Freeview is such a wonderful service for UK TV watchers and cord cutters – you get more than 80 channels for free, and all you need is a compatible TV (or set-top box) and an aerial. However, there’s one barrier affecting some households – you need to have a good signal in your area.
If you live too far from the transmitter tower, or your house is blocked, the reception might be bad – and your indoor aerial won’t work. Furthermore, if you want to use one aerial for several tellies, or run a particularly long cable between the aerial and your TV – the signal will deteriorate quickly. That’s when – in some cases – an aerial amplifier that can boost the Freeview signal can help.
However, an aerial booster doesn’t always help, and in some cases can even make reception worse. So in this article, I’ll take a look at who can benefit from a signal amplifier (whether you have an indoor or outdoor aerial), what to consider before you buy one – and I’ll review some of the best aerial signal boosters available in the UK today.
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Why Is My Freeview Reception Bad?
If you want to watch Freeview channels on your TV for free (without a cable/satellite subscription) the cheapest way is to do it via an indoor aerial. As long as your TV supports Freeview (and all TVs manufactured and sold in the UK after 2012 do – otherwise you can get a stand-alone Freeview Box), all you need is to plug the aerial (a small indoor one, or a bigger one on your roof) into the TV, and scan for the channels.
Without good reception (for example, when you’re too far from the transmitter), even the best indoor aerial won’t help – it simply won’t get a strong enough signal that it can translate into TV channels.
Making sure the signal in your area is strong enough for Freeview, basically comes down to connecting an aerial and trying it out.
However, you can start by checking the estimated coverage with the Digital UK Postcode Checker, where you put in your address and get some details about reception in your area and the number of Freeview channels you should be able to watch with that kind of coverage.
So if the Freeview signal coming to your house is low – a signal booster can help. Sometimes.
What Is An Indoor TV Aerial Booster?
Explaining what a signal booster does is rather easy: your aerial “catches” the Freeview transmissions in the air, and translates them into information your TV can interpret. The aerial delivers the signal at a specific strength (depending on what it manages to get from the air) – for example, 60dB.
You then connect the aerial to a cable, that delivers that signal to your TV. Via the cable, however, the signal loses some more of its strength, so by the time it reaches your TV, it’s down to – let’s say – 30dB.
The signal booster (which, ideally, sits as close to the AERIAL as possible) simply amplifies that signal – by 20dB, for example. So the cable will now carry get a signal of 80dB, and by the time it reaches the TV, it’s 50dB – and you get better reception and – hopefully – clearer Freeview channels.
The aerial booster (which you need to connect to a power source) can also be used to split the signal from one aerial (indoor or outdoor) to several TVs. You will, still, lose some signal strength on the way – but thanks to the amplification, you will still be able to send “enough” of a signal from your aerial to the multiple TVs in your house.
Will An Indoor Aerial Booster Help With Freeview Reception?
The short answer is: sometimes. Signal amplifiers have pros and cons and only help in certain situations.
First, it’s important to remember that if there’s no signal in your area (or a very bad one) – a booster won’t make a difference. If the reception is zero, there’s nothing to amplify. The same goes for very low signals – while the amplifier might raise them a bit, you still won’t get a strong enough signal to watch Freeview channels.
But wait, there’s another possible problem – an aerial booster is a pretty “dumb” device. It takes everything that comes into it – and amplifies it. So, if there’s a lot of electric interference running through your cables, for example – the amplifier will amplify THAT as well, and your TV reception will be worse off than without the amplifier.
- If reception in your area is truly terrible, you’ll have to look at other options – such as Freesat (read my guide here), or a streaming device.
There are, however, several situations where an aerial signal booster CAN help:
- When reception in your area is mediocre, but amplification will make it strong enough.
- When you’re running a long cable from your aerial to your TV, and you need to amplify the signal strength that the cable loses on the way.
- When you want to connect one aerial to several television sets. The signal from the aerial is “split” between the multiple cables – so a booster will give you more signal “juice” to spread around.
How To Improve Freeview Reception With An Aerial Booster
While living far-away from the transmitter and having bad reception are things that can’t be easily fixed (at least not by yourself), there are several things you can still do – so here are a few tips on how to improve the signal your TV gets, and how to get more Freeview channel in the process.
Indoor Aerial Placement
Most houses no longer have outdoor aerials on the roof. So If you’re using an indoor aerial (see my recommendations here), you should put it as close to the window as possible. If your TV sits far from the window, you’ll need to use a long cable – which causes the signal to weaken. That’s exactly where an aerial booster can help, by amplifying the signal.
You should also try not to place the aerial (and the amplifier) near electrical devices that might cause interference to the signal – such as a microwave, a WiFi booster, or even a washing machine.
Indoor Aerials With Built-In Amplifiers
Some indoor aerials already have boosters built in. That’s not always a good idea, however – if you find out you don’t need the amplifier (or worse – you find out it messes up the signal instead of making it better), you’re stuck with it. So it might be a better idea to buy a regular aerial (non-amplified), and add a standalone amplifier – like the ones recommended here – if and when you need it.
Indoor Aerials With Detachable Amplifiers
Some aerials come as a “bundle” of both an aerial and a signal booster that you can attach or detach, depending on your needs. While it can save you money, you do sometimes get what you pay for, and the booster might not be as powerful as one you would buy on its own.
With 4G for mobile phones becoming so popular, its signal is in the air all around us, especially in large cities. Consequently, a strong 4G signal might interfere with the Freeview signal, so aerial signal boosters that have 4G filtering can help mitigate that problem (and some amplifiers are even promising 5G filtering).
Check The Signal Booster’s Gain Level
The best TV aerial boosters specify their gain level in dB – that’s by how much they can amplify the signal. While generally speaking higher is better, sometimes you don’t want to go too high, as the device might amplify noise and bad signals along with the “good” ones. Some signal boosters also let you variably change the level of amplification.
Don’t Forget The Cables
While your indoor aerial will come with its own cable, a signal booster will not (in most cases). So don’t forget to get an extra antenna coaxial cable (you connect the aerial to the booster – and the booster to the TV – so make sure the cable is long enough).
Cord Busters’ Best TV Aerial Boosters 2023
SLx TV Signal Booster Review
SLx have been building aerial and electronic equipment for years, so they know what they’re doing – and it shows. This amplifier has most of the things you should be looking for – 4G filtering and boosting up to 20dB.
At this price, having just one output (so you can only connect one TV) is a bit disappointing, but frankly, that’s probably enough for many people.
All in all, this is an excellent aerial signal booster, which does exactly what it says on the tin (as always, if you have no reception in your area, nothing will help). And with such a decent price tag, and so many pleased buyers, it’s no wonder this is our Editor’s Choice.
SLx TV Signal Booster Review
Another good model from SLx – this amplifier has 4G/5G filtering and variable gain control (with a somewhat hard-to-operate screw), which is a useful feature in some cases.
This has two outputs – so you can connect up to 2 tellies via the same aerial.
The only major reason it’s in second place on our list, is that it’s a newer model – therefore it doesn’t have feedback from a lot of buyers, yet.
One For All Signal Booster Review
“One For All” is another electronics company that’s been around for a long time, and their products are usually quite solid.
Their signal booster is slim, white, and wouldn’t stand out too much if you mount it on the wall, which is a plus (though you’ll still have cables running in and out of it, of course).
The 23 dB gain level sounds impressive, but remember – there IS such a thing as too much amplification, and sometimes it might do more harm than good, so it’s a shame you can’t manually control the gain level.
However, as one of the cheapest signal boosters available, you get excellent value for money.
SLx USB Aerial Amplifier Review
Another solid signal booster from SLx, this amplifier’s biggest advantage is also its disadvantage – the fact that it’s USB powered, and you’re supposed to “hide” it behind your TV.
If you want a small amplifier that you can easily connect and forget about (especially if you have a free USB port on your TV), then this is the perfect choice for you.
However, it’s usually better to connect the amplifier to the aerial directly, and then run a longer cable (if you need one) from the amplifier to the TV – and not from the aerial to the amplifier. But if you position this aerial behind your TV, it’s likely to be far from your aerial – unless the aerial is ALSO next to your TV.
But for what it sets out to do – this is a very decent amplifier.