9 Tips For Watching TV with Over-the-Air Antennas

By  | 

If you’re planning on cord-cutting any time soon, then an over-the-air antenna is a must! Once you’re no longer paying for Cable TV, you’ll be without tons of channels, including all broadcast networks. But those are available for free with over-the-air antennas, which means you’ll still be able to get all the prime time network shows you’ve been used to – in high-definition, no less!

But this isn’t just a case of using that pair of rabbit ears your grandma used to have, with the ball of tin foil on the end. And it doesn’t mean jamming a butter knife into the back of your TV (remember that?)

You’re going to be shocked when you find out how many channels you can get for free – and all the other new features we didn’t have before that will make OTA life a very good one!

9 Tips For Over-the-Air Antennas

We came up with several tips for watching TV with an OTA antenna, to help you get in as many channels for free as possible.

1. Figure Out How Many Broadcast Towers are Nearby

The biggest determining factor on how many television stations you’ll get, specifically which RHF stations/major broadcast networks, is the distance between your house and the TV towers. Do you live in a city, or out in the country? Are you more in the suburbs than the city itself?

If you live in a decent sized city, you should be able to get all four major networks, ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, along with PBS, The CW, ION, several Spanish channels and religious channels, and plenty of educational channels from your nearby colleges. You’ll also likely get some pretty good channels with older TV shows, like Grit (westerns), LAFF (sitcoms) and Decades.

Put your zip code into this website and it will find how many transmitters are within 60 miles of you. (If this doesn’t work for you, try another site.) Also, try that first site on your cell phone, allow it to know your location, and it will input your exact latitude and longitude, which worked great for me.

I live between Orlando and Tampa in Central Florida, and it says I have 28 transmitters within 60 miles of me. That’s true, but I don’t get all of those channels. So be aware you’ll likely get fewer channels than they report.

Antenna Point - Over-the-Air Antennas

Also, since I live between two cities, I’ll have a chance at multiple transmitters of the same network. For instance, my indoor antenna reaches an Orlando ABC network and one for Tampa. Outside of nighttime shows, they usually show different shows during the day, so it’s almost like having even more channels.

2. Know When to Use an Outdoor Antenna

I live 30 miles from downtown Orlando, and while most indoor antennas say they pick up good signals from 50 miles out.

Well, that might be true in a perfect setting, but there are always trees or other houses in the way. Plus, most of the Orlando-area transmitters are on the other side of the city, so I don’t get perfect reception at all times.

Even so, I get all four major networks, which is the most important thing.

If you live 50 miles out from a city, where the transmitters are, then it’s time to consider a good outdoor antenna.

Even if you live in the suburbs, an outdoor antenna might be a smart idea. If you have the ability to connect your entire house to the outdoor antenna, then all of your TVs will get those signals, as opposed to buying separate indoor antennas for each TV inside.

But if you get your Internet through your Cable TV provider, like I still do, then you can’t disconnect that cable outside to connect it to your outdoor antenna. That’s when you should go with indoor antennas.

3. Buy the Right Indoor Antenna

Read the reviews on Amazon and you’ll get a good idea of which antennas are better and which are worse. But really, each one of those cases are different because people live in different areas and they get different signals and reception.

I use the Mohu Leaf 50 Indoor HDTV Antenna and it works great for a cheap price (under $40). It’s easy to connect, it’s not unsightly, and it’s light in weight. There are dozens of different indoor HDTV antennas, though, so find one whose reviews work for you.

4. Put Indoor Antennas as High as Possible

Here’s my story, to give you an idea of how much of a difference height can make:

When I initially hung the antenna, I did it just behind my TV on the wall, about four feet up, so the TV could obscure it. I got 34 channels after my TV performed a channel scan, and the only network I got was ABC. So I did some reading and found that height is important, so I moved it up to the top of the wall behind my TV, which is about 10 feet high – and it then picked up 44 channels on a rescan, with CBS. Once again, I decided I could go higher, but out in plain sight even more. My living room has vaulted ceilings, so I went up to the side, another foot or so – boom, 54 channels, with Fox! Finally, I went and got my big ladder, got some extra coaxial cable that I had, and ran the antenna up near the apex of my vaulted ceilings, now about 14 or 15 feet off the ground, and I picked up 74 channels – with NBC! Success! (I also now have multiple ABC and CBS channels.)

The point is – don’t be too discouraged after your first TV channel scan. Move it around and try different walls. From what I’ve read, you want as little between your antenna and the transmitters, so if you can put it on a high window, on the wall nearest the transmitters, that’s ideal. But hanging the antennas in windows in general are supposed to be great for reception.

If you’re not using an outdoor antenna, you’ll need to buy an antenna for each TV in the house. I use this as an opportunity to buy different antennas, so I can see which one works best – and I put that one out in the living room. Then you can even return the other antennas through Amazon and buy more of the best one.

5. Buy a TV Tuner, with Guide and DVR

Just because your off of Cable TV doesn’t mean you have to live like an animal! Networks not only transmit signals, but they also transmit their TV show schedule, so if you have the right equipment, you can pick up a channel guide.

I have an Xbox One, so I bought this Digital TV Tuner for Xbox One for $50. It gives me a channel guide, and now I have the ability to pause/rewind/fast forward live TV within 30 minutes for a partial DVR. It’s not going to record TV shows for me, but I can pause it while I make a snack (often).

But in my bedroom, I don’t have an Xbox One, so I bought this Mediasonic Homeworx DVR for $30, along with another antenna. (Cutting the cord is cheaper in the long run, but to get set up, you’ll be nickel and dimed in the first month for all the equipment.)

If you buy a DVR, make sure you have an external storage drive to put shows on (most of these DVR devices have the ability to record, but not the memory).

6. Buy a Special Streaming Universal Remote

While you’ve rid yourself of a Cable TV box, you now probably have a streaming device, and you’re back to using the remote control that came with your TV initially, rather than the Cable TV remote. So rather than go back to having several remote controls (don’t forget the DVD player!) on your coffee table, buy one of these universal remotes that also work for streaming devices.

I bought the Inteset INT-422 4-in-1 remote, which works with my TV, Xbox One and my Roku. (Why do I have both an Xbox One and a Roku? There are channels I use on Roku that I can’t get on my Xbox One yet, so I have both. Plus, the Roku user-interface is 10-times easier than the Xbox One’s.

Note: These universal remotes only work with streaming boxes, not the streaming sticks. So if you use Roku, buy a Roku 3 (more on that in the last tip!) and you’ll be fine. The remote needs an infrared signal, which the streaming sticks don’t use.

7. Label Your Stations According to Network

Now that you’re off of your Cable TV box, you can use your TV’s remote again. This also means you’re not going through a special input, so you will be going off your regular TV channels (unless you use an Xbox One).

Label your channels so you know what network they are. Often, you’ll just get the call letters, so you’ll have to remember that Channel 9 in Orlando is WFTV – and that it’s ABC’s local station. I just label it – ABC. Do we need to know it’s in Orlando? If you get two ABCs, label them ABC1 and ABC2.

This just makes life easier when flipping.

8. Sports Fans: Use a Splitter For Nearby TVs

I write about sports online, so I have two televisions set up in my living room, so I can watch multiple games or multiple programs. Not having Cable TV puts a dent in my choices right now, but I can still use a splitter off the amplifier that comes with my antenna, and get good signals to both televisions.

So I’ll always put a game on of anything on my small TV (on mute), while watching a TV show on the TV next to it. Life is good!

9. Get Sling TV for Cable TV Channels

Dropping to just network TV stations is tough. It’s like going cold turkey on all of your TV habits!

If you buy the Sling TV app for your Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick or any other streaming device, you’ll get a bunch of your favorite Cable TV channels (CNN, ESPN, TBS, TNT, etc.)!

It’s $20 per month, and for another $5, you can get some regional sports channels, or a set of EPIX movie channels. For another $20, you’ll get a bunch more Cable TV networks. (But by then, you’re wondering – didn’t I drop cable for this very reason?) I just do the $20 service plus the sports.

Right now, you can get a great deal with Sling TV if you pay for three months ahead of time – you’ll also get either a free Roku 2, or 50-percent off a Roku 3, which is what I use.

Those nine tips for using over-the-air antennas with your TV should help you squeeze out the maximum use from your televisions for the minimum price. Let us know what you think in the comments section, or if you have any questions!