Watching live TV on a Roku is pretty simple with a little bit of know-how.
You can watch local channels that you used to watch on a TV antenna or cable.
But for Roku users, using an app for a local television station won’t give you prime time TV shows or live sports. Streaming apps from major networks such as NBC still require a cable-TV login or pay TV service.
If you’re new to cutting the cord, or wondering if you can use a TV antenna with your Roku, this guide will help.
I will show you how to watch live local channels such as CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS and FOX for free. So you will be able to watch primetime shows such as “The Equalizer” on CBS, live sports including NFL football and local news.
Table of Contents
- Can I plug a TV antenna into a Roku?
- How to Watch Channels from a TV antenna on Roku Ultra or Stick
- Can I plug an AirTV into a Roku Ultra?
- How to set up a TV antenna on your Roku TV
- Apps to stream “Live TV” on Roku without a TV antenna
- Pluto TV app on Roku
- The Roku Channel app on Roku
- PBS app on Roku
- Local News on Roku with NewsOn
- Paramount+ app on Roku
- Peacock app on Roku
- Tubi app on Roku
- freevee on Roku
- Live sports & ESPN on Roku with Sling TV
- A&E, History and HGTV on Roku with Philo
- Activating Roku apps
- Where to buy a Roku
Can I plug a TV antenna into a Roku?
Only Roku TVs have an integrated channel guide and a port to plug in a TV antenna for local, live TV channels.
You cannot plug an over-the-air TV antenna directly into a Roku streaming device.
But you can watch free, local over-the-air channels through a Roku Ultra or streaming stick. You just need a TV tuner, or over-the-air DVR with an app that supports Roku software.
This is true whether you’re using a Roku Ultra, a Roku streaming stick or Roku Express model. And it will depend on whether you can get free over-the-air TV where you live.
I have been testing a variety of over-the-air DVRs, or OTA DVRs with Roku, including models by HDHomeRun and Tablo for the last five years.
Here is everything you need to know.
How to Watch Channels from a TV antenna on Roku Ultra or Stick
Plugging in a TV antenna directly into your TV is really the most effective route for watching over-the-air TV channels.
If you are intent on watching over-the-air channels on Roku Ultra or streaming stick, then you will need additional hardware.
There are a number of OTA DVRs on the market with a Roku-supported app.
I also recommend downloading the Tablo app to a smartphone or tablet for the setup process. You can also use a laptop for running a channel scan and setting up the DVR.
Before starting the setup process, you will need your own compatible external hard drive for recordings.
- Plug in an external hard drive to the USB port.
- Connect the TV antenna to the jack.
- Plug in the power adapter
- Connect the Tablo DVR to the internet either through Ethernet or WiFi.
I used the Tablo app from my Android smartphone to complete the set-up process. But if you don’t have a smartphone handy, you can use a PC and head over to My.TabloTV.com to finish up with a channel scan.
The Tablo app on Roku has a robust channel guide that can filter movies, sports and TV shows. It’s also used to manage your recordings.
Can I plug an AirTV into a Roku Ultra?
Yes. The AirTV 2 and AirTV Anywhere are OTA DVRs compatible with Roku Ultra, Roku TVs and Roku streaming sticks.
AirTV DVRs are made to work with Sling TV.
Free local channels are integrated within the Sling TV app alongside channels that are included with your Sling TV subscription.
After you connect a TV antenna to an AirTV unit, scan for local channels using the Sling TV app on a smartphone or tablet. AirTV DVRs connect to the internet over WiFi, but can be connected through Ethernet.
You can read my review of the AirTV 2 for more information.
Once you set up your OTA DVR to a Roku, you will be able to use your Roku remote control or Roku app to control the DVR.
Here are some other resources based on my months of research and testing:
- How to Choose the Best TV Antenna and OTA DVR
- Review: The Best OTA DVRs
- How to Connect Multiple TVs to One Antenna
- Review: The Best Indoor TV Antennas
- Review: The Best Outdoor TV Antennas
- Review: HDHomeRun DVR tuners
- Review: Tablo Dual Lite
How to set up a TV antenna on your Roku TV
With Roku TVs, there are three simple steps you can take to add over-the-air channels to your built-in channel guide.
As of 2022, Roku TVs have ATSC 1.0 tuners that help you access digital over-the-air channels. In some cases, a Roku TV will detect the TV antenna once you plug it into the coax port and give you step-by-step instructions.
But, if that doesn’t happen, follow these steps to get over-the-air channels on a Roku TV.
- Plug the TV antenna into the coax port of your Roku TV. This is labeled ant/cable in many cases. It’s the same port where you plug in a cable box.
- Go to Settings, select TV inputs and select Live TV
- Select Set up input, and confirm that you want to scan for channels
Scanning for over-the-air channels can take up to 15 to 20 minutes. So give the process some time. You ideally want your TV antenna high off the ground and facing the same direction as your broadcast towers.
Once your channel scan is complete, you’re done. Start enjoying free local channels. If you move your TV antenna to improve reception, remember to re-scan for channels.
While the next generation of free over-the-air TV — ATSC 3.0 — rolls out over the next few years, you’ll still be able to use the same TV antenna.
You will need a new TV tuner or DVR to receive ATSC 3.0 signals once the roll out of Next Gen TV is complete. But keep in mind that the FCC is requiring broadcasters to simulcast digital channels for another five years once a local TV station transitions to ATSC 3.0.
So the tuner within your Roku TV should work fine for getting free local channels in the years ahead.
Apps to stream “Live TV” on Roku without a TV antenna
There is a new generation of ad-supported television used by cord-cutters who don’t want to pay for their TV viewing. You can watch these so-called “live TV channels” that are streaming over the internet.
These channels are also sometimes referred to as FAST channels, or free ad-supported streaming television.
Pluto TV app on Roku
Pluto TV has about 295 free live TV channels. Channels continue to be added to this service. And it should be the first app you add to your Roku or Roku TV.
There are a number of new features and channels within Pluto. Roku users can now build their own watch list, and continue watching shows and movies that were paused.
The category menu on the left side of the channel guide makes it super easy to navigate your way through the massive channel lineup.
Movie channels are broken down by genre. Don’t forget to check out the ‘Staff Picks’ channel.
Owned by Viacom, Pluto TV is able to draw from a massive TV and movie library for its on-demand section.
So what’s the catch?
You still have to watch commercials just like with traditional TV, and no you can’t skip through them. The other caveat is that you’re not getting traditional cable channels like NBC, ESPN or HGTV.
The Roku Channel app on Roku
The Roku Channel has also been expanding quite a bit in the last year. It now has roughly 270 live TV channels that are free to watch. The company announced in February that 25 new channels were added to the lineup.
The Roku Channel app comes pre-installed on all Roku streaming devices and Roku TVs. You just need to head over to the live tab to get the channel guide.
Scrolling through 270 channels is a lot to get through. So I dug through the whole channel lineup for you to give you some highlights to help you find something to watch.
- News & Weather: 115-160
- Sports 225-250
- Westerns 318-320
- Classic TV 323
- Action movies 325, 326
- Genre & Independent Movies 368-380
- Food 446-454
- Home/DYI 453-462
- True Crime 505-525
- Reality TV 633-649
- Sci-Fi & Horror 755- 773
This isn’t a complete list by any means. But it should save you some time, and make navigating the channel list a little less overwhelming.
Also be sure to check out the Roku Originals tab under the Featured Section for short-form thrillers, comedies and dramas.
PBS app on Roku
The PBS app does have a streaming service called PBS Passport. But you don’t need to pay anything to watch a live stream of your PBS station.
Just look for the thumbnail with the red dot and select it, and now you have a live TV feed.
After downloading the PBS app to your Roku, you can activate it with a Google or Facebook account. Aside from the live PBS channel, there are hundreds of hours of free programming as well.
In fact, PBS says on its website that usually its streaming rights for programs last for about two weeks.
So if you want to watch PBS NewsHour, or catch up on a show a few days ago, you can still stream it for free. No subscription required.
Local News on Roku with NewsOn
If you just want local channels so you can watch weather reports or local news, then you should add NewsOn as one of your Roku channels.
NewsOn carries full newscasts and clips from local ABC, NBC and FOX stations. It has roughly 275 local TV stations in more than 165 markets.
The cool thing about this app is that there aren’t any kind of blackouts or restrictions. So you can even watch a newscast that’s in another state.
Paramount+ app on Roku
Paramount+ carries a live local CBS channel in most markets.
A subscription to Paramount+ on Roku costs $4.99 per month. For a live TV feed of a local CBS station, you now need the Premium plan for $9.99 per month.
If you’re already watching shows such as “The Amazing Race”, “The Equalizer” or “FBI”, you will find entire seasons here.
Its library of movies and new shows come from CBS, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, MTV and Smithsonian Channel.
You can watch live sports on Paramount+, including NFL games every Sunday. There are also college football, basketball, soccer games and the PGA Tour.
Paramount+ will have a number of new films between 30 and 45 days after they are released in theaters. You can sign up for a free trial of Paramount+.
Peacock app on Roku
Peacock has a number of free live TV channels; but subscribers to its premium plan will soon get a lot of what airs on MSNBC.
MSNBC shows such as “Morning Joe,” “All In With Chris Hayes, ” “The ReidOut,” “Deadline: White House” and “The Beat with Ari Melber ” now appear on Peacock hours after they air on TV.
The Peacock Premium plan costs $4.99 per month.
Tubi app on Roku
There’s a huge selection of shows on Tubi, including ones that you would regularly see on channels such as A&E and National Geographic.
Tubi has over 30,000 free movies and TV shows from over 250 content partners, including nearly every major studio.
There is a new live TV section that has 99 channels covering entertainment, local news, business news, sports and weather.
Television station owners are participating in tubi’s expansion, including Cox Media Group (CMG), Hearst Television, Scripps and TEGNA.
The news section covers 24 of the top 25 markets in the U.S. Those streams include both live and pre-recorded shows.
Tubi is a division of FOX Entertainment, and the company said earlier this year that it will continue to add national news brands and local stations.
freevee on Roku
freevee (formerly IMDbTV) is owned by Amazon, and it’s free on any Roku or Roku TV. You don’t need an Amazon Prime account.
This streaming service has an excellent selection of movies and full seasons of popular shows such as Mad Men and Lost.
Amazon is launching a number of original TV series specifically for freevee. One of the latest new shows is “Bosch: Legacy”, which follows the latest investigations by former LAPD Detective Harry Bosch.
Amazon says freevee has half the commercials of traditional broadcast or cable TV.
Live sports & ESPN on Roku with Sling TV
The day of a la carte cable channels will likely never come. The majority of live TV streaming services have crept around the $70-per-month mark.
But there are still a couple of inexpensive options for cord cutters who want to pay less for live TV channels such as CNN, Fox News, or ESPN.
Sling TV is one of the cheapest options around for live streaming television channels at $40 per month.
With a Sling subscription, you need to pick a core bundle of channels. The Orange plan has a little over 31 channels such as ESPN, AMC and A&E.
The other core bundle is Sling Blue, which has about 41 channels, including NFL Network and FS1.
The Blue bundle also offers local NBC and FOX channels in some markets. But Sling TV recommends using their service in addition to a TV antenna.
Subscribers get 50 hours of Cloud DVR with any plan.
Sling TV is built on the premise of offering smaller bundles, so budget-minded people have more control over cost and what channels are added to their subscription.
You can check the latest offer Sling TV is making to new and returning customers.
A&E, History and HGTV on Roku with Philo
Philo has 64 live TV channels, including A&E, History, Discovery, HGTV, Travel channel, Paramount Network, and all the Hallmark Channels.
A subscription costs $25 per month.
There is unlimited Cloud DVR and a huge-on demand library of movies and shows.
Philo takes a very different approach to the channel bundle. There are no sports and no local channels.
Philo subscribers can stream on up to three TVs, smartphones or tablets at once.
Philo supports Roku, Roku TVs and a number of other streaming devices. You can sign up for a free 7-day trial for new customers.
Activating Roku apps
If you’re paying for a live TV streaming service such as Philo or Sling TV, you can use your subscription to sign in to a lot of apps that you see on your streaming device.
So if you want to sign in to A&E, and you are subscribed to Philo, just choose Philo as your TV provider instead of a cable TV or satellite TV provider.
Sometimes these apps are worth signing in to — not so much for on-demand content — but because they carry extra live streams of their channels that you won’t get within your live TV subscription.
Where to buy a Roku
You can buy any Roku streaming device directly from the Roku website, and get free shipping on any order.
It’s the first place worth checking because Roku has the ability to offer exclusive discounts or pricing.
There are a number of easy options for checkout. You can use Paypal, Google Pay (G Pay) or your Roku account when you make a purchase.
Here are some options to buy Roku devices.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble