By Jim Kimble / Published April 10, 2023
Local channels such as ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and FOX are available for free on just about any Smart TV. It doesn’t matter whether you own a Samsung Smart TV, popular models from Hisense, Sony, LG, Roku TV or another brand of Smart Television.
- How to watch local channels on a Smart TV
- Get Local channels on a Smart TV FAQs
Most Smart TVs have built-in software or channel guides that allow you to watch local channels with a TV antenna, or by streaming.
How to watch local channels on a Smart TV
You don’t need a streaming device, subscription to a streaming service or internet connection for local, live TV channels.
But there are a few approaches you can take to get the most out of over-the-air (OTA) TV. By using a TV antenna instead of a cable TV subscription, you can:
- Connect a TV antenna directly into your television, scan for channels, and start watching live TV.
- Watch OTA antenna channels on any screen (TV, PC, tablet or smartphone) connected to your home Wi-Fi network
- Use apps or streaming services for local channels (requires subscription).
Millions of homes across the U.S. are already using TV antennas as a way to pay less for local TV channels that carry live sports, news and favorite TV shows. You can get local ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS and sub-channels such as MeTV and ionTV across the U.S.
Let’s go through the three options outlined above so you can cut the cord from cable TV and start watching your local networks.
TV antenna with a Smart TV
Figuring out how to pick the right TV antenna for your home is the most important part of the process. And it’s one that you can easily get wrong. Don’t sweat all the different terms or monikers used for a TV antenna. You don’t need a “digital TV antenna” or “HDTV antenna” for optimal reception of your local networks.
Before you purchase a TV antenna, you need to know in advance whether there are UHF or VHF signals broadcasted in your area. Some TV antennas are better for picking up UHF signals. Others are designed for VHF and UHF signals.
The Federal Communications DTV Map has a free online tool that can tell you about whether local TV channels are broadcast on the UHF or VHF bands. Antennas Direct has a similar tool that makes antenna recommendations based on your location.
Depending on your location, you might be able to use an indoor TV antenna. But a highly-rated outdoor antenna on a roof or mounted in an attic will always perform better.
Urban areas are usually close to broadcast towers, so you could try a Antennas Direct ClearStream FLEX, or ClearStream Eclipse.
The Antop AT-800SBS HD Smart Panel is the best outdoor TV antenna that I have tested for maximizing UHF and VHF reception.
Once you have your new TV antenna, you should plug it into the coax port of your television.
All Smart TVs have a settings menu. While each model might organize the TV settings differently, you just need to find the section within your menu that allows you to “scan for channels” or “scan for TV antenna.”
Expect the channel scan to take some time. If you don’t get all the channels you expect, try putting the TV antenna in a new location and rescan the channels. Mounting your TV antenna high up on a wall or window should help with getting the best reception possible.
Smart TVs with NextGen TV
There are currently two broadcast standards for over-the-air channels. The most common is digital TV signals known as ATSC 1.0. That delivers TV signals with picture resolution up to 720p and 1080i.
If you recently bought a new Smart TV from Samsung, LG, Sony, or Hisense, you should look through your instruction manual or the box of your TV for the NextGen TV logo.
NextGen TV (ATSC 3.0) can deliver local channels with up to 4K picture resolution and HDR10 support. Currently, many stations are only slightly upgrading to 1080p resolution from 1080i or 720p.
You do not need a special TV antenna to get NextGen TV. It’s more important to buy a TV antenna that is appropriate for your geographic location in relation to broadcast towers. Smart TVs with NextGen TV tuners also have ATSC 1.0 tuners as well, so you can pick up digital TV signals and the new NextGen TV standard.
NextGen TV is available in roughly 70 markets across the U.S., including Los Angeles, Boston, New York City and Chicago. It’s expected to be available in most of the country by the end of 2023.
OTA channels on a Smart TV over Wi-Fi
Over-the-air DVRs are a great way to maximize the perks of free over-the-air TV. But there is also a way to make your free local TV channels available across your home WiFi network.
A number of OTA DVRs can make the channels from your TV antenna available across your home WiFi network. So just about any screen in your home can be used to watch live TV.
The models for these types of OTA DVRs include:
- HDHomeRun by SiliconDust
- Tablo by Nuvyyo
- AirTV (for Sling TV users)
With these specific models of DVR, your over-the-air channels are based within an app.
So you can watch live TV on supported Smart TVs, a smartphone, tablet or PC. I often tune into local news and weather reports on my PC or smartphone while I am working around the house.
Unlike a television, these DVRs have more than one ATSC tuner. For example, if you have an OTA DVR with two tuners, you can watch live TV while someone else in your house watches live TV on a different channel.
You can likewise watch live TV on one channel while recording a program on another. With a quad tuner (or four tuners), it doubles the number of live TV channels you can watch or record at the same time.
Some Tablo, HDHomeRun, and AirTV OTA DVRs require an external hard drive to store recordings. You can buy a WD Elements portable hard drive, or buy an HDHomeRun or Tablo model that includes internal storage for recordings.
If your Smart TV doesn’t support using a HDHomeRun or Tablo, you can connect a streaming device such as a Roku, Chromecast, or Apple TV to the TV’s HDMI port.
Your streaming device of choice can act as your new Smart TV hub for watching live, local channels. These OTA DVRs are supported on popular game consoles as well, including Xbox and PlayStation.
How to get local channels on a Smart TV with free apps
Your local TV stations may have apps that carry news and weather reports. Some of these apps are identified by the call sign of the local station.
You won’t get a live TV channel. But the app will have free local news, weather reports and some local programming.
So for example, in Boston, you can download an app for NBC10 Boston on a number of supported Smart TVs. The NewsOn app is one of the best free apps to track down local weather and news reports for a specific city or small town.
The Local Now app is free and has its own news coverage for specific regions across the U.S.
Apps for ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX may have select episodes of popular television shows available to watch. But for full seasons, you need to activate these apps by showing you subscribe to cable or another TV provider.
The Haystack app aggregates local news and video clips from local channels in your area.
The PBS app has a free live stream in most of the U.S. The CW app is also free.
Smart TVs from Sony, Hisense, Philips and TCL that use Android TV or Google TV will have apps available within the Google Play store.
Smart TVs powered by Roku or Amazon Fire TV software also have dozens of apps from local channels. Vizio Smart TVs use their own SmartCast software. Samsung Smart TVs may have some local news on its free Samsung TV Plus streaming service.
Local channels on Smart TVs with paid apps
Some local broadcast networks are available on streaming services. If you want to watch a new season of your favorite TV show, there are some affordable options.
- ABC: Hulu offers new TV shows from ABC through its on-demand streaming service. You can get a 30-day free trial. A subscription costs $7.99 per month.
- CBS: You can find a live, local CBS station, on-demand CBS shows and live sports from CBS on Paramount Plus. A subscription to the Paramount+ Premium plan costs $9.99 per month. You can get a free trial, and even bundle with Showtime.
- NBC: You can get live, local NBC stations on NBCUniversal’s Peacock. It’s an inexpensive way to get local news, TV shows and live sports from NBC. You can get a free 7-day trial to the Premium Plus plan. A subscription is $9.99 per month.
Live TV streaming services are also supported by a number of Smart TVs.
YouTube TV carries local channels in their live TV bundle. So doesn’t Hulu Live TV, DIRECTV STREAM, fubo and Sling TV.
Live TV streaming services vary in price between $40 to $90 per month, and carry cable TV networks such as CNN, HGTV, ESPN, Comedy Central, MTV, and Nickelodeon. Features such as Cloud DVR let you record TV shows and sports without extra equipment.
Get Local channels on a Smart TV FAQs
These are frequently asked questions that Smart TV owners ask when researching ways to get local channels.
How to get local channels on a Smart TV without an antenna
Some Smart TV owners are outside the range of local broadcast towers and can’t use a TV antenna. You can try a live TV streaming service such as DIRECTV STREAM, Sling TV, fubo, Hulu Live TV or YouTube TV to get local channels such as NBC. Prices and plans for each service varies.
Can I get local channels on my Samsung Smart TV?
On Samsung Smart TVs, you can plug a TV antenna into the “ANT IN” port on the back of the television. Change the source of your television to “TV”, then select “Broadcasting” and “Auto Program”. Select “Start” followed by “Air” to get over-the-air channels.
Can you stream local channels on a Smart TV?
Yes. You can stream local channels instead of getting them for free as over-the-air channels. You can subscribe to a live TV streaming service that carries local channels. DIRECTV STREAM, fubo, Hulu Live TV, Sling TV and YouTube TV all carry local channels in their lineups.
For more news on streaming, how-to guides and reviews, head over to the main page of The Cord Cutting Report or follow the CCR on Google News.
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