Digital Living Frugality Television

Over the Air (OTA) Television Isn’t Over: 5 Step Guide to Getting The Most Out of Free TV

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Streaming TV is proliferating, traditional cable TV providers now offer streaming-only TV options, and good old fashioned Over the Air (OTA) TV is dead.

No, wait – that’s not right. Over the Air (OTA) TV is thriving.

Despite a seemingly endless supply of streaming content now available via the web, one would think traditional (linear, live, over the air) television is dying a slow death, but in reality, the cord-cutting movement of the last 5 years has reversed that trend.

According to Nielsen, over 16 million homes now receive OTA programming, and that number continues to grow.

So how can you cut the cord, drop your streaming service(s), and get the most out of free television? Check out our quick five-step guide below.

1. Understand What’s Available

Access to over the air programming is heavily dependent on how far you are from the broadcast towers and what obstacles you have in your way, so before you start your journey, determine what’s available.

Start by checking out which provides a free lookup tool based on your address.

It provides a listing of the stations available in your area along with the location and distance of each broadcast tower in comparison to your place of residence.

2. Purchase the Right Antenna

Based on the AntennaWeb recommendations, try purchasing an antenna that meets the minimum distance requirements needed to get the stations you care about.

Most folks can get by with a simple antenna under $30, so I recommend buying the least expensive one that meets the range requirements needed. If that doesn’t work (i.e. you have issues getting the stations on the list due to obstructions) then try a higher-end antenna until you get the reception you need.

If all the stations are located in one area, get a directional antenna to improve performance. If you have stations broadcast from different locations, try an omnidirectional antenna.

More information on antenna type and placement can be found here.

3. Get the Right DVR

Plugging an antenna directly into the back of your TV will work, but the most important step to enjoying over the air TV is getting a DVR that can broadcast the signal to every TV in your house and store off the content you love.

In many cases, over-the-air DVRs provide functionality as good as, if not better than, what your local cable provider has available.

I recommend one of four different options…

TiVo Roamio

The Roamio is TiVos foray into over the air television. It’s a bit pricey when coupled with a lifetime subscription, but for those familiar with the TiVo interface it’s hard to beat.

Tablo DVR

The Tablo DVR comes in multiple varieties (two and four tuner configurations along with storage and no storage). It works without a guide subscription, but a monthly, yearly, or lifetime purchase is highly encouraged.

Amazon Recast

Because of its integration with the Amazon ecosystem (Echo, Alexa, etc), the Recast has become my favorite option. Keep an eye out for deals during Prime Day and Black Friday before snagging a new one.

SiliconDust HD HomeRun

SiliconDust has been in the game the longest but their HD Homerun is perhaps the biggest underdog on the list.

4. Set It Up

Once you’ve purchased the right antenna and DVR, it’s a matter of getting everything set up. If your initial antenna placement doesn’t work as you expected, Consumer Reports has a decent guide on placement that might solve some of your problems.

If placement alone doesn’t work, circle back to Step 2 to find an antenna with better reception.

5. Enjoy and Rescan Regularly

Once everything is set up, enjoy your free content, but don’t forget to rescan for new channels every 3-6 months, as the number of over the air stations is growing nearly as quickly as the viewership.

Disclaimer: This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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