

A power inserter allows you to use an indoor power supply (preferably closer to the TV) to power the preamp, rather than having to plug the preamp (which likely resides on your antenna mast) into a power supply on or near the roof.

How to install a preamplifier
How to install a preamplifier

Installing a Distribution Amplifier

Distribution amplifiers are typically used together with a splitter for distributing TV signal to several televisions.

As such, you normally install a distribution amplifier before the splitter in order to boost signal before it’s divided among several TVs and experiences signal loss.

The diagram below depicts the splitter and distribution amplifier as separate devices, but many people buy a combined device that’s plugged into the power supply.

How to Install a Distribution Amplifier
How to Install a Distribution Amplifier

Too Much Signal Amplification

Someone once said that too much of a good thing is wonderful, but it’s definitely not the case with amplification of TV signals.

Using a preamplifier when you’re less than 10 miles away from transmission towers might actually hamper your reception.

Amplifying TV signals that are already very strong will introduce a high level of noise in your signal and degrade it.

If your antenna is amplified and you believe excessive signal strength may be interfering with reception, simply disconnect the amplifier’s power source and do a channel scan on your TV or converter box. If the number of channels increases after the scan, it’s a sign your amplifier was causing reception issues.

Do Amplifiers Work?

To sum up, both preamplifiers and distribution amplifiers can be effective in certain situations. Amplification strengthens marginal, already-received signals.

You should understand the potential for signal loss along the coaxial cable to your TV, and how an amplifier can offset this loss.

But amplifiers also have limits, and you should be aware of the effects of over-amplifying your signal.

25comments
Ron - August 12, 2019

I removed my amplifier and it worked thanks man.

Reply
    Greg Martinez - August 28, 2019

    Hi Ron, glad to hear it. Yeah sometimes paradoxically we don’t need to boost signals (especially if we’re too close!)

    Reply
Larry Shea - October 16, 2019

I installed a preamp on my antenna but I still have stations that are distorted at times. Would adding an amplifier inside help or will it make it worse? The towers are around 50 miles from my location.

Reply
    Greg Martinez - October 16, 2019

    Hi Larry, I wouldn’t add an inside amplifier (distribution amplifier) unless I had a long cable run (i.e. over 50 feet), or I was using a splitter to distribute the TV antenna signal to several televisions, like to more than two TVs. It’s a tough call because it’s possible to introduce too much noise via over-amplification. If these situations aren’t your case, I would seriously look into a larger antenna, and if it’s already not on your roof I would strongly consider putting it there.

    Reply
Larry Shea - October 16, 2019

Thank you for your advice. I had it on a fence post and the channels weren’t distorted. I put it on my roof yesterday and added a preamp. I also had to get a longer coaxial cable. It is actually 100 ft. I do have about 10 to 15 ft. excess. I haven’t cut the excess off yet, although I do have the tools to do it. I only have one tv.

Reply
    Greg Martinez - October 17, 2019

    I see. With 100 feet of coaxial you’re losing up to one third of your signal, so adding a distribution amplifier would make sense. What you’ll want in this case is a 1-way distribution amplifier, as you only have one TV. I saw that Channel Master sells a Ultra Mini 1 for one television. You might want to try one of those but check the return policy in case it doesn’t work. Channel Master has an informative page on the topic, and check out the PDF at the bottom of the page which shows some configurations for preamp + distribution amp.

    Reply
James Rauch - December 8, 2019

Greg, I have a yagi style antenna and get 25 channels. The towers are all within 15 miles some within 7 miles of me and about the same compass direction. I have a pre-amp installed splitting the signal to two tv’s. For the most part I get very good reception except when rainy or windy. I also forgot to mention I live in a very wooded area. Do you have any suggestions on improving my situation? I was thinking about disconnecting the pre-amp and see if it makes a difference, don’t remember if it was better with or without. Thanks, Jim.

Reply
    Greg Martinez - December 8, 2019

    Hi Jim, (1) I think it’s worth trying to disconnect the preamp since your tower range is quite close – though some of your stations are less than 10 miles away so there’s a chance your preamp would be interfering with signal by increasing your noise to signal ratio. Of course most are bit further out but it’s still worth experimenting. (2) there’s some signal loss from the splitter but whether this makes a difference is hard to say, so another thing you can try is to disconnect one of the TVs and, not using the splitter but directly plugging the coaxial into one of the TVs check your reception. If you get more channels this way, it suggests your coaxial cable plus splitter is causing a bit too much signal loss on the line – for which a distribution amplifier may help. (3) are any of the channels you are trying to get VHF and does your antenna “support” VHF? If not, you may consider getting a new antenna that receives VHF tolerably well. (4) consider mounting your antenna a bit higher than it currently is to decrease possible interference and increase range and signal. Hope this helps!

    Reply
Scott Viehbeck - December 9, 2019

I’m looking to use an antenna booster for my outdoor antenna . my cable length will be about 50 feet. does the antenna booster have to be on the antenna or can it be placed anywhere else. I cannot plug the booster in off the antenna I have no Outlets outside.

Reply
    Greg Martinez - December 9, 2019

    Hi Scott, well I would consider a distribution amplifier after the length of your cable reaches 50 feet anyway. You typically install such an amplifier before any splitters that you otherwise have installed. But this kind of amplifier is generally set up indoors.

    Reply
Paul - January 12, 2020

Hello Greg,

I started having intermittent signal loss after OTA VHF signals were converted to digital. The picture was always perfect before the digital conversion. I now get a really crisp picture and all off a sudden the picture momentarily drops out or gets pixalated. I first added the Channel Master LTE filter, but that didn’t help. I recently added a signal booster which seems to reduce the frequency of the interference, but it still happens enough to want to do something about it. I have an antenna on the roof and the cable length is probably a little less than 50ft. Do you have any ideas?
Thanks
Paul

Reply
    Greg Martinez - January 13, 2020

    Hi Paul, you’re saying that you’ve had intermittent signal loss for about 10 years (since the transition to DTV in 2009)? If so, I would tend to look to external causes for the interference. You might consider upgrading your antenna to something better able to capture VHF (whether the channel you’re trying to get would be on the low or high band of the spectrum), as VHF can sometimes be tricky with today’s consumer models – the majority tend to be better suited for UHF. The Winegard and RCA ANT 751 models reviewed on this site do well enough for high VHF. Otherwise check out the Channel Master CM5016 and CM3016 if you need to get low VHF.

    Reply
      Paul - January 15, 2020

      Hi Greg,

      Thanks for the advice. Wow, time flies. I haven’t had the problem for the past 10 years. Probably the last couple of years. I’ll look into the recommendations you suggested.
      My wife pointed out that a neighbor on my block, not next door to me though, has solar panels on their roof. Can that be causing my intermittent problems? If so, would the antenna you mentioned address that? I live less than 10 miles from the Freedom Tower and around 10 miles away from the Empire State Building. It seems like the station that gets affected the most is the station that TV Fools lists as my strongest station.
      Thanks again,
      Paul

      Reply
Paul - January 15, 2020

One more question Greg. Would channels 2 through 13 be considered low VHF? Those are the channels I am referring to when I mention VHF.
Thanks again,
Paul

Reply
    Greg Martinez - January 15, 2020

    Hi Paul, the solar panels may cause a problem for your reception but only if they are somehow in the line of sight to the tower. If not, then there’s no problem. 10 miles is pretty close to those transmitters and you should normally have good signal strength – at that distance a lot of people are able to use indoor antennas. Low VHF is channels 2-6 only. High VHF is 7-13, and everything above that is UHF. These days I recommend people get their OTA data from a site called RabbitEars.info, since TVFool hasn’t been updated in a while apparently. Check out my article I published the day before yesterday on this new tip. Good luck!

    Reply
Paul - January 15, 2020

Thanks for your advice Greg,

Reply
Gary - March 14, 2020

Hi Greg,

I have a dual 4 bowtie (8 total) antenna on the roof with no preamp as the antenna itself has pretty good gain. Both sections are pointed in the same direction. I have a about a 35 ft run from antenna to basement, where I distribute the signal to 8 tvs. Obviously they are not all in use at once, but each kid has a tv in a bedroom and I have them in the garage and basement, kitchen, living room and family room, as well. I have a single 15dB amp, which I then feed into an 8 way splitter. My issue is I am getting dropout on digital channel 46, although the other stations come in pretty well. My question is do you see any issue if I purchase an amplified 8 way splitter, rather than the passive one I am currently using to get better reception on 46? Is it OK to feed a signal from the single port amp directly to another amplified device?
Thanks for your input!

Best,
Gary

Reply
    Greg Martinez - March 15, 2020

    Hi Gary,

    46 might be dropping out for a number of reasons so it’s worth trying out a new device. I’d get the combo amplifier/splitter you mentioned and hook it up but remove the existing amp and splitter from the line (just connect the antenna to the new amp/splitter and see how it works). Rescan your channels and verify any changes on 46 and other channels. Some people use both a preamplifier at the antenna + distribution amp for long cable runs with no issues. The only problem that may arise from using multiple amps on a line is overloading it with noise which can degrade reception.

    Reply
      Gary - March 20, 2020

      Thanks Greg, I will give it a try and let you know!

      G

      Reply
David - April 21, 2020

Hi Gary,

I am between two markets in a semi-rural setting (outskirts of a small town). The strongest markets towers are 35-40 miles ESE and the weaker markets towers are between 50-60 miles WNW. Using TV Fool, the stronger markets are green and yellow while the weaker is all red.

I plan on an attic install using two directional yagi antennas, a combiner, a pre-amp to overcome impedance due to the line run, and four way splitter and an LTE filter as I have a two cell towers within 3 miles of my home. One in fact is about a half mile away.

What are your thoughts on this?

Reply
    Greg Martinez - April 22, 2020

    Hi David, you should be alright with that setup. Obviously attic also presents a little impedance (besides line run) however the preamp should overcome that. I’d say try it out – but be prepared to perhaps invest in an additional (distribution) amplifier next to the splitter in case the length of your line run also presents issues. Also be mindful that local obstacles (like forests or tall building between you and the transmitters) may also affect signal.

    Reply
Michael - June 24, 2020

Greg,
Hello.
Info: 5 towers 42-47 miles in a 83 degrees spread
A ridge of hills approx 8 miles from house that is approx same elevation as tower bases so LOS is decent in winter and more troublesome in summer and of couse bad weather
Antennas Direct DB8E with a VHF Kit, Juice Pre amp (on Mast), Monster 2 way splitter with DC pass and 2 Onn indoor amplifiers at the 2 TV ports. My run is 100′ to the basement (where the power inserter is) then 6″ of cable then the splitter. Add another 75′ each to the TV’s. Worked OK but 3 out of 5 stations were 1-2 bars of signal.
Problem-My Juice inserter wires came out so that is junk. Looking to rewire the house to make runs shorter. I plan on running a Windgard LNA-200 preamp on mast, 55′ to basement, run the Monster splitter then 2 runs of 20′ to the Onn amplifiers attached to TV.
1- Should I use a splitter/amp instead of the Onn amplifiers (Looking at the BAMF 2 and 3 way DC pass ones for non amped).
2- I want to add a 3rd TV in the basement which would be going to a 3 way splitter and that run would be 40′ from split
I know I should make all my runs and just use the LNA-200 then see if more amps are needed.
Thank you in advance,
Michael

Reply
    Greg Martinez - June 24, 2020

    Hi Michael, it seems you live in an area with variable signal strength according to season due to terrain and so the shortened cable run should help. I’d definitely run the test with just the preamp but further attempts to improve will have to be experimentation. I’d just try first with the cheapest available options: if you get less than 3/5 channels without ONN amps then put those on the TVs. If that’s poor then go for the 3-way splitter/amp (combination splitter/ distribution amp) and use a termination cap on the extra port till you get the 3rd TV. Hope the shortened run works works out better though!

    Reply
Sue - June 24, 2020

I was able to receive 72 channels when I directly connected the indoor antenna to a single tv. I have 3 tv’s on a passive splitter and they cannot get more than 40. I got the CDA 4 and it came with a Coax extender, but no way to connect to a power source. what piece is missing and how stupid that it was not included.

Reply
    Greg Martinez - June 25, 2020

    Hi Sue, normally distribution amplifiers come with a power supply so if you ordered it from Amazon just send it back for a replacement.

    Reply
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