How to Get HD TV Channels for Free (Without Paying for Cable)
by Chris Hoffman on December 19th, 2014
Remember TV antennas? Well, they still exist! Get a digital TV antenna and you’ll be able to watch local TV stations for free, all without paying a dime to a cable TV company.
We’ve talked about cutting the cord by relying on Internet services before, but this is yet another way to cut that TV bill. If you have parents who barely watch TV, this would make an awesome gift! Follow along as we run you through how to determine which local digital channels you can pick up from your home as well as different antenna types.
We’ll even be installing a simple but effective antenna, the Winegard FlatWave Amplified Antenna. that’s not only effective for most readers but also apartment-friendly for those of you that can’t get on the roof to install larger aerial antennas.
Discover Your Local Channels and Their Signal Strength
In the US, the FCC offers a map that displays which DTV (digital TV) channels you’ll be able to receive at different locations, as well as their relative signal strengths. Head to the FCC’s DTV Reception Maps site and plug in the location you’ll be using the antenna.
In my current location — Eugene, Oregon — I can receive CBS, ABC, PBS, Fox, and NBC. All I’d need is the appropriate antenna setup, and I could watch them for free.
Depending on the different signal strengths, you may need different types of antennas to watch these channels. If you’re in an area with good strong signals, a “simple indoor antenna” should be good enough. WIth moderate signals, a “high quality indoor antenna”, like the one we installed, or an outdoor antenna will be necessary. For week signals, you’ll definitely need an outdoor antenna. The FCC’s website has more details on the types of antennas you’ll need in different situations. Consult the FCC’s website if you want more information about antenna technology — it’s extremely informative.
The good news is that, to receive strong signals, you don’t need to set up anything fancy outdoors. You just need to buy a basic antenna and plug it into your TV indoors.
You actually don’t need any special antennas for this. If you already have old antennas — for example, if you or your parents live in a house with an old antenna on the roof — you can connect that antenna to your TV and get those modern digital signals. You may not have to buy or install anything — just run a cable!
What You’ll Need to Buy
You’ll need to buy an antenna designed for receiving these TV stations. Different antennas are available depending on the distance you are from your local TV antennas. The most popular antenna on Amazon is an antenna with a 35-mile range. currently selling for $28. This antenna is an unamplified version of the antenna we installed. It’s definitely worth picking up a more powerful 50-mile and 60-mile antennas, however, as the amplification helps with nearby signals too. The worse your signal strength, the more powerful an antenna you’ll need.
The flat antennas are paper thin and easy to conceal on the back of the television or on your window. In the photo below we’ve draped the antenna over the
front of the television set just to show you how incredibly thin it really is (normally we have it mounted on the wall behind the television set with the included 3M-adhesive clips). With proper placement you’ll never even notice your flat antenna after installation.
If you don’t mind your antenna looking old-fashioned and have a strong signal in your area, this cheap set of rabbit ears may be just fine for you, too. Of course, these aren’t the only options. You’ll find many other antennas on Amazon and elsewhere.
You’ll also need a modern TV that supports digital TV signals. At this point, all new TVs have offered this for many years. If you have an extremely ancient TV, it may not. You could purchase a digital-to-analog converter box, although it may just be time to upgrade to a modern TV instead.
The Setup Process
You’ll first need to position the antenna in a good location. If you have a very strong signal, an old-style “rabbit ears” antenna by your TV may be good enough. Many modern antennas are now mounted on a wall. Other types of antennas may need to be positioned near a window if you have poor signal strength. An outdoor antenna may need to be mounted on a roof — outdoor antennas will be the most hassle, if you need them. But, remember: If a home already has an old outdoor antenna, that should work just fine.
But this is quite simple if you just need an indoor antenna. Position the antenna in a good location and connect it to your television with a coaxial cable. This type of cable will hopefully be included with your antenna. In the photo above you can see how we’ve attached the coaxial cable for our flat antenna to the antenna in jack and, directly next to it, plugged the USB cable that powers the amplification system into the TV’s USB port (if you don’t have a USB port on your set you can always use the included wall-wart). Your TV may then need to scan for available channels, and you’ll then be able to flip through TV channels with your TV remote.
If you’re going the wall-mounting route, don’t actually mount anything on your wall until you’re happy with the signal you get. You may need to move the antenna around to improve your signal, checking how it appears on your TV while you do so. Think of it a bit like repositioning the old rabbit ears.
Don’t worry about the setup process too much. The antenna you purchase should include an instruction guide that will walk you through everything.
Really, it’s that simple. Once you’ve purchased an antenna, positioned it where it can receive a good signal, and connected it to your TV, you can use your TV’s remote control to switch between the available over-the-air channels. You won’t have to pay a dime, and you can cut the cable cord if the handful of broadcast networks are good enough for you. A handful of local channels for news along with a subscription to Netflix seems like a winning combination!
The only real problem here will be a weak signal. With a good, strong signal, a basic indoor antenna will do. But, even if you do have a weak signal, you can still get those broadcast networks with an outdoor antenna and a little more work.