Free Over-the-Air TV

The streaming OTT services get a lot of attention from the media – and, to be fair, from cord cutters themselves. But the truth is that OTT may only be half of your cord cutting solution. Free over the air TV can be a great source of awesome content.

You wouldn’t be alone – 17% of American households use free over the air TV exclusively.

Remember free over-the-air TV? Yes, we’re talking about broadcast towers and those rabbit-ear antennas your grandma uses. Believe it or not, tech-savvy folks all over the country are embracing old-school free over the air TV. In high definition!

Of course, things have changed quite a bit since Grandma’s day, and you can now expect a lot more from your free over the air broadcasts. Modern OTA broadcasts are in full HD and include program information. There are even antenna DVRs that will help you record live TV. It’s just like cable – except it’s free. In this section, we’ll run through everything you need to know about free over-the-air TV.

TV’s biggest channels are free – if you know how to get them

Why are you paying for cable when the channels are free?

Well, not all of them are free. But the big networks often are, and that’s a huge part of why free over the air TV is so great.

What you get with free over the air TV

As we mentioned, you won’t get 3,000 channels over the air. Channels like the Food Network don’t have local programming, so there’s no reason for them to have a broadcast station in every city. But certain channels – like BBC, CBS, NBC, Telemundo, FOX, and ABC – usually do have local stations, and that means that they’re often available for free over the air.

This is huge news for people who can’t live without prime-time programming or the nightly network news. Many of these programs aren’t available on Netflix, Hulu, or any of the other streaming services. With an antenna, though, they’re yours, free. And don’t forget about the NFL! You’ll get several games a week (all the ones you could get with regular cable) over the air if you have CBS, FOX, and NBC within range (we’ll talk a bit more about this in here).

Your mileage may vary, of course, but you can get an idea of which channels are within range for you by plugging your zip code into an online tool like the one on Plex. Tools like this will show you what stations you could potentially get. For now, just take a look at what’s available – we’ll worry about what type of antenna you’ll need to pick it all up when we get to that stage here.

Some folks will have more luck with free over the air TV than others. Generally, the bigger your city, the more channels will be available. Of course, people in very large cities will have to worry about skyscrapers blocking their signal! Every area has its unique challenges, but the vast majority of people in the U.S. should be able to pick up at least a few key channels over the air, and that can make cord cutting a whole lot easier.

You can do a lot with free over the air TV – including record it live

So free over-the-air TV is free (duh) and live. You won’t be able to pick up as many channels as you had with cable (OTT solutions are your way of making up that ground), but you can do everything else that you could with cable – including record live TV.

Of course, this isn’t functionality that comes with antennas out of the box. You’ll need a separate device called (what else?) a tuner (also know as an free over the air TV DVR). HDTV tuners are boxes that you attach your antenna to. They then connect to your network and allow you to watch both live and recorded TV. An internet connection gives DVRs access to all kinds of programming information and allows for mobile app functionality. Many of these products generate a TV guide for you to use when channel surfing and setting up recordings, helping you to even more closely replicate the cable experience. There are a few good companies out there making HDTV tuners – check out our guide to buying one here.

Getting free over the air TV is easy

We’ve mentioned some fun things you can do with free over the air TV TV, but all of that stuff is optional. Part of the OTA appeal is simplicity, so don’t feel like you need a DVR or a media center PC to enjoy it. Just get an antenna with the range you need, plug it in, scan for channels, and start watching! If you’re a major network superfan, you may find that an OTA antenna is all you need to make the cord cutting jump. You wouldn’t be alone – 17% of American households use OTA exclusively.

A cord cutter’s best friend.

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