In 2009, I was paying approximately $120 a month for an HD cable package which included “premium” HD sports, concerts and random shows. Were these channels awesome? Oh yes. Was it necessary? Not at all. In fact, having these channels was a complete luxury which I decided I could live without. I made the decision to drop cable entirely and switch to over the air (OTA) channels augmented by Netflix and Hulu.
Sadly, many Americans do not realize that over the air channels exist. Maybe they know it exists, but think it’s somehow reserved for people on farms and other isolated communities. A smaller percentage of people realize that over the air channels are digital and broadcast in high definition (HD). When I say “high definition,” I mean the same high definition that the high-priced cable package promotes. In fact, many say that the OTA channel picture is more clearly defined because the signal is not compressed to travel over cable lines. TV picture compression rates is outside the scope of this article, but I can personally attest that the OTA channel picture quality is as good, if not better, than cable TV.
Before you rush out and buy the equipment to receive OTA channels, I recommend checking the availability of channels in your area. Due to geographical features – i.e. hills, lakes, valleys, etc. – and the location of network antennas, channel availability will vary. Go to AntennaWeb, click the “Choose an Antenna” button, and enter your location details to receive information about channel availability. If you’re not comfortable with entering your address, just enter a nearby address. In my area, I receive about 30 channels, including the major public networks in HD: ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX. My guests are always amazed when I tell them the sports game we’re watching in HD is coming in over the air for free.
Once you’ve determined the availability of channels in your area, it’s time to buy the necessary equipment. Other than a TV, there are two pieces of equipment you will need to receive OTA channels: an HD antenna and a digital tv tuner box. Below are my current recommendations for both:
HD Antenna – I have personally used two antennas and determined the Terk HDTVa Indoor Amplified High-Definition Antenna for Off-Air HDTV Reception is the best. It is not the most inconspicuous antenna, so if you’re planning on setting up the antenna in your living room, consider how you would place it. In order to receive the strongest signals, the antenna should be placed near a window with an unobstructed view of the outside. Once you set the antenna up, experiment with different positions/directions and be sure to re-scan the channels each time to see if you receive any more or less. In fact, you may find that you receive a good amount of channels when your antenna is not placed in the window. The Terk HDTVa Indoor Amplified High-Definition Antenna for Off-Air HDTV Reception is currently available at 50% discount on Amazon for $35.32.
Digital Converter Box – The digital converter box is required to accept the digital signal and convert it to an analog signal which can be displayed on your TV. This is the same concept used by the cable companies when they send you a receiver to manage your digital cable TV subscription. The only tuner box I have used is the Digital Stream Analog Pass-through DTV Converter Box, but it’s not widely available and has poor reviews online. I have not had any issues with the Digital Stream Converter Box, but if I were to buy a new converter box today, it would be the Zinwell ZAT-970A Digital to Analog TV Converter Box. The Zinwell box is the most popular converter box on Amazon and has consistently positive reviews. The Zinwell ZAT-970A Digital to Analog TV Converter Box is currently available at 20% discount on Amazon.com for $40.00.
Keep in mind there are no subscription fees, activation fees or any other ridiculous fees associated with the antenna or converter box. These are both one-time expenses.
Once you’ve received your antenna and converter box, the setup is simple:
- Connect your converter box to your TV using RCA cables which come with the unit
- Connect your antenna to the converter box using the coaxial cable which is attached to the antenna
- Ensure all units are powered ON – they do not need to be charged.
- Ensure your TV source setting is correct (just hit the “Source” button on your TV remote control until the Zinwell menu screen appears)
- Use the Zinwell remote to navigate the menu and scan for channels
- Watch free HD TV!
After you’ve setup your new over-the-air system, I can guarantee you won’t miss your old cable shows or cable bill! Keep in mind that you can purchase a Netflix subscription and receive access to thousands of movie titles. If you truly miss certain cable shows, the most popular titles are available on demand through Hulu Plus. Although both services require another device to view, they are inexpensive solutions to augment your viewing experience.