Back at the dawn of television, there weren’t cable and satellite providers. The two or three stations that a TV received came from local broadcasters to antennas and was delightfully free. It was a simpler, cheaper time.
A lot has changed in technology and reoccurring fees, but there’s still free, Over the Air (OTA) TV available. This is a great resource for Cord Cutters and the thrifty at heart.
US Switches from Analog to Digital TV
In 2009, the last TV stations switched off analog broadcasts. There were many reasons for the change:
- Consumers were purchasing HDTVs wanted HD content
- Converting to digital allowed local broadcasters to transmit high definition TV
- The digital TV signals were more efficient, allowing broadcasters to transmit multiple digital TV channels in the same channel slot of a single analog TV channel.
- As part of the transition, the FCC reallocated spectrum that used to be used for analog transmissions to non-TV purposes like cell phone and emergency transmissions.
The change wasn’t easy. A new digital transmission standard required new hardware to receive channels. To make the transition easier, the US government offered discounts on converter boxes that received the digital TV signals and converted them to analog signals that older TVs could use.
Six years after the transition, TV viewers get to reap the benefits, all for free.
OTA Digital TV For Cord Cutters
OTA digital TV has been great for cord cutters. What it offers is high definition video up to 1080i resolution and, if you’re in cities, lots channels. If you’ve bought a TV in the last 8 years, it works with OTA digital TV by law. Looking to get started? Here’s what to do.
Get an Antenna: A flat indoor antenna will cover most city and suburb dwellers. Get it mounted on the wall and connected up to your TV or other OTA digital TV tuner.
Turn On Your TV: In your TV settings, run a channel scan to detect all the free channels that will be flying your way. After this, follow your TVs instructions for selecting the tuner. This is usually done by selecting the “TV” or “ANT” inputs. Now surf like the wind.
Looking for Something Extra
Over and above basic TV service, multiple companies offer DVRs with digital TV tuners.
Tivo: Tivo offers their Roamio DRVs, including an OTA-only model for $50. This enables OTA DVR recording and playback. Add Tivo Stream functionality to move videos into laptops, tablets, and phones. There’s a $15 / month service charge, or pay yearly for a discount.
Simple.tv: A network-attached OTA server that records and streams video to your Roku, Chromecast, or Apple TV device. $200 and required an additional external hard drive for DVR functionality. Optional $60 / year service for extra features.
Tablo: Similar to Simple.tv, Tablo provides a network attached OTA service that records and streams video and lists Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV support. $220 for the baseline unit and required an additional external hard drive for DVR functionality. Optional $5 / month service for extra features.
It’s Free, Use It
Over-the-air broadcast TV is a great, free service. With added DVR functionality, it’s got a great place in any cord cutting setup to get live events and the latest TV shows.