Cord-cutting is about saving money. That's it. It's not about making things easier. It's about watching what you want to watch, and not getting gouged for it. And that's why over-the-air antennas are seeing newfound life. After decades of cable TV domination — and continuously rising prices — a simple OTA antenna pointed the right direction can fill the gaps streaming TV can leave behind.
And with our pick of the best over-the-air streaming box, you can take that free TV signal and pipe it to pretty much any device in your home.
The premise is simple: You plug the antenna into the box, hook the box up to your network, install an app, and you're able to watch over-the-air on your computer. Or your Fire TV. Or your Apple TV. Or your Android TV. Or your iPad. Wherever.
There are a few popular picks from which to choose. This is how we see things.
HDHomerun has a few things going for it. First is ease of setup. Whether you're talking about the iOS app or Android or Windows or Mac — it's just a matter of a simple download, a few clicks or taps, scan for channels, and you're up and running. The interface is simple enough to use, and changing channels is fast.
There are several models from which to choose, including one with h.264 transcoding for low-bandwidth networks. But our pick is the newer HDHomerun Quatro, which has four tuners — for watching up to four simultaneous feeds.
A psuedo-DVR (basically HDHomerun ties into things like Plex) is available for $35 a year.
Downsides? You can't use this with Roku. (It's an encoding thing.) To use it with Apple TV you'll need to buy a separate app like Channels. (It's very good, but not cheap at $25.)
Tablo is our next favorite pick, because it makes recording shows locally a breeze. Why local recordings instead of in the cloud? If data caps are a thing, this'll be a good option. (If you love Tablo and still want things in the cloud, Tablo Dual Lite will do that for $139.)
Setup is super-easy here as well. Plug in your antenna, fire up an app, create an account, and you're good to go.
The downside? Price. The basic dual tuner with 64GB of on-board storage is $176 — but that's not a lot of storage for the price. And the four-tuner model is a whopping $259, plus you'll have to bring your own hard drive. Also, because there's a lot of transcoding going on, changing channels can be slow. There's also an optional subscription fee if you want more than a single day's worth of guide data. (Also, the transcoding leads to a noticeable drop in video quality.)
But if you absolutely must have local recordings, this is the box to buy, for now.
AirTV ($119) is a decent streaming box from Dish — the folks behind Sling TV. As such, you can either use it with the standalone AirTV app, or integrate it directly into the Sling TV app.
But it's hobbled by the fact that setup is a pain, and the AirTV app is pretty awful no matter which platform you're using it on. (The playback quality isn't as good as HDHomerun, either.)
All in all, the only reason we'd say you should buy this is if you refuse to ever exit the Sling TV app to use something else. (Or if you just really like red lights staring at you in the dark — don't keep AirTV in your bedroom.) To be fair, the integration of the local channels into the Sling app is very nicely done. It's just that it seems like a long way to go for it.
(Also, this isn't a bad option if you're reliant on Roku, which can't use our top pick of HDHomerun.)
AirTV is good. It's just not great.
The best over-the-air antennas
Who doesn't like free TV, right? And it turns out that in 2018 there's still plenty to watch — free and legal — if you've got a decent enough over-the-air antenna. For the cost of a decent meal at the Sizzler you can get an antenna that pulls in stations from dozens of miles away, piping free 1080i content straight into your TV.
All you have to do is pick the right one for you.
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