Introduction: How to Get FREE HDTV (and All Your DTV Questions Answered)

Picture of How to Get FREE HDTV (and All Your DTV Questions Answered)

How you can get free HDTV with higher quality than available on your cable or satellite provider.
(Free after initial start-up costs, if you do not have an antenna already - generally, a complete setup can pay for itself in the cost of 2 months of cable or satellite)

First, I will dispell a few myths about digital TV, and then I will give you the basics on how to get things running.

First: I hear you need a whole new antenna set up to view digital tv.

Digital tv runs alongside analogue tv in the exact same spectrum. It uses the same channel frequencies, and the same antennas. (any antenna called HD antenna is marketing BS)
The only difference in broadcasting is the content of the signal and the decoding process.

Second: I need a whole new TV to view digital (and HD) tv.
Partially true, but not for every circumstance. You can use your same TV to view digital TV, but if it is an older TV is will not be capable of displaying the true quality of an HD signal, and it will require a converter box (roughly $50). This would be like a digital cable box, or a vcr that does the current analogue decoding for you.
If you own a new LCD/plasma TV, chances are it includes a digital tuner already (ATSC/DVB-t, depending on your location).
Check its specs before you go looking for a converter box.
(Note that some converter boxes are SD only, look for a converter box that outputs in HD if you have an HD ready tv)

Third: All DTV is HDTV.
These terms are commonly mixed up.
Digital TV is the same as the ordinary analogue broadcast television today, just in a different signal/processing format. (480i). Because of the superior nature of digital TV, you will get a perfect picture every time. (Or below a certain signal level, no picture at all. Much around the distance that analogue tv gets too fuzzy to watch)
HDtv is also purely digital (perfect picture every time), however it can go up to much higher resolutions, such as 1280x720 progressive (720p) or 1920x1080 interleaved (1080i).
1080i has roughly double the pixels of 720p, but half the framerate.
Also, just because a channel is broadcasting at an HD resolution, does not mean the picture is HD. For example, a show from the 90's cannot be broadcast in HD without remastering it, so it is probably standard definition (SD) stretched to fit the HD resolution. ("upconverted")

Fourth: Antenna TV? are you kidding me? Cable/satellite is far better! I haven't used an antenna for 20 years!
Cable and satellite used to be better than antenna simply because analogue broadcasts degraded quickly as distance increased from transmitters, and cable/sat companies could get optimum reception and send it to everyone.
With new digital broadcasting, you get perfect picture with as low as 20% signal (with a new tuner) - roughly about the same point when analogue broadcasts were too fuzzy to watch.
Cable and sat may have it beat in terms of offering quantity, but antenna tv now has them beat in quality. Generally the cable/sat companies will take the exact same broadcast stream and compress it to send over their network to you. The result? Decreased quality. With an antenna, you get the pure broadcast, exactly as it was intended to be viewed.

Fifth: My country is switching to dtv! Now I have to sign up for cable or satellite!

NO! This is exactly what the sable or satellite providers WANT you to think. You can continue to use your antenna (yes, even "rabbit ears") as long as you have the proper conversion box.

That's it for rumours/myths for now, on with how you can get your FREE tv (after initial set-up).

(If you have any more questions, ask them and I'll add to this.)

Step 1: Check Your Availability.

Picture of Check Your Availability.

You can get FREE (after initial "build") high definition television in most areas. In fact, if you're within 120 miles of a tv station, chances are, you'll be able to get their channel.

The first thing you need to do, is consider your location:
What TV stations are around you, and broadcasting.
If you're in a semi-urban area, you're probably in an excellent area.
If you have very little around you, unfortunately, this will not work for you.
If you're in an area like Toronto or Buffalo, you can access two market's worth of channels, giving you 25 or more channels.

So, to begin our first step:
Visit and put in your latitude and longitude to see what TV stations are around you, and their approximate distance away.
If you don't know your latitude and longitude, visit this site:
which will give the latitude and longitude of anywhere you click.
Just move around and zoom in to your location to get the most precise value.

Make a note of which stations are closest/you want to pick up, and what direction they are from your place. (Just general direction, for now.)

Step 2: Obtain an Antenna and Required Materials

Picture of Obtain an Antenna and Required Materials

Despite what popular marketing wants you to think these days, ANY ANTENNA WILL WORK FOR DTV/HDTV BROADCAST RECEPTION. (Yes, even that 50 year old antenna you havent touched for 30 years!)
The only antennas which will not do much good are VHF-only, if digital broadcasts are mostly in the UHF spectrum for your area (Channel number above 13 from the broadcast search in the previous step means it is in the UHF band).

Some popular (good reception) antennas are below:
The Channel Master 4221, Channel Master 4228, and an example of an antenna you may very well have already on your house and you never use.

To go with the antenna you will need coax cable to reach your tv, a grounding block, and depending on your area, an amplifier.

A key part of low cost investment is having an appropriate tuner.
Almost all HDTV's (LCD/plasma) ship with a built in digital tuner. (ATSC for North America and a select few countries, DVB-t for the majority of the rest of the world).
If you do not (i.e. you have an old CRT tv or a new tv, but it doesnt have ATSC/DVB-t), no problem: you can get converter boxes for about $50 for a CRT tube, or many dvd recorders/DVR's are including ATSC or DVB-t tuners if you wish to go that route.
Note that a converter box which does not have HDMI/component will most likelt not output in HD, but downconvert the picture.

Another option is a PC-tuner, which can be as low as $40 these days.

Alternatively, you can build your own antenna which performs just as good as the commercial ones, if not better!
Check out the Gray-Hoverman antenna:
It's designed to be free and "open-source" welcoming people to make their own tweaks and get the best antenna possible. You can find the official plans at the site above, or you can read the antenna development forums at Digital Home Canada to see what changes people have made and what's the best type for you to make.
Check out the Digital Home forum here:

Step 3: Hook Everything Up.

Picture of Hook Everything Up.

Once you have your antenna, mount it where you will get best reception - The higher the better. If you already have an old antenna, leave it where it is and you can test how well it works later on. (skip to the next step)

I wont go into details for mounting antennas here, but there are three main methods:
Tower: freestanding tower holds up the antenna, sometimes attached to house for more stability.
Tripod - a tripod holds a mast, attached to the roof
Chimney - A mast is strapped to a (brick) chimney

There are also other ways you can mount an antenna, such as wall-mount (like I did, picture below).

Once the antenna is in place, you want to run your cable from the antenna to your TV, inserting a grounding block before it reaches the tv (to prevent problems from static electricity or lightning.
You will also want to ground the antenna/tower itself, according to local municipality standards to prevent damage to your home in the event of a lightning strike.

Step 4: Tweak Your Reception.

Picture of Tweak Your Reception.

Depending on the positioning of your antenna, you will find some stations are not quite at their best until you tweak the position for best reception of all stations.

If you desire, or the layout of stations requires, you can include a rotor, which rotates the pole holding the antenna to pick up various stations.

You can do this systematically (aka move it a little bit and see what happens) or you can do it precisely, using online measurements and values and a compass.
I found it easier to just do trial and error until it was perfect.
(A compass to put you in the general direction wouldn't hurt, however.)

If you are in a low reception area (usually because of distance) an amplifier will help.
There are two types:
a pre-amplifier ("preamp") - this connects as close to the antenna as possible, providing amplification on the cleanest signal it can. This is generally the best option, but often quite expensive.
The other type is a distribution amp, commonly used for cable systems - you plug it in somewhere along the line and amplify before you split.

Splitting the signal is possible, but you will need a tuner at each end, and signal will be reduced to both.
It is best to get one line up and running and see how things go before splitting. You may need to amplify to get even one line running.

Step 5: Enjoy Your New Subscription Free TV!

Picture of Enjoy Your New Subscription Free TV!

Sit back and watch your new digital TV.
It may only be a few channels for some people, but if you're in an area like me, you can enjoy 25+ channels, 20 of them in high definition.

The best part of it all? Once it's set up, there is NO monthly fee.
And hey, the superior picture doesn't hurt either.

Enjoy, and I'll be happy to answer any questions in the comments.


Williams M.M (author)2017-03-16

Please I got DTV Channels with Antena but they showed scrambled , so what can I do to view the channels free. Thanks .

Lyne MarieL (author)2016-08-30

Hi - I am cutting the cable... I got my antenna and my digital TV is working great with about 12 channels.

The issue is my PVR. I have to plug the antenna in the PVR and hook the PVR to the TV. My TV is fine now, no problems tuning. It is the PVR that is the issue. Everything used to be fine with cable, and playback is fine still now with the antenna. But the PVR cannot scan digital channels, only analogues, and so I cannot watch TV with the machine on. And so I cannot figure out now how to record TV programmes. Other than the antenna, there is no other 'in' plugs into the machine, only 'out' ones.

Any ideas how to make my PVR recognize digital channels so I can record again? Thanks!

DonnieW8 (author)Lyne MarieL2016-09-01

You may be able to put a digital converter between the antenna and the PVR to get it working but the channels would have to be controlled through the Converter box

recneps (author)Lyne MarieL2016-08-30

Unfortunately, you will likely need to purchase a new PVR if you want to record. Analogue vs digital are very different and need totally different hardware.
Even if the box was capable of digital cable, that is also different than digital antenna and not all tuners can do both.

timbenn93985944 (author)2016-07-17

i want to know do i need to buy a hd tv antenna do i need to buy a convertor box too i have 42 inch sharp led hd tv with built digital tuner

recneps (author)timbenn939859442016-07-19

There's no such thing as an "HD Antenna"! It's just marketing.
If you have any TV antenna that matches your local station frequency, it will work. Even an old one from the 80s.

As your TV has a tuner, you don't need any special box, just plug in an antenna and see what you get when you scan for channels.
Good luck!

Kman6842 (author)2016-07-16

I have a tv with hdmi that's not digital. I can view 1080i, through PS3. Is there a way to view 1080i tv using a digital to analog converter?

recneps (author)Kman68422016-07-16

You won't want a D2A converter that's designed for older tube TVs, but a standalone ATSC tuner that has HDMI output.

Fortunately it has been a few years since I wrote this and they are now quite affordable.

You may want to consider a model that gives you PVR/DVR functions at the same time - since you'll have to have an extra box anyway, might as well get some record/playback capabilities out of it.

If you want to go all-out, there are some android set-top boxes that are now including ATSC.
So you'd get the capability to watch streaming video (netflix, youtube, etc), network or internet video files, music, pictures, as well as your live ATSC broadcasts. Basically a mini-computer.

Another route is to just build a dedicated HTPC, which is what I did. A computer sits next to my TV that has an ATSC tuner card (or tuner device like HDHomeRun) that feeds the TV via HDMI.
I can use it as a computer, playback media, games, etc - whatever I want it to do.

BloomWorld (author)2015-07-03

If you are still looking for antenna TV then first you have to set up your TV to check for signals. Any antenna will work even those “rabbit ears “ but in order to get the results you need a conversion box. The signals have now been changed to digital for which this conversion box will be a tool to convert it to analog signals to watch your channels. Now once set up and you are getting the signals and still not getting the channel than check all the channels by swapping, maybe there is an issue with that channel transmission only.

LP2 (author)2014-02-09

I am in Rockford just before the drop into Owen Sound, Ontario.

Is there Any way I can get HDTV from Toronto CN Tower with an Antenna, Without winning the lottery?

LP2 (author)LP22014-02-09

Bounce the signal off atmosphere ? I really don't like paying for satellite Hundreds of channels and Nothing worth watching.

rauno45 (author)2012-08-28

I suggest to someone who reads this and wants to buy a 1080i tv- dont. 720p is better than 1080i. 1080i means the amount of pixels /2, therefore 720p is better.

aqnd (author)rauno452012-08-30

Not quite.

Interlaced pictures have half the frame rate of their progressive counterparts, not pixel count. (though I suppose if you want to look at it that way, it's 1920x540 @ 60fps, becoming 1920x1080 @ 30fps when rendered)

But 1080i30 (i.e. 60 half frames interlaced) and 720p60 have the same picture information. 1080i actually has more then double the pixels of 720p.

1920x1080 = 2073600
1280x720 = 921600

So you are correct in that one has half of a property of the other, but it's not pixel count. It's frame rate.

So when buying your hardware, you should definitely be buying a 1080 set if you're interested in pixel count and picture information. Because it can handle both 720 and 1080 feeds. A 720 set will be dropping picture information to squeeze that 1080 picture in.

The only benefit to 720p is the smoother motion from having double the framerate. That's why sports channels tend to have 720p, while generic programming is found on 1080i, where fast movement isn't likely and (de)interlacing artifacts are not likely to be seen because of it.

henktermaat (author)2010-02-01

I live on a heavily wooded lot and fancy getting OTA DTV as well.

Question: If I place an antenna on a pole way up in a tree, can I just run a long, long co-axial cable to it? I'm talking 200ft of co-ax...

And - what would be my best bet for a homebuilt antenna - should I make something directional or something omni? I am about 10-15 miles away from the stations.

aqnd (author)henktermaat2010-02-01

Honestly, if you're that close, you could get away with an antenna on your house and should get good reception regardless (no guarantees, of course)
The problem with your scenario is 1) trees sway, so a pole mounted on a tree is worse than a stationary setting with a tree blocking it.
Second, 200ft of cable produces a TON of noise to the signal.
You'd be better off with a tower near your house than the setup you describe. You may not even need the tower with such proximity to stations. Try things out with an indoor antenna to test (if you haven't already)
See what stations you get and how easily. If they're coming in with indoor alone, you can get a simple outdoor setup and get everything you want, even though the trees block it.
I'm about 25(?) miles from Toronto with large trees all around (suburban, though, not a forest or anything) and I received Toronto stations just fine indoors. T.O. is also ridiculously low power in DTV right now (like 3kW compared to the switchover power of like 100kW), so you should be able to do much better.

henktermaat (author)aqnd2010-02-01

Really good reply and I appreciate it!
I'm not technically in the woods, but I think trees will be a problem. There's no real line-of-sight from my house to the stations. It's all flat land here, but there's just too many high trees (150' or so.)

Thanks for the info about the cable noise... I will try to borrow an antenna to play with. I don't want to buy anything if it's not going to work.

speedhump (author)henktermaat2011-09-22

You do not want to buy anything that, you say. - and hope to borrow an antenna. Indeed! Maybe you want to borrow a 20 foot pole too - and all the fittings to support it.! Good Luck buddy

triumphman (author)2011-06-29

Is the boxes that we all got with the $40 coupon freebee useable with this? I got a few stations at first then the signal died. I think it was a conspiracy to force us all to buy cable or satelite. The boxes don't get any channels now. What a hoax! I see a very faint picture and some audio on Channel 42, and Channel 2 has audio. Thats all I get now! Any suggs.?

aqnd (author)triumphman2011-06-30

Your box probably died.
Check if it's still under warranty for replacement.

If you're using an amp, also check to see if that was a failure point.
The fact that you get a picture at all tells me some signal is coming through from somewhere..
That would mean the converter box is still working, just the signal from the box to tv is greatly reduced.

nawaazib (author)2010-08-27

how can i capture video and audio signal from a tv station without subscription. a satellite provider with a decoder and a dish antenna...plz incude a nice trick

henktermaat (author)2010-02-01

 I am looking to buy an HD tuner card or USB stick for my PC. Does anyone have any recommdations or advice as to what to avoid? Ideally, I will try to buy something local, so that I can take it back if I just can't get stations thru my trees...

aqnd (author)henktermaat2010-02-01

Avoid cheap/noname brands.
Read reviews, and especially ones from sites that know ATSC/DTV
(There's lots of info on the digitalhome forums about OTA hardware/reception/more - it's Canadian site, but they're more than happy to answer questions about the fundamentals. There just might not be anyone in your area to comment on specific reception)

I use an HVR-1250 and HVR-950 by hauppauge. Both are great tuners. Just be sure to get the 950-Q if you go with the USB option. It's the replacement for the 950, which has a pretty weak tuner in it.
Here are a couple of threads that might be of interest to you; (desktop cards) (USB tuners)

Actually, a great tuner you might be interested in is the HDHomeRun. It's an innovative design in that you can place the tuner anywhere (i.e. close to the antenna) and then it streams the video over your home network (ethernet cables). Ethernet has a much better noise rating than RG-6, so it works nicely that way. And since the tuner is usually closer t othe antenna than a computer would be, you get better signal levels. And if you get the two tuner model, you can be tuning two channels at the same time (e.g. record one and watch another) so you don't miss simultaneously broadcasted shows.
This is really only a good idea if you want to use computers to tune, exclusively. Because you may set up the antenna with the HDHR close by, then decide later on to hook up a tv, and you'd have to split the cable and run down to the tv, and that could possibly be a longer run than if you planned for it to begin with. (If that was just plain confusing, ignore it. I've had a long day :p)

colts1 (author)2009-01-12

We live on a wooded lot and the local antenna guy says "no way!" without a tower on the front lawn. Any ideas?

Zelgreb (author)colts12010-01-10

 A good directional antenna will pick up a fainter signal but it has to be pointed in almost exactly the right direction. this would work if you have a weak signal but you may still need to get it high off the ground (a rod on your roof or the likes)

Chancellor1101 (author)colts12009-11-19

 He may be right. Signal is going to be lost in the woods. Mine did and im in the same situation. Only way around it that i found is to build about a fifty foot aerial antenna and boost the signal power of it.

.NetRolller 3D (author)2009-10-18

Though this guide is focused primarily on America, it does try to be international in many ways (e.g. the mention of DVB used in Europe). For other European readers like myself (Channel Masters are unavailable in Europe), I can recommend the Inglar TV-4591-F antenna - I have never had one fail on me when it comes to DTV.

lycidas69 (author)2009-07-14

Thats a very bad picture (side shot) of a very well built Grey-Hoverman antenna. There are free plans for them on the net.

recneps (author)lycidas692009-07-15

There's no GH here, that's my 4228 (old) :p Though I should probably add something about the GH here for people who are interested.

marechaux1757 (author)2009-02-05

Is it possible to hook up one of the convertor boxes to an LCD monitor and an antenna (and get tv)? Or do I actually need an old TV? If this would work -- what cables are needed?

recneps (author)marechaux17572009-02-06

Definitely - though, it would probably not be a cheap converter box, probably a full HD one with DVI or VGA out (or HDMI->DVI adapter). Just look for an ATSC tuner box with HDMI, DVI, or VGA-out in it's list. If your monitor does not have DVI, you will probably not find one - I don't think many will have VGA-out. I know of one model, but it's more expensive as it's a PVR as well. DTVPal DVR by echostar for $250. If your LCD is connected to a computer, it's much cheaper/easier to just install an ATSC card (or USB dongle) and you're set up in no time.

arubajack (author)2009-01-08

Thanks!!! I appreciate your input' Jack

arubajack (author)2009-01-07

I am still wondering if there is a way that I could build a converter box for my antiquated tv that does not have a digital tuner inside. I realize from your article that I need one of those that convert from digital back to analog in order to watch my tv as it is. Without having to spend 50 dollars for that box could it be simply built from electronic components I could buy off the shelf?

recneps (author)arubajack2009-01-08

Unfortunately, there is not, unless you have extensive electronics/AV knowledge and can add an ATSC-decoder chip to interface with an existing VCR's NTSC-encoder for output. This would probably require extensive reprogramming of the VCR, and may very well cost more than the cost of a complete converter box. Another route is using a computer to decode and output the video to your TV, however this would probably only save you maybe $10 and would'nt have the easy functionality of the dtv boxes. If you are a US citizen, you can apply for a DTV-coupon for $40-50 (I believe that's the value) off the cost of a box, which might help make the purchase more appealing (If the perfect picture and on-screen guides weren't enough :p)

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