Skip to main content

The best way to watch free OTA TV

ClearMaster 2Max

The ClearMaster 2Max 60-mile antenna. ($55 at Amazon.)

Streaming TV is great. But it's not the only game out there. Antennas — yes, antennas — are more popular than ever given their low cost and their ability to fill the gaps in content that streaming services leave behind. That is, a decent over-the-air antenna can pull in free TV from your local broadcast channels for a one-time expenditure on hardware, and a few minutes of setting things up.

There are a few ways to go about all this, though. You can run an antenna straight into a television, of course (assuming it has a tuner built in), but that presents the problem of only having access to all those free channels on that one single set. Maybe that's fine for you. But there are other options.

Let's take a look.

Antenna straight into a TV

This is the simplest way of going about things. Rig up an antenna — outside your home, inside your home, whatever works best for you — and plug it into a television set. It's cheap, it's easy, and it's a perfectly fine way of getting all that free OTA TV into your house.

But there's the obvious problem of only being able to watch those channels on that one TV — the one the antenna is physically plugged into.

It's possible to use a splitter — physically separating the signal and running it into multiple televisions. That can start to present problems with signal degradation, though. And frankly it's not a very 21st Century answer, right?

There are other options.

The best over-the-air antennas

OTA antenna to HDHomerun

HDHomerun probably is our favorite OTA box right now thanks to its simplicity and relatively low price. You plug in an antenna, and plug the HDHomerun box into your internet router via an Ethernet cable. The box then does all the work, sharing the over-the-air signal among multiple devices. So you have one antenna but can watch the channels on your phone or tablet, computer, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV — all sorts of devices.

And depending on the HDHomerun model you get, you can watch on at least two (and as many as six) devices simultaneously . So it really is a whole-home sort of solution.

The only real limitation to HDHomerun is the quality of you home network, and how badly you care about being able to record OTA content. (HDHomerun isn't the simplest of devices for DVR, though a new box with a built-in hard drive is on the way.)

See at Amazon

OTA antenna to Tablo

Tablo is the same sort of thing as HDHomerun. You plug in an antenna, and the channels get shared across your home network to all kinds of devices. But Tablo is set up for DVR support out of the box. All you have to do is plug in your own external hard drive, let Tablo do its thing — and it just works. (Or you could use the Tablo box that has 64GB of storage built in , but you can buy a bigger hard drive for less money on your own.)

Tablo has options for two tuners or four tuners.

OTA antenna into ... something else

Tablo and HDHomerun are our two favorite OTA tuners, because of their simplicity. If it ain't easy to use, you shouldn't be using it. But that doesn't mean there aren't other options.

Tablo has a USB device that plugs into an NVIDIA Shield TV (which is the only Android TV box we recommend) that'll let it act as a DVR, which is cool. And there's AirTV, which is a different sort of Android TV box that has an add-on that can put your OTA content right along the listings of Sling TV. (In addition to doing most everything else an Android TV can do.)

The point is — there are myriad ways to pipe free over-the-air TV into your home. The only real question is figuring out which method is right for you.