One of the home theater questions I get asked most often is how to get rid of cable or satellite bills without losing TV entirely. I’ve highlighted how to stream content over the Internet to your TV or computer, but many readers balk at the idea of losing real-time network Television, particularly sports and local news. Good news, if you have an HDTV with a built-in digital tuner, an HD Antenna may be the secret to cutting your cable or satellite provider once and for all.
In most highly populated areas of the country you can receive high-def broadcasts from major networks like ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS over the air, but the trick is getting your TV to receive them and translate them into viewable content. For that you need a few things; TV with a built-in HD tuner (or an HDTV-ready TV and an external high-def tuner) and an HDTV antenna.
While the signals broadcast over the air are digital, they aren’t all HD. What’s available in your area is decided by the individual broadcast stations. So you will need to do a little research online. If you live in an area where over-the-air HD content is available, an HD antenna will convert the signal into content your HD-capable TV can process.
HDTV signals are “line of sight,” so mounting an antenna on your roof will usually result in the best reception due to less physical interference. However, before you climb up on the roof to install an outdoor antenna, it’s worth trying out an indoor antenna. If you happen to live close to a broadcast tower and don’t have too much interference (think walls, trees, surrounding buildings, etc…) an indoor antenna may get you a decent picture.
If you’ve decided that an indoor antenna isn’t going to cut it to get you a clear and reliable picture, you’ll have to decide if you want to install an outdoor HD antenna.
Pick the best antenna for you: There are several different kinds of antenna. It’s important to ensure that you choose the one that will allow you to receive the channels you want. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) have created a color-coded system in which they classify the available outdoor antenna types. Use AntennaWeb to find the best outdoor antenna for your location and “viewing preferences.” You may be surprised at the variety of channels broadcast over the air – from TBN to Telemundo.
Simple How to: For a simple “how to” install an outdoor HD Antenna, check out CNET’s “Weekend Project: Free HDTV with an outdoor antenna.”
Side notes: While HD antennas may allow you several options, there are several perks that are included with your cable or satellite subscription that you’ll no longer get automatically if you cancel. The channel guide is supplied by your cable or satellite provider. To see what’s coming on you can view a list of free local TV listings online at Titan TV. With an Internet-capable TV, you may even be able to use the TV’s browser to scroll through channel listings on your big screen.
Most cable and satellite providers include DVR service with the cable or satellite box (though there’s often an additional monthly fee for it). You can purchase a standalone DVR such as the TiVo Premiere ($149) which lets you record shows and stream content from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and more, but you’ll have to pay a monthly service fee (starting at $14.99/month with a one year commitment). Make sure to confirm that the DVR model you select is compatible with an HD antenna before you buy.
Finally, access to premium channels like HBO, Showtime, or Stars is only available via a cable or satellite provider.