Everything You Need to Replace Cable with Free OTA TV

A photo of someone relaxing and enjoying free OTA TV.
Blackregis / Shutterstock

Don’t go back to cable TV or expensive streaming platforms. Free over-the-air TV (OTA TV) is available at all times, with channels such as FOX, CBS, PBS, ABC and a large number of local broadcasters. Getting started with OTA TV can cost as little as $ 25, so what are you waiting for? Here’s everything you need to lower your cable bill and start saving money.

But wait, I thought the aerial TV sucked? You might miss out on some cable exclusives with OTA TV, but that’s not a big deal when you subscribe to streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max, or Disney +. In addition, aerial television offers better picture quality than cable, and you can easily add cable-like functionality and DVR functionality to free TV using an OTA box.

The basics: digital antennas and your TV

A photo of the 1 By One indoor digital antenna.
1 by one

You cannot watch aerial TV without digital aerial. Don’t worry, we’re past the old-fashioned rabbit ears. Modern digital OTA antennas stick to your window or attach to the outside of your home to receive clean, uninterrupted broadcasts. They are easy to set up and connect to the coaxial jack on the back of your TV. You can even connect a digital antenna to devices like the Xbox one or Roku, as long as you have a external tuner with video outputs. (You can also use this type of external tuner to watch aerial TV on a projector, tube TV, or any device without a built-in digital tuner.)

But what kind of antenna should you buy? Most people should stick to indoor antennas because they are cheap, powerful and easy to install. But if you want a ton of channels and fantastic reception, then a outdoor antenna is your best bet. (You can also install an outdoor antenna in your attic or any room that you don’t mind disturbing you.)

I suggest checking what channels are available in your home before settling on an antenna. This way you will know what you are getting yourself into. The TV Fool website displays all the channels available at your address and even highlights channels with lower signal strength that you will not receive without an outdoor antenna.

Start watching free TV!

Add an OTA Box for a cable-like experience

A photo of the TiVo Bolt OTA box.

Free OTA TV is simple and easy to use, but lacks some of the best features you can enjoy with cable TV. Your digital antenna does not come with a DVR, for example, and you cannot browse free-to-air channels with an onscreen grid guide. At least, not without OTA box.

OTA Boxes bring DVR functionality, grid guides, live TV pause, programmable recording tools, and exclusive streaming features to your TV antenna setup. Some OTA boxes even add streaming functionality to OTA TV, so you can watch local channels on your phone, computer, or any internet connected device like Apple TV or a smart TV.

One of the most affordable OTA boxes, the $ 100 Tablo Dual LITE, allows you to stream local TV to any device connected to the Internet. You can also connect the Tablo Dual LITE to an external hard drive for DVR functionality. More expensive OTA boxes, such as TiVo Bolt and the TiVo Edge, also include sturdy cable-shaped grid guides, built-in DVR storage, multi-channel recording, and streaming access to services such as Netflix and Hulu.

If you are already invested in a service like Sling TV or Amazon Prime, then the AirTV everywhere or Fire TV redesign might be better options for you. These broadcast boxes add local channels to your Sling TV channel guide or Fire TV home screen, as well as all the DVR and streaming features you’d expect from a basic OTA box. Plex users can also add local TV to their custom media setup, as long as they have it. a Plex compatible tuner card.

The best OTA box

Do you need to prepare for ATSC 3.0?

A photo of an old tube TV with bunny ears.
Oleksandr_Delyk / Shutterstock

Aerial TV may seem like a thing of the past, but the fun is only just beginning. A new era of free TV is on the horizon, with a new digital format called ATSC 3.0 that supports 4K video, HDR, Dolby audio, targeted advertising and direct streaming to mobile phones and cars.

The new ATSC 3.0 standard is interesting, but today’s OTA TV equipment cannot pick up or interpret ATSC 3.0 signals. If you want to save yourself the trouble of replacing your TV antenna in a few years, you might be tempted to buy ATSC 3.0 compatible hardware today.

The problem is, ATSC 3.0 compatible hardware is very expensive. A ATSC 3.0 decoder tuner will set you back around $ 250 at time of writing, and low end ATSC 3.0 indoor antennas are too expensive to suggest with a straight face.

Unless you really want to be one of the early adopters of ATSC 3.0, I suggest sticking to the current generation OTA TV hardware. Broadcasters are required to simultaneously stream their content as ATSC 3.0 and current generation signals until 2023 at the earliest, so you have plenty of time to prepare for the change.

That said, in the open air ATSC 3.0 antennas sell for less than $ 50. Installing outdoor antennas is a bit of a pain, so it may be a good idea to purchase an ATSC 3.0 compatible model today if you are already planning on going the outdoor route. This way you don’t have to uninstall your old antenna and reinstall a new model from 2023.

An outdoor antenna ready for the future

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