Getting free HD TV channels without cable

By attaching an HD antenna to your high-definition TV, you may be able to pick up many cable channels over-the-air and in high definition

Greg Gazin Some folks just can’t live without cable TV, with its hundreds of channels and seemingly endless program choices. But for others, it’s getting harder to justify the ongoing expense that can easily exceed $1,000 per year.

You hear of people “Cutting the Cord,” dropping traditional services and opting to get their entertainment from popular services like Netflix, which offers movies but also TV series and original programming. But by leaving the fold, they are also losing channels they’ve either grown up with and are geographically close to them – local news, weather and sports.

Don’t worry. All is not lost. By simply attaching an HD antenna to your high-definition TV, you may be able to pick up, for free, many cable channels over-the-air (OTA) and in high definition. Sound like returning to pre-cable days and the era of the rabbit ears? It is, sort of.

In most cases, these antennas truly plug n’ play. You simply connect the antenna to your TV and perform a channel scan (a.k.a. autoscan or auto program) the same as you did when you set up your cable.

If you’re wondering how many channels you might possibly tune in, TVFool.Com offers a free signal locator. Simply enter your address and it scans databases for nearby towers, giving you a map and a predicted list of possible OTA television stations. The results are colour-coded to indicate estimated signal strength based on your distance from the tower and the likelihood of reception as it relates to the type of antenna and its placement.

In Edmonton, Alberta for example (where I live), expect about seven channels with any antenna; in other places, like in southern Ontario for example, you may get as many as 35 to 50 channels including many from south of the border.

Antennas come in all different shapes and sizes. You’ll get the best signal from external rooftop mounted models, followed by those placed in the attic, and lastly by the more common indoor models.

Indoor models are particularly appealing because they can actually yield amazing results and not simply due to the price ($20 to $100) or that they’re small, inconspicuous and don’t require you or a tech climbing onto the roof – not fun in the winter. This is particularly true with flat paper-thin models like those made by RCA, Terk, Mohu and Winegard, which can be as thin as half an inch.

Besides aesthetics and build quality, models differ in terms of what type of signal they can pick up, cable length and range (typically 50 to 80 km). Most require no external power and some can even be amplified.

Your channel reception will also vary depending on the location and placement of the antenna. It will often work best placed closer to a window and higher up in the house. It may require a little trial and error in order to get the best signal. I get three more channels in my east-facing window than I do on the west side and one less channel with metal blinds down. Amazingly, I also receive a local channel that appears crisper than in did through my cable box.

Do some research to decide which antenna would best suit your needs, and if you can, test-drive a model or two. Some retailers may be quite happy to let you do so. But before you buy, check your store’s return policy. However, if the thought of cutting the cord, (i.e. no more monthly fees and saving thousands of dollars) piques your interest, now’s a great time to get started.

HD TV Antennas are available on-line through a number of outlets and through retail stores like Best Buy, London Drugs, Home Depot and The Source.

Troy Media columnist Greg Gazin, also known as the Gadget Guy and Gadget Greg, is a syndicated veteran tech columnist, communication, leadership and technology speaker, facilitator, blogger, podcaster and author. Reach him @gadgetgreg or at

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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