There are two ways that live broadcasts can reach your home TV: digital cable and analog signal. If you’re looking to get rid of your cable bill, you may be seeking out easy ways to pick those broadcast signals up for free. While there’s a popular hack out there that involves using your home’s electrical system to pick up broadcast signals, this isn’t actually a safe or functional way to go about this. Still, there are other options out there, so read on to learn more about cutting the cord and enjoying local TV!
Can I use my home wiring as an antenna?
You could in theory, but it’s unsafe and unlikely to work.
Your home wiring’s current is way too high for your TV’s coaxial port, and you may damage your TV or potentially start a fire if you connect your TV’s antenna port to an outlet. On top of that, your home wiring is not designed to pick up broadcast frequencies, and the odds are high you wouldn’t be able to pick up channels anyway.
- Your TV’s antenna line is designed for roughly .00001 milliwatt of power. Your home outlets can convey up to 1.2 kilowatts per plug. That means you’re pumping roughly one billion times more power into your TV than it’s built for.
- There are a few hacks that may work to help you pick up some low-frequency channels in your area, but none of them rely on your home wiring.
What can I use instead of my home wiring?
Buy an indoor TV antenna for the best results.
If your goal is to get rid of your cable bill, investing in a $40-60 antenna is going to pay off big time. This is really the cleanest and safest way to get high-quality channels. Your results will vary depending on where you live since the distance from your home to the broadcast signal will vary for each person, so look for an antenna with a 50–60 mi (80–97 km) range for best results.
- If you go this route, remember that your TV has to be set to “antenna” or “analog” mode. You’ll need to run a channel search after connecting your antenna as well.
- There are two types of signals—OTA (over the air) broadcast, and digital cable. With an antenna, you’ll only pick up OTA channels (which are usually channels 2 to 60 or so depending on the area). Still, you won’t have to pay for cable, so it’s hard to complain!
You can try to use a paper clip if you live close to a station.
If there’s an OTA channel you want to watch and you live within 1–5 miles (1.6–8.0 km) of the broadcast station, you can theoretically use an unpainted paper clip as an antenna. Turn the power off, unplug your TV, and slide a point of your paperclip gently into the coaxial input on the back of your TV before running a channel scan.
- So long as nothing is touching your paper clip, there’s no serious danger here. The current in the antenna port is so incredibly low that it won’t cause any problems. The only potential damage you may cause will occur when you shove a paper clip in the coaxial port.
- You can put the paperclip in a coaxial splitter and connect a coaxial cable to your splitter to reposition your “antenna” closer to a window or protect your coax port on the TV from damage.
- This will usually only work if your TV was made after 2005 and you don’t have concrete or stucco walls, which tend to block broadcast signals. You’re probably only going to get a handful of channels even if this works, though.
You could try a wire coat hanger or electrical cord.
Plug a coaxial cable into your TV’s antenna port. Grab an insulated electrical cord (do not plug it in) or an unpainted wire coat hanger and set it on the ground next to the TV. Position the pin on the end of the coaxial cable so that it rests on the bare metal of the cord’s prong or the wire hanger. Then, run your channel scan. You may be able to pick up a few channels this way!
- Again, your results here are not likely to be very good. If you don’t live close to the broadcast station, you’re unlikely to pick up any channels. This will also only work if your TV was manufactured after 2005 and you don’t have concrete or stucco walls.
- You don’t really need to worry about starting a fire or anything like that unless you try this with a power cord and you plug one of the ends in.
What kind of channels will I get with an antenna?
It totally depends on where you live and what’s being broadcasted.
If you’re over 60 miles (97 km) from any broadcast signals, you may not be able to pick anything up. However, if you live near a major city or in a well-populated area, there are probably dozens of broadcasts within range.
- You can consult the FCC’s search tool to find which signals you’ll be able to pick up with an antenna. Visit https://www.fcc.gov/media/engineering/dtvmaps and enter your address or zip code to find a list of what you’ll pick up with an antenna.
Buy a multi-directional UHF and VHF antenna for more channels.
If you want the best bang for your buck, buy a VHF and UHF combination antenna to pick every broadcast signal up. These combo antennas are usually a little more expensive, but they’re worth it if you want variety. VHF-low refers to channels 2 through 6, while VHF-high includes channels 7 through 13. UHF broadcasts include 14 through 60 or so (the high end depends on where you live), so a combo antenna will get you everything.
- Multi-directional antennas do not need to be adjusted to face the signals you want to pick up. If you want the best signal possible, pick one of these up.
- If you’re going the DIY route, your paper clip or coat hanger antenna is probably only going to pick up VHF channels.
- The number of a station does not always match the frequency of its broadcast. For example, you’d think that CBS 2 in New York City should broadcast over channel 2, right? TVs actually receive the frequency through channel 33.
Could a phone work as a TV antenna?
No, but there are apps you can use to help you find signals.
Your phone cannot function as an antenna—there’s no way to hook it up to your TV’s antenna port and it isn’t bare metal. However, if you buy an antenna or you use a DIY hack to pick up some channels, you can download a signal finder app to find the optimal location for your antenna to improve your picture!
- RCA and TERK both offer free signal finder apps. TV Towers, Antenna Pointer, and Antenna Point are also free options that will show you where the local signals are coming from.
- Download an app, hold the phone vertically, and slowly rotate until you find the best angle for your signal. Reposition the antenna as needed until your picture improves.
How can I get TV reception without cable or antenna?
There are tons of online options for streaming and content.
If you have Wi-Fi, the world is your oyster! You can always buy a Roku to stream live TV with no subscription costs, or connect a laptop to your television and go to Locast’s website to stream local TV channels for free. You also have a ton of subscription options, including the obvious choices like Netflix and Hulu, if you want to watch content without cable or an antenna.
- If you’re strictly interested in picking up live TV in your area without the internet, you cannot do this without cable or an antenna.
- There is no such thing as an “HD” antenna. The signal you pick up from your local broadcasts is only going to be as good as the strength of that signal.