Best Outdoor Digital TV Aerial for Freeview – [UK REVIEW]

Freeview is 70 standard channels and 15 HD channels of free entertainment.  It’s available, for free, to anyone who can set up an aerial to receive it.  If you really can’t manage that (or if you want even more) then you can try setting yourself up for Freesat.  In cities, indoor aerials may be a reasonable option.  In fact they might be your only option, especially if you’re renting.  As you go outside of cities, however, you’re increasingly likely to see the difference in performance between indoor aerials and outdoor aerials.

Best Outdoor Digital TV Aerial for Freeview (1)

A good aerial can make a massive difference to the quality of your TV viewing.  In fact with digital TV, having the right aerial can, literally, make the difference between having a great picture and excellent sound – and having nothing at all.  Unlike the old analogue aerials, which faded gently into darkness (or snow), digital aerials are all or nothing, there is no middle ground.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a buyer’s guide to help you get the best outdoor digital TV aerial for you.  If you just want to know what our top picks are, then feel free to skip straight to the bottom of this article.  If, however, you want to know a bit more about how, exactly aerials work, so you can understand what makes a good one, then read on.

Understanding aerials (the basics)

We have a confession to make.  We know that, actually, there’s no such thing as a digital TV aerial.  It’s just a marketing term, but it’s what everyone searches for, so that’s why we used it in our headline.  At a basic level, aerials are just devices which detect radio waves and forward them to a receiver, in this case a TV.  Different aerials are designed for different situations, which is why it’s important to choose the best TV aerial for any given job.

Understanding aerials (the technical stuff)

Aerials are designed to pick up radio waves.  Radio waves are broadcast in frequencies, commonly known as bands.  These bands are then subdivided into channels, each of which can be used for its own designated purpose.

This idea is probably easiest to visualize if you think of a really old-school TV.  These actually did have physical dials on them and you had to turn the dial a bit at a time to travel along the frequency until you found the channel you wanted.  Later, as TVs went more high-tech, this was replaced by dedicated buttons for each channel, but whenever you bought a new TV or moved to a new area, you had to tune in the TV to find the stations again.

So-called “digital aerials” are just aerials which are designed to pick up the frequency on which digital TV is broadcast, namely UHF (Ultra High Frequency), which is further subdivided into channels 21 to 68.

Best Outdoor Digital TV Aerial for Freeview

Choosing the best outdoor digital TV aerial for Freeview

Freeview is actually divided into two services.  There is the main Freeview service, which delivers live TV and then there is Freeview Play, which is used for the catch-up and on-demand services and is delivered through the internet. 

This means that your Freeview Play services will be delivered in exactly the same way regardless of where you are in the UK.  By contrast, the delivery of your main Freeview service will vary depending on where you live because it comes from a TV transmitter and different TV transmitters work in different ways.

The key point to note is that even though all TV transmitters use the same basic frequency, they provide the services along different channels as follows:

Group A- Covers UHF Channels 21 – 37

Group B- Covers UHF Channels 35 – 53

Group C/D- Covers UHF Channels 48 – 68

Group E – Covers UHF Channels 34 – 68

What this means in practice is that the exact same service can be broadcast on different frequency channels, depending on the TV transmitter which is broadcasting it.  As an added quirk, some areas are covered by UK Relay Transmitters, more commonly known as fill-in transmitters.  These essentially deliver a cut-down version of Freeview (known as Freeview Lite).  So if you can’t get certain services no matter what you try, this may be the reason, especially if the services you’re missing are Dave, Viva and/or the +1 services.

Best Outdoor Digital TV Aerial for Freeview

Then, just as a final touch, each of these channels generally transmits a group of digital services, known as a multiplex (or MUX for short).  In other words, each frequency channel actually broadcasts five to ten digital TV channels.  So if your aerial has a problem picking up one, specific, channel, you will probably lose access to at least five services.

This means that before you buy an aerial, it’s a good idea to check your postcode and find out what your nearest transmitter(s) is/are and what group it/they use(s).  You’ll need to know more than that to pick the right aerial, but knowing this will stop you picking one which is totally wrong for your locality.  These postcode checkers are a handy place to start, but they are not always 100% reliable, so it’s a good idea to check what they say with other internet sources.  Wikipedia is usually pretty accurate.

Once you know the theory of what you should be able to do, it’s time to take a walk along your street to see what your neighbours are doing.  Specifically, you want to see if they are using compact aerials or aerials which looked like they only just failed the audition to be ships’ masts.  This is usually the final clue you need to know what type of aerial you should buy.

Best Outdoor Digital

Group Aerials

If your neighbours are all using compact aerials then the chances are that your TV transmitter is transmitting services on channels which are in close proximity to each other, e.g. 21, 22, 23.  In this situation using a group aerial will not only save you space (and money), but will also vastly reduce the likelihood of your signal being compromised by interference from other transmitters.

Wideband aerials

If, on the other hand, your neighbours are all using giant aerials, then the chances are that either the signal is just generally weak and needs all the help it can get and/or that the local transmitter broadcasts over a wide range of channels, usually to avoid interfering with neighbouring transmitters.  For example, the Sandy Heath Transmitter in Bedfordshire currently uses a channel range of 21 to 67, that’s almost the entire spectrum.  In either case, you’ll want to follow suit and buy a wideband aerial for maximum strength and coverage.

Choosing the best outdoor digital TV aerial for you

Now that you know the science behind choosing the right digital TV aerial for you, here is our list of recommendations.

Best Outdoor Digital TV Aerial for Freeview

Areas with good signal

OPTIMA L20F Compact Wideband 20 Element Log-Periodic TV Aerial

OPTIMA L20F

If you’re in an area like Bedfordshire, where signal strength can be very good, but the channels are spread out all over the place, then this aerial could be the perfect choice for you.

It is, technically, a wideband aerial in the sense that it can pick up signals across almost the whole spectrum (channels 21 to 60), but it provides a minimal level of signal gain, which is why it is only a sensible choice for areas where there is a good signal.

The reason it only provides minimal signal gain is because it has fewer elements (teeth) than your average log-periodic aerial.  The advantage of this is that it allows the aerial to be much shorter and much lighter than most log-periodic aerials.

You don’t need any tools for the installation, which is really easy.  You just need to remember to waterproof the F connector.

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OPTIMA L20F Compact Wideband 20 Element Log-Periodic TV Aerial, F-Type Channels 21-60

Last update was in: February 27, 2020 2:18 pm

Areas with medium signal

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VISION – V10-32LF – AERIAL, 32 ELEMENT, 4G/LTE FILTERED

VISION - V10-32LF

This aerial is basically a bigger, stronger version of the Optima aerial, designed for use in areas where the signal is OK rather than good (but not terrible either).  The similarities between the two aerials make sense when you know that Optima is a brand owned by Vision and used for their budget-level products.  Like the Optima, this aerial covers channels 21 to 60 and, in principle, can be installed without tools.  In practice, the size of this aerial means we’d suggest using a spanner to get the bolts really tight.

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Cutting-Edge VISION - V10-32LF - AERIAL, 32 ELEMENT, 4G/LTE FILTERED - Pack...

Last update was in: February 27, 2020 2:18 pm

Areas with weak signal

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ANTIFERENCE AERIAL EXTRAGAIN XG8 (A BAND)

ANTIFERENCE

While the Optima Aerial is a wideband aerial which looks like a group aerial, this is a group aerial which looks like a wideband aerial.  We’ve only been able to find it in Group A, but it is so good we felt we had to include it.  The build quality is excellent and it comes a centre mounted boom arm, which means the weight of the aerial can be distributed evenly (in other words, it makes the aerial less likely to slide forwards over time).  There’s also an integrated balun (signal balancer) and a screened F connection to protect against outside interference.

This aerial is a bit more complicated to assemble than the smaller ones, but that’s only to be expected given its size.  All it takes is a bit of common sense and a basic toolkit, namely a 10mm spanner, a 13mm spanner, a Phillips screwdriver and a pair of pliers.

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ANTIFERENCE AERIAL EXTRAGAIN XG8 (A BAND)

Last update was in: February 27, 2020 2:18 pm
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SLx Outdoor Digital TV Aerial Kit

SLx Outdoor

If you’re outside Group A and/or need a wideband aerial anyway, then this monster can pick up a signal literally where no other mainstream aerial can.  It’s huge, it has 64 elements and everything you’d expect from an aerial of this size and quality (including a central boom to keep it upright) and a balun.  Build quality is superb and installation is surprisingly easy given its size and weight.  As before, you just some common sense and a few, basic tools.

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SLx Outdoor Digital TV Aerial Kit 27985K4, 64 Element High Performance 4G...

& Free shipping
Last update was in: February 27, 2020 2:18 pm

£32.99 £34.99

Best outdoor digital TV aerial – conclusion

Buying the right digital TV aerial for Freeview gets you off to a flying start, but it will only do you any good if you mount it properly.  The theory is simple, you want it pointing directly towards your transmitter of choice (which will usually be your nearest one, but not always).  The practice, however, can be a bit more challenging, especially if you are surrounded by trees.  You might find it helpful to look at what your neighbours are doing and if you really can’t get your aerial to work, try getting help from an aerial installer.

Basically, what we’re trying to say is that even the best aerial is only as good as the installation so if it’s not working, take a good hard look at how it’s been set up before you take a final decision on whether or not it’s faulty/unsuitable.

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