If you're thinking about trying free over-the-air (OTA) television, you may be wondering how you'll access a channel guide to find out when to tune in for your favorite primetime hits, sporting events, awards shows and special programs. Fortunately, there are many ways to get channel-surfing functionality with OTA — and you'll definitely want to explore them because your antenna will likely give you access to channels you didn't even know you had.
Some methods are easier to access and start using, but work separately from your television. Others require some initial installation but are easy to view right on your TV screen.
Use An Online Or Mobile-Based Over-The-Air TV Guide
One easy way to replace your cable TV guide is to utilize apps or websites sites such as NoCable.org . Simply input your home address, and once the site finds your location, it will tell you exactly which channels you can access. You'll also see tabs at the top of your screen, which allow you to click on a "TV Guide" option.
This option takes you to a screen that will show you a familiar-looking universal grid. It displays time periods across the top and channel names, complete with their easy-to-read logos along the left side. This gives you a localized view of what's on and available to you immediately and for the rest of the day.
You can also filter for different types of content, including "Reality," "Family," and "Crime."
Some apps for your phone will work much the same way, such as TV Listings & Guide Plus, which is available for Android phones and iOS.
These website-based or app-based guides offer a very simple way of accessing an over-the-air TV guide you can use anytime, anywhere. They don't require any setup — simply jump onto your computer or mobile device and use a web browser. However, these options won't be integrated into your OTA TV system.
Purchase A DVR System That Works With Your OTA Setup
Another option provides integration for your OTA channels as well as streaming apps, but you'll have to purchase the hardware. These boxes give you a similar interface to what you might be used to with cable or satellite TV, and allow you to access and record OTA channels in HD. They basically give you all the modern conveniences you don't necessarily associate with old-school antenna-based television, and are generally the most user-friendly options for those who aren't tech-minded yet want to be able to consult a built-in channel guide.
The Sling AirTV is one such box. It allows you to coordinate your OTA channels and the streaming cable channels you get through the app-based TV service Sling. It also provides a single TV guide to cover all this content. You can get one of these for about $90.
Another set-top box you can use with this capability is the Amazon Fire TV Recast, a device that lets you connect to an HD antenna and watch and record OTA TV. It's also compatible with Amazon's Alexa. This unit is a bit pricier than the AirTV at about $230, but remember how much you're saving by switching to OTA. The channel guide will show you your OTA channels, along with some of the streaming apps you use in Amazon Prime Video Channels.
TiVo, the company that originally revolutionized digital recording, offers a channel guide with all newer units, including the TiVo Edge for OTA TV. There's a dedicated button on the remote control that will get you there, so using this is easy and convenient.
Tablo makes a wireless DVR and TV tuner called the Dual Lite with an especially robust channel guide — as long as you pay a small monthly subscription fee. If you don't buy the service, you can schedule recordings using a grid that shows one day's worth of shows. If you do, you can view listings and record shows up to 14 days in advance. This device costs about $102 on Amazon.
Some companies provide DVR services that you can use with certain hardware, but don't provide the actual hardware themselves. These services, such as Channels DVR, may offer another way you can access channel guides on-screen.
Use Your Smart TV Or Media Management Tools
Your television may actually come with the capability to show what's playing, even for OTA channels. Take a look at your TV's manual to determine if this is the case, or you can also press the "Info" or "Guide" buttons on your remote to see what comes up. Roku TVs are among the ones that offer channel guide information from an antenna input.
Additionally, you may be able to access a listing guide through media management software or hardware. Kodi TV, the open-source software that helps you organize and manage your existing media, offers a program guide as an add-on. Another option is a digital converter box like this inexpensive one from Mediasonic, which provides very basic channel information when you connect it to an antenna.
You may have to experiment a bit to determine which of these options work best for you. Some require more technological know-how than others, while others provide a richer user experience overall. But rest assured that you'll be able to find a channel guide that works for you!
Getting started with an antenna to watch free OTA TV
If you don't have an antenna yet, watching free, over-the-air TV with an antenna is simpler than you may think. In many cases, you can take an antenna out of the box, connect the cable to your TV, run a channel scan and voila! You have dozens of local channels to surf.
The number of channels you can access and how clearly they come in is based on a number of factors, including your distance from the point of broadcast towers, the type of antenna you have and where it’s located in your home.
Not sure what kind of antenna you need? Take our simple quiz to help narrow down the options. You can also find a general list of recommended antennas here.
Pair your antenna with an OTA DVR device to record your favorite shows
Did you know you can use an antenna similarly to how you watch cable? Ditch the costly subscription fees, but keep the cable capabilities (record, pause, rewind and fast forward) with an OTA DVR device. Here are the products we recommend:
Tablo DUAL 128GB Over-the-Air [OTA] DVR: Record up to 80 HD hours and stream up to two free broadcast channels from your HDTV antenna simultaneously.
Tablo QUAD 1TB Over-the-Air [OTA] DVR: Record up to 700 hours and stream up to four free broadcast channels from their over-the-air HDTV antenna simultaneously.