With a TV antenna, you can potentially get the big four broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC.
There are a variety of other local networks available for free on over-the-air channels such as local PBS affiliates and The CW Network. Sub-channels, including MeTV, GRIT and ionTV, are among other independently-owned TV stations that may be available in your area.
Metropolitan areas such as Boston, New York City or Los Angeles generally better an easier time getting local TV stations than rural areas.
But most cities and towns around the U.S. have access to free over-the-air channels.
Table of Contents
- Is it worth buying a TV antenna?
- Can I Use a TV antenna?
- Can TV antennas really get cable channels?
- Can a TV antenna really have a 150 mile range?
- What is a realistic range for a TV antenna?
Is it worth buying a TV antenna?
You shouldn’t hesitate to try free over-the-air television. That’s true even if you live in a smaller city, town or rural area with only a few TV broadcast towers nearby.
Many TV stations across the U.S are currently transitioning from digital High Definition or HD signals to NextGen TV, also known as ATSC 3.0. This new broadcast standard is expected to deliver more TV channels in a higher picture quality.
NextGen TV has the capability to deliver Ultra High Definition (UHD) 4K picture resolution, High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Dolby audio. You may also one day be watching these channels from your smartphone or tablet.
Can I Use a TV antenna?
Yes. As long as you live within range of local broadcast towers powered by your local stations, you can watch whatever free channels are available. A TV antenna works with Smart TVs and old non-Smart TVs.
Even with the transition to NextGen TV underway, TV stations are expected to carry a simulcast in digital for the next five years once they switch.
Can TV antennas really get cable channels?
No. You should avoid any company suggesting that a TV antenna is capable of getting cable TV channels. The Federal Trade Commission shut down a New York-based company in March 2021 that sold hundreds of thousands of indoor TV antennas while claiming its antennas could get premium channels such as AMC and HBO for free.
Can a TV antenna really have a 150 mile range?
A number of companies claim that its TV antennas can receive signals from 100, 200 or even thousands of miles away. These claims are simply untrue.
TV signals diminish very fast, but travel at the speed of light in a line-of-sight direction. In other words, over-the-air signals do not travel along the curve of the Earth and keep going.
If TV antennas could receive channels from broadcast towers hundreds of miles away, it would cause a huge problem.
Let’s say you were living in Boston trying to get your local CBS station on channel 4.
If your TV antenna had the ability to cover hundreds of miles, then you would have many TV signals overlapping with one another. Channel 4 in Boston would appear on your TV, but so wouldn’t Channel 4 in Rhode Island, Philadelphia, Maine, New York and so on. Your TV screen would be a jumble of unwatchable overlapping signals.
The reason why we don’t have to worry about overlapping channels is that the Federal Communications Commission regulates broadcast, cable and satellite transmissions.
Television Market Areas (TMA) are covered by specific groups of television stations under the FCC’s jurisdiction.
What is a realistic range for a TV antenna?
A more realistic range for an indoor TV antenna is about 35 miles. An outdoor TV antenna placed in a roof or attic can get broadcast signals from 55 to 60 miles away under ideal conditions.
For more detailed guidance, you can read “How to Choose the Best TV Antenna & OTA DVR” to figure out which TV antenna works best in your home.
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