The 8 Best Cable Amplifiers
This wiki has been updated 21 times since it was first published in February of 2016. Does your poor cable signal have you struggling to identify which team is which in the big game? Or does it pixelate in some of the furthest rooms in the house? If so, it's time to install one of these cable amplifiers. They'll boost your signal so that you can enjoy the best picture cable or satellite TV has to offer in every part of your home, and can improve your Internet connection, too. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
February 08, 2020:
Firstly, you need to ensure that any amplifier is bi-directional, meaning that it supports both the upstream frequency band (~54-1000Mhz) and return frequency band (~5-42Mhz). Aside from the fact that cheaper models like the 1byOne High Gain 0570, which I had to remove are often built poorly and can end up adding a lot of noise to your TV signal, they are also only made for signal-boosting antennas and satellites, and are incompatible with cable services, since they don’t support the return frequency band that is essential to using a cable box. So, in place of the 1byOne model, I’ve introduced the Channel Master CM-3410 Mini, which is an ultra-small, single-output PR (Passive Return) bi-directional model.
Secondly, this list had only PR bi-directional models, which means that the amplification only occurs on the upstream. These models are the most commonly-sold type, and they’re what you’d be looking for to boost your TV signal. However, an AR (Active Return) bi-directional model, which amplifies both the upstream and return bands, may be useful in certain situations, like when your home has multiple TV systems and you find that you’re having problems with DVR or accessing certain features from your cable provider. I’ve therefore swapped out some of the old PR amplifiers and added some newer options like the PCT-MA2-2P and Antennas Direct CDA4, and I’ve also included the compact PCT MA-B1015 as an AR amplifier. Do note however that AR amplifiers are not designed to be used with satellites and antennas, as they can end up blocking the signal.
While it’s alright to go amplifier shopping if you’re versed with technicalities of the subject, if you’re inexperienced then my honest advice would be to contact your cable company regarding any signal quality issues, as they will help diagnose your issues and recommend the right amplifier for your needs. You may, for instance, only be experiencing issues with your channels at higher frequencies, because of long cables - a situation which would call for a tilt amplifier, not a PR amplifier. You also need a decibel level that is relatively close to the signal strength of your incoming cable signal in order to avoid further distortion, but most high-quality models like the ones we recommend should be fine.
Ironically, passive return amplifiers with multiple ports significantly increase return signal losses, which almost makes it better to use active returns in these situations, provided you aren’t hooking up to an antenna or dish system. If you have a large multi-port PR device, and you find that your ability to access cable features is slow or your DVR is lagging, then you may need to swap out your passive for an AR model like Arris 4-Port and use an additional coax splitter if necessary.
Clearing Up The Signal
This splitting action is responsible for that football player looking fuzzy on the big screen when an amplifier is not in use.
Imagine that you're planning a gigantic Super Bowl party in your home. You've got each room equipped with its own large flat screen television connected to a cable box that will pick up the signal and display the game on each TV. In preparation for the party, you notice ghosting, picture degradation, and other static problems on at least two or three of your televisions throughout the house. To improve that signal quality in time for the big game, you're going to need a handy cable amplifier to fix those visual anomalies. I like to think of a cable amplifier functioning as a team of relay racers. When the first athlete completes his portion of the race (and essentially runs out of steam), he passes the baton off to the next racer who continues on without any loss of endurance as a result of the first racer getting tired.
While an amplifier is not a relay racer, it is responsible for boosting a cable signal at various points throughout the house to prevent its degradation. When the signal first enters the home, it starts out quite strong and will reach a couple of televisions without any issues. However, as this signal is distributed more widely throughout the home, it gets split into many different directions, making it weaker each time such a split occurs. This splitting action is responsible for that football player looking fuzzy on the big screen when an amplifier is not in use.
The four basic types of cable amplifier that you can leverage as a solution to this problem include the forward gain, return gain, 2-way active-return, and bypass amplifiers.
A forward gain amplifier compensates for low signal strength from a cable provider before a splitter is connected. It delivers increased signal strength to a consumer's home on the upstream frequency band of 54 to 1,000 MHz, while allowing a frequency range of five to 42 MHz to be passed back to the corresponding cable company on the return band. When we discuss upstream band, we're referring to the range of incoming signals that such an amplifier can handle. By contrast, the return band refers to a special frequency range used by a cable company to transmit signals from a user's cable box back to the cable provider itself. An example of this type of signal includes the command from a remote control to order a pay-per-view movie through a cable box menu interface. The remote acts as a communication device for the box, while the box sends a signal back to the cable provider to turn on the selected pay-per-view event for the viewer.
The return gain amplifier is dedicated to improving the quality of the return band signal coming from a device like a digital video recorder. Without it, previously-installed splitters could compromise the DVR's performance. This type of amplifier is also beneficial in situations involving lengthy cable runs requiring greater travel distances to reach their destinations. Return gain amplifiers correct weak signals on the return path to a service provider to maintain one's high-speed internet, interactive television, or telephone service.
Two-way active-return amplifiers compensate for weak signals in both the incoming and outgoing directions, making them useful in situations where there is substantial signal loss from multi-way splitters and long cable runs.
Bypass amplifiers work in the same way as forward gain devices with the addition of a relay switch that allows a return path signal to circumvent the amplifier circuitry in the event of a power outage. This means that a user's telephone, television, and cable internet devices can continue to communicate with the service provider even if the power goes out.
Staying Informed Without Being Overwhelmed
Several factors come in to play when determining the best cable amplifier to use. The awareness of the types of broadband services coming into your home will help you make a choice. Many consumers utilize a single service provider to deliver internet, telephone, and television services using a single cable modem. As an example, I have both my cable and internet services delivered to my home through Comcast. Think of your cable provider as a useful resource. If you have a technician coming to your home to install these services for you, they can usually recommend the best type of amplifier to use based on your home's specific layout. To do this, they'll look around, see how many televisions you own and in which rooms they're located, what types of splitters are involved, and how long your main cable line is.
For example, if you have a large, multi-floored home with several rooms equipped with televisions, DVRs, and interactive cable boxes, then a two-way active return amplifier can be a wise choice. This will help to amplify signals in both the forward and return directions if your home makes use of large splitters.
Ensuring that your chosen amplifier can accommodate high-definition signals is another big consideration, especially when you want to catch every moment of that in-game action.
A Brief History Of Cable Amplifiers
Amplifier technology stems from the overall growth of the cable industry itself, which has its roots in the development of the broadcasting industry and the United States National Television System Committee signal as far back as 1946.
By the 1960s, the semiconductor began to replace earlier vacuum tube technology in favor of solid state, transistor-based cable TV amplifiers.
The earliest cable systems consisted of only 12 channels and leveraged tower-mounted antennas with preamplifiers connected to both flexible coaxial cables and vacuum tube amplifiers. Because so little signal processing took place at this time, early television set receivers were simply tuned to those channels provided by the coaxial cables. Early vacuum tube amplifiers owe their significance to American inventor Lee De Forest, who used them to boost the amplitude of radio waves in 1907. This development improved the clarity and volume of the human voice, music, and broadcast signals, making the vacuum tube amplifier a key component for most radio, telephone, television, computer systems, and radar before the invention of the transistor in 1947.
In 1948, Milton Jerrold Shapp invented a new system using a master antenna to deliver a signal to all TVs in a Philadelphia department store. That same year, he formed the Jerrold company to market and support his hardware. This master antenna television system combined the functions of both coaxial cable and self-made vacuum tube amplifiers carrying many high-fidelity signals at once. At the same time, John and Margaret Walson installed the first cable TV system in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania to coincide with the sale of newly-introduced General Electric televisions. They later formed Service Electric Cable TV Incorporated in 1948, which still operates today as Service Electric Cablevision.
By the 1960s, the semiconductor began to replace earlier vacuum tube technology in favor of solid state, transistor-based cable TV amplifiers. This trend continued through the late 1970s and provided several benefits, including low-input voltages for extra safety, more compact designs for amplifiers, and reduced costs for the technology.
Through the beginning of the 21st century and into today's cable market, there has been a consistent focus on the development of amplifiers that handle longer cable lines, resulting in low distortion with minimal noise to a viewer's high-definition television.