Free HDTV – Cutting the Cable and Satellite Cord
Free HDTV!!! Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not. All you will need is an HDTV with a built-in tuner and an antenna that is able to pick-up “over-the-air” (OTA) broadcast signals.
If you are part of the 77% of US households that have an HDTV, you have your first hurdle out of the way. And if you bought that TV after 2007 it should have an ATSC tuner since all high def TVs after that date were required to have them built-in. If your TV doesn’t have an ATSC tuner built-in, you can purchase a stand-alone ATSC tuner box from manufactures such as SiliconDust and Proscan.
Choosing an Antenna
Your next step is choosing an antenna that is capable of picking up VHF (very high frequency) channels 2-13 and UHF (ultra high frequency) channels 14-51. You also need to consider the distance you are from the TV transmission towers. This will determine whether you need a non-amplified or amplified antenna.
Distances of 35 miles or less should only require the non-amplified type. Distances over 35 miles will require the amplified type. To make your installation much easier, I recommend an indoor amplified antenna with the greatest reception range, which is usually up to 50 miles for this type.
However, the outdoor type will give you better reception if your home is located 40 or more miles away from the TV broadcast towers. This type of antenna will give you a reception range of 50 to 150 miles away.
If you need help in finding out how many OTA broadcast stations are in your area, how far away they are, what type of antenna to use and which direction to aim it, the following websites will give you the help you need: antennaweb.org and tvfool.com.
If you are concerned about aesthetics, I recommend the FlatWare series from Winegaurd. Their low profile design blends seamlessly with your décor.
Check out the Wineguard FL-5000non-amplified and the FL-5500A amplified models. Both available at Amazon. Another great performing indoor amplified model is the Terk HDTVa. Aesthetically, it can be a bit of an eye sore in most living rooms, but its performance is worth the trade off.
The Terk HDTVa is a directional model meaning it must be pointed in the direction of the transmitter towers for best reception. Amazon’s own brand – AmazonBasics High Performance and Extreme Performance indoor amplified antennas are also great choices and offer very good performance.
Digital signals can be trouble to receive. You either get them or you don’t, unlike the analog signals of the past which could cause snow and image ghosting. OTA digital signals have to deal with obstacles such as terrain, buildings, the walls within your home and even the weather, all of which can affect the signal trying to reach your antenna. So you will probably have to experiment with different placement locations to receive the best signal in your home. The turner in your TV also plays a factor in signal reception because some tuners are better than others.
Why are consumers cutting the cable and satellite cord?
Cost is the primary reason. Many cable and satellite subscribers are feed-up with the on-going price increases of these services and are turning to other options like OTA free HD channels and streaming services using media devices. In fact, 19.3% of all US households with TVs in 2013 rely solely on “over the air” signals – up from 17.8% from the previous year. That’s over 22 million households.
Ever thought about loosing your cable or satellite service due to acts beyond your control? It does happen; for example, satellite is prone to outages due to stormy weather conditions. Cable TV can also experience outages due to downed or faulty utility lines and etc. In the event you experience any of the above issues, you can use an antenna as a back-up to view OTA broadcast signals until your service is restored. And its very rare for broadcast signals to have trouble and go off the air. So in my opinion even if you don’t want to get rid of cable or satellite, having an antenna for back-up is a good idea.
My OTA Experience
I currently have a pair of RCA (model ANT121R) rabbit ear antennae that I use on a small EDTV(Enhanced Definition TV) with a built-in digital tuner located in our play room. For this experiment I moved it from this set and hooked it up to a Panasonic plasma HDTV in our my viewing area. This type of set-up is quick and simple….attach the rabbit ears to the antenna/cable input on the TV. Next, open the TV menu – go to “set-up”, chose ANT/Cable setup option. Next, select “ANT in” and chose Antenna option, then go to Auto program.
Using this very inexpensive non-amplified antenna, I was able to lock-in 28 OTA digital channels of the 44 available in my area. And I’m sure I could have received more if I experimented with antenna placement. And just for reference, the local network stations are 34-35 miles away from my location according to TV Fool calculations. I consider this pretty good performance for such a low cost antenna. For the record, I did have to play with the placement of this model to receive certain channels and to stop intermittent pixel break up.
I compared the picture quality of my local CBS station using the OTA signal and my cable providers signal. The OTA signal was better as I expected due to the cable signal being data compressed because of bandwidth limitations. However, the differences were subtle….the cable signal image was slightly less sharp (softer image) and showed compression artifacts that I didn’t see in the OTA signal.
Even though the RCA antenna I used in my experiment produced good results with OTA signals, I strongly suggest you use a higher quality model to achieve best performance.
So if the high prices of cable and satellite have got you thinking about cutting the cord…consider giving “over-the-air” TV a try. Its free, can give you better picture quality, and no more cable or satellite bills!!
If you are enjoying free antenna HD broadcast or are thinking of making the switch…I would like to hear from you. Please leave your comments below.
Updated on 5/29/2014