How to Get Free HDTV Channels

January 5, 2010 at 1:27 am 14 comments

When I say free, I don’t mean free with your paid cable or satellite package.  I mean 100% free without paying for any service.

When television broadcasting began in North America, the broadcasts were completely free. The costs associated with producing TV were covered by program sponsors (advertisers). TV signals were received over the air, so all you needed was a television and an antenna (aka “rabbit ears”). This worked great at the time because TV was new and nobody knew if it was going to be successful; laying cable to distribute signals didn’t make any sense and satellites weren’t an option yet.

Once television was a proven success, viewers wanted more content on bigger and better televisions. Today, those demands haven’t changed, but the technology has.

Receiving signals over the air was not perfect, there were a limited number of channels that could fit in the airwaves. Reception was spotty, but Cable and Satellite services came along with more channels and reliable signals that didn’t require any adjustments.

The technology has changed again. The development of digital signals has allowed broadcasters to fit many channels in the same space that used to only fit one channel. Although it caused a lot of disruptions in June of 2009, the United States ceased all analog TV signals within a specific frequency range. That means the once crowded airwaves are much more useful with digital signals that can stuff more channels in the same space.

Some broadcasters have been distributing their television signal over-the-air for more than 50 years and they continue to do so, now in digital. The secret to picking up these free channels: rabbit ears.


To many people, this will sound like a huge step back, and in some ways it is. You’re not going to find John and Kate or Jersey Shore on the free channels, but it could be worse: you might find John and Kate or Jersey Shore on the free channels.

If you’re on a budget; or you only watch the most popular network shows; or you want to stick it to the cable-man; or you want to pickup really good HD signals on a TV without a cable box or satellite receiver, then this is an option to consider. In many cases, digital over-the-air signal quality rivals cable and satellite signals, where signals are highly compressed because of bandwidth limitations.

Digital rabbit ears are much better than the coat hangers of the past — if you’ve upgrade to a digital cordless phone in the past couple years, you’ll understand the difference in reception, reliability and clarity that digital signals offer.

Depending on where you live, your channel selection will vary. In some places, you can get 10+ HD channels and dozens of standard digital channels, all for FREE! If you live in the United States, you can enter your zipcode in AntennaWeb’s search engine to see a list of the channels you should receive. In many places, you should get most (or all) of your favorite prime time shows in free HD. All you need is an HDTV, an ATSC tuner (most HDTVs have one built in) and an antenna. Here are some examples of affordable indoor and outdoor antennas that you can buy. [now available on Kindle]

Photo: Dano (cc)

Entry filed under: Around The House, Be Frugal, Geek, ProTips. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ryan  |  January 20, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Great post! We actually get all of our channels via “rabbit ears” and the HD channels are crystal clear! The other day a surly cable man was casing the neighborhood, and after trying (unsuccessfully) to sell my wife on the latest cable package he was aghast to discover that we “only” used rabbit ears. He told her that soon all free HD channels will be no more and everyone will be required to have cable and/or satellite service. Do you know if there’s any truth to this?

    • 2. Chad Upton  |  January 20, 2010 at 5:41 pm

      No, that’s just the sales guys willing to say anything to make their commission. I had one here a few weeks ago, saying anything to make the sale got him into a circular conversation of lies that he couldn’t get out of.

      Most of them are really slick salespeople. My general rule is not to buy anything from slick sales people without thinking about it first. If it still seems like a good idea after sleeping on it then it’s probably worthwhile.

  • […] Now you can disassemble your old Nintendo or procure that automatic flush fixture you’ve had your eye on. Just promise me you won’t get into any trouble or steal cable TV, it’s not worth it when you can get HDTV channels for free. […]

  • 4. kanan  |  April 2, 2010 at 11:08 am

    i saw personal use only athome

  • 5. kanan  |  April 2, 2010 at 11:12 am

    I have see intersted for internet

  • 6. ASHOK KUMAR  |  April 5, 2010 at 1:48 am

    Hullo Sir,
    Last one and half month makkal tv channel not shown on the free DT H whichi is instqalled in my house. why and tell me how can i see that channel and where buy to free HDTV channel receiver or ant both ( indoor and out door ) please send

    Thanking you sir
    Yours truely
    Ashok Kr

  • 7. Brian Damage  |  January 10, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    Not much of a secret here in Australia.

    Free digital (including HD) over the airwaves is the default here, and cable and satellite just haven’t ever been particularly popular (except in rural areas and the deep bush, in the case of satellite TV, but that’s a rather small percentage of the population).

  • 8. markymark  |  June 27, 2011 at 9:04 am

    lets stick it to the cable companys that bend us all over…..

  • 9. markymark  |  June 27, 2011 at 9:04 am

    you can buy hd antennas from radio shack ….

  • 10. Lucio  |  May 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm

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  • 11. Rusty  |  October 11, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    This isn’t anything new or exciting. This has always been available. They just converted from analog to digital so you still get your local stations and digital has a longer range so you get a handful of new channels you didn’t get with analog that aren’t anything that great. Just a step above being filmed in someone’s basement. You make this sound like it’s some super secret.

  • […] Helpful Resources How to Get Free HDTV Channels | Broken Secrets […]

  • 13. Thomas Cline  |  September 23, 2015 at 11:49 am

    I have removed myself from the cord for a year now, what a great move. I saved $1200 a year by doing the easy task. My picture quality is great, much better than cable. all our TV’s are HD and ….well lets just say, I enjoy my picture quality and the shows OTA while I bend the cable company over after so many years of being bent over myself. NEVER AGAIN!

  • 14. Thomas Cline  |  September 23, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Just to help even more, There is an android app called “Antenna Helper” download it for free, it will help you adjust your antenna to pick up the free signals from the air. I used my home cables already installed in the home when built, 75 ohm cables, (same ones used for cable company) I bought my antenna from Best Buy $70 cause I was so jacked I didn’t want to wait for the cheaper one to arrive from an on-line purchase. ($50/ btw – same antenna) after a couple splitters were connected in the attic and the use of the app “Antenna Helper” I was on my way to free TV. All the connections were made in the attic, All I did was to make my antenna the source of the signal instead of the cable company by cutting the cable to the outside of my home and routing it to the antenna I installed in my attic. Conversion total cost: less than $100. What do you pay for cable each month? We did add Net-flix and Amazon, each is $8 monthly. Oh! the cable company will increase your modem amount, since you no longer have any other devices with them. Its a shame you have to have the modem for streaming, but you could get by with out. Even with the modem for streaming you will save close to $1200 per year! No I am not a salesman, just a former cable customer still trying to get my money back for all those years.


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