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What Is Over-the-Air (OTA) TV?

Learn how to get local channels without cable with our expert guide.

Over-the-air (OTA) TV is high-definition television broadcast from local television stations in your area. The only things you need to enjoy it are a TV and a digital antenna. You can even use an OTA DVR to record live TV.

Overall, OTA TV is a cheap way to get local news, nationally televised sports, and primetime TV on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and more.

Find the best TV provider in your area

Looking for more channels than an OTA antenna can offer? Enter your zip code below to see your area’s top TV providers.

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Is OTA TV worth it?

Whether OTA TV is the best choice depends on your TV-watching style. If you like having access to premium channels, it won’t be a good fit, and we recommend a more robust TV provider.

But if you’re satisfied with a few local channels, OTA TV is probably the way to go. It can also be a good choice if you rely heavily on on-demand streaming services but want some live channel options. Between Netflix and OTA TV, you’ll certainly never run out of shows to watch, although you might not always have access to the new hotness.

OTA TV pros and cons


  • No monthly charges
  • Local news and sports
  • Simple equipment


  • Small channel lineup
  • Lack of technical support
  • Must be within range of a broadcasting station
  • Channel guides costs extra

Recommended OTA TV equipment

  • 60-mile range
  • Indoor mounting
  • 1080p HD support
  • Up to 8 TB of external storage
  • 4 tuners
  • 30-day Tablo Premium trial incl.

Recent OTA TV history

Back in 2009, the FCC mandated that the country switch from analog to digital television. At the beginning of that year, over 10% of households1 in the U.S. had TVs that weren’t ready to support the new digital format.

When the big day came, about a quarter of those households had decided to upgrade to cable or satellite television while the rest opted for a digital converter box.

After that, a lot of us forgot about the way we used to watch our favorite shows. But just because our rabbit-ear antennas went away doesn’t mean that local television did.

It’s still all around us, being broadcast over the air from local stations. As opposed to satellite, cable, or fiber TV, this television service is called broadcast TV or over-the-air TV.

How to watch over-the-air TV

To watch OTA TV, all you need is a television set and an OTA antenna. There won’t be a cable provider technician to set everything up for you, but many antennas can be easily mounted indoors.

You can snag a slick-looking antenna for about $20–$70, but you may have to fork out more money if you’re not near a broadcasting station. We’ll go over that further in the OTA Antennas section below.

You’ll be set to watch local news channels and the big game, but your favorite cable channels won’t be available and neither will the chance to upgrade to premium channels.

And unless you purchase an OTA DVR and a channel guide subscription, you’ll be left flipping through that tiny channel lineup like it’s the Dark Ages, no clue of when or where your favorite shows will air.

How to get local channels without cable

Like we mentioned earlier, the equipment for OTA TV is simpler than most cable TV equipment. The basics are just a TV and an OTA antenna.

You can also add an OTA DVR to your cart if you want to record shows, and some even come with the option of a channel guide subscription, which will come in handy.

If you have a strong internet connection, check out our guide on how to stream local channels.

Find OTA channels in your area

To see which antenna channels are available for your home, enter your zip code on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Reception Map Tool.

You can also visit our local channel guides.

OTA antennas

Your OTA antenna is essential to receiving TV broadcasts. Consider whether you’re interested in an indoor- or outdoor-mounted antenna. Don’t worry; the indoor ones look sleek—no rabbit ears here. They’re also much easier to install than outdoor ones.

More importantly, make sure you get an antenna with a far enough range to get all the broadcasted TV near you. You may need a very powerful one if you live in a rural area, and those can get a little pricey.

To determine how much range your antenna needs, check this FCC reception map for nearby television station locations and signal strengths. And we’ll help you find the best antenna for any range in our review of the best antennas for cord-cutters.

Best for Strong Signals

Mohu Leaf Metro TV Antenna 25 Mile Range MH-110633 Image

Mohu Leaf Metro TV Antenna

  • 25-mile range (best for cities)
  • Indoor mounting
  • 1080p HD support

Best for Moderate Signals

The Mohu Leaf 50 antenna

Mohu Leaf 50

  • 60-mile range (best for suburbs)
  • Indoor mounting
  • 1080p HD support

Best for Weak Signals

1byone TV Antenna 4K 1080P Foldable HD Digital Indoor

1byone 120 Miles Foldable

  • 120-mile range (best for rural areas)
  • Indoor mounting
  • 1080p and 4K Ultra HD support

Best OTA Antennas Prices (as of 12/14/22 9:14 a.m. PT). Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. utilizes paid Amazon links.

DVR for antenna TV

While it’s not essential to enjoying OTA TV, the right OTA DVR can be a big help. Some OTA DVRs are little more than a glorified VCR (remember recording shows on VHS tapes?), but others offer channel guide subscriptions so you don’t have to just channel surf and hope for the best.

A few OTA DVRs, like TiVo Edge and TiVo BOLT, even double as streaming devices, working like a Roku or Apple TV would.

Additionally, pay attention to anything extra your OTA DVR of choice requires. If you don’t have a smart TV, you may need to pair your DVR with a streaming device like Roku or Amazon Fire TV to watch your recordings.

Or, if you choose a DVR without internal storage, you’ll need to make sure you pair it with a USB hard drive. While that might seem like a hassle at first glance, the advantage of external storage is that you basically have infinite storage space as long as you have more hard drives handy.

Best for Streaming TV

Tivo Edge with Remote

Tivo Edge for Antenna

  • 6 tuners (record 6 shows at a time)
  • 2 TB memory (up to 300 hrs. in HD)
  • Req. streaming device and TiVo Service subscription

Best for External Storage

The Tablo Quad OTA DVR

Tablo Quad OTA DVR

  • No onboard storage; supports external memory up to 8 TB
  • 4 simultaneous recordings
  • No HDMI; req. smart TV or streaming device
  • 30-day channel guide and Tablo Premium trial

Best Budget DVR

Tablo Dual LITE [TDNS2B-01-CN] Over-The-Air [OTA] Digital Video Recorder


  • No onboard storage; supports external memory up to 8 TB
  • 2 simultaneous recordings
  • No HDMI; req. smart TV or streaming device
  • 30-day channel guide and Tablo Premium trial

Best DVRs for antenna TV

What is over-the-air (OTA) TV? FAQ

In what direction should I point my over-the-air (OTA) antenna?

You should point your over-the-air (OTA) antenna toward local station broadcast towers. These locations are generally easy to find online.

Can you still get TV over the air?

You can still get TV over the air. The best way to pick up your local broadcast channels is to buy an over-the-air (OTA) TV antenna. You can find one for as little as $20 and they’re quite easy to install.

Why is my TV antenna not picking up channels?

If your antenna isn’t picking up channels, these are some of the most likely explanations:

  • Your coaxial cable is too long. Anything over 100 feet will result in signal degradation or loss. If you really need a long cable, don’t fret—a preamplifier should fix the problem.
  • Are you using a splitter? Splitters can also degrade your antenna’s reception. If you can go without the splitter, ditch it. If you can’t, a preamp could help.
  • Something is blocking your antenna. See if any large buildings or tall hills, trees, or mountains sit between your antenna and the broadcast towers. If so, move your antenna.
  • You’re too far from the broadcast tower. Most OTA TV antennas can only cover a 70-mile radius.
  • Your OTA antenna might be a dud. If you’ve tried every solution above and you’re still not getting channels, you might need a new antenna.

How high should an indoor over-the-air (OTA) TV antenna be mounted?

You should mount your over-the-air (OTA) TV antenna as high as possible on an interior wall.

How can I check TV signal strength in my area?

You can check TV signal strength in your area by visiting the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) website and entering your address. You’ll see a list of channels and their signal strengths.

What does 4K Ready mean on an antenna?

When an antenna comes with a 4K Ready label, it means the antenna can display broadcasts transmitted with an image resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels. Visit our guide for watching 4K to learn more about 4K and Ultra HD technology.


Our experts spent over 100 hours researching over-the-air (OTA) TV antennas by testing different OTA antennas and OTA DVR models in various locations across the country. We determined the best ways to watch antenna TV by comparing each product’s prices, power capabilities, and extra features.

To learn more about our methods, check out our How We Rank page.


1., “The Switch from Analog to Digital TV

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