Streaming services have revolutionized the way we watch TV. Compared to the price of traditional cable, consumers can get instant access to television shows and movies at a fraction of the price. With the average cost of cable being around $99 a month, it's no wonder more people are finding alternative ways to watch television without paying for traditional cable.
New streaming services are entering the market every other week, leading to a streaming war. Streaming companies are also creating their original series and films. While this is great for the consumer, it’s also confusing which streaming service to sign up for. Better still, how can you get free TV channels without cable or satellite?
We took a deep dive into the world of television and streaming services in the US today.
How to Get Free TV Channels without Cable or Satellite
Cable TV is one of the most expensive ways to watch local TV channels and national channels. Depending on where you live, package prices start between $60 and $75. Depending on what channels you want to watch, cable television can go as high as $100 a month.
If you want to cut the ties with cable, there are some fabulous options on the market. Let’s explore some of the alternatives.
Get a TV Antenna
The easiest way to tune into local channels without a cable is to purchase a digital HDTV antenna.
Not all antennas are the same. To determine the best antenna for your needs, you will need to find out what direction the stations broadcast from. If broadcast towers are located in the same direction, you can use a directional antenna. A directional antenna focuses its power in the direction of the broadcast stations you want to access.
However, if you want to access stations broadly located in the same direction but in different locations, then we suggest a multi-directional antenna. If you buy a directional antenna with a remote, you can change the direction the antenna faces according to the broadcast tower you wish to access at any given time.
The problem arises when broadcast towers are located in multiple locations and not close to another. In this case, you will need an omnidirectional antenna. If you live more than 20 miles from a broadcast tower, you will need a more powerful antenna.
The next question is: should you get an indoor antenna or an antenna mounted outdoors?
Indoor Antenna vs. Outdoor Antenna
Gone are the days of the old rabbit ear antennas. You can get antennas intended for indoor use that attach to a window, negating the need to climb onto the roof. If you live within 20 miles of a broadcasting tower or station, you could get away with an antenna meant for indoor use.
Those who live in an apartment, townhouse or condominium, may have restrictions on what type of antenna you can install. It’s possible to get permission to install an antenna outside on a balcony. If it’s prohibited, then you have no choice but to go with an antenna meant for indoors.
If you live further out from a tower or want better reception, choosing an antenna intended for the outdoors will always be your best option. Keep in mind, while using an HD antenna outdoors is one solution, be aware of its positioning. It may need to be installed 30 feet or further above your house to reach the channels you want.
Our Top Pick for Indoor Antenna:
When it comes to getting the best antenna used indoors for your needs, we can’t go past the Gesobyte Amplified HD Digital TV Antenna. Why? Primarily because of its range. It can pick up stations that are 250 miles away. You can enjoy hundreds of HDTV programming with no pixelation. You can access channels like ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, FOX and many more.
This TV antenna has been upgraded with a new smart switch control and powerful amplifier signal booster to give you better reception. We found it picks up signals within a 200 miles range. This technology allows you to receive more channels by turning the amplifier to another angle.
What we love about this antenna meant for indoors is the sleek, stylishly thin design. Available in classic black or trendy fashionable tones, it easily blends into your chosen decor and surroundings. Delicate and lightweight, you can hide the antenna out of sight in your desired location.
The antenna is super easy to install. Just connect it to the AN/IN ports of HDTV or a set-top box. The antenna is powered simply by plugging the USB connector into a charging port. With a 17ft digital coax cable, you have enough flexibility to place it wherever you want.
Simply sit back and enjoy your favorite channels at no cost. With the Gesobyte Amplified HD Digital TV Antenna, you can cut the cord on cable and enjoy the savings.
If you live in an area with large obstructions like mountains and valleys, it will reduce its range and effectiveness.
Our Top Pick for Outdoor Antenna:
Our top pick for an outdoor antenna is the Five Star Outdoor Digital Amplified HDTV Antenna.
The 2020 release reaches up to the 200-mile range providing high-resolution HDTV 4K. This antenna allows viewers to access local news, sports programs and weather channels for free. We love this model because it supports five televisions in a household at once, along with FM radio broadcasting.
With the advanced VHF UHF six reflector reception elements, this improves the image quality up to 25% better than with just four elements. These larger elements also stabilize the signal. We also found the V-Band improves VHF HDTV quality by up to 50%.
The Package Includes the five-star antenna, installation kit with a 40ft coax cable, along with a 4-way splitter to watch four TVs. We found it easy to assemble, easy to install and great value for money.
With any antenna mounted outdoors, you need to make sure it won’t suffer from wind damage.
Free Channels Without an Antenna
If you don’t want to mess with antennas or television tuners to get local television stations, then sign up for an internet-based live TV service. If you want to watch local channels, streaming is the way to go.
As technology advances, with the help of the internet, it’s easy to watch your favorite channels without an antenna or cable. If you have high-speed internet, it’s time to give live streaming a go. All you need is a smart or digital TV that’s compatible with the internet. TV stations like ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX now deliver their programs via live streaming. Depending on the live streaming service, you will need to pay a monthly fee, but you may be able to watch free local stations with certain services.
Since 2006, most TVs have a built-in smart feature that enables you to accept digital signals via the internet. Even with the cost of internet plans, it’s still cheaper than a cable subscription. If you have an internet connection to your television, all you need is a smart device like an Amazon Fire Stick or Roku, and plug it into the back of your television. If you're interested in cord cutting, consider using a smart device or television.
Frequently Asked Questions About Antennas
What is a TV antenna?
A television antenna is a device used to view local broadcasting stations. A television antenna will usually allow you to watch local TV, like local news channels, ABC, NBC, and more. You can use an antenna to watch local channels without cable or a satellite TV subscription. With an antenna, you can watch live TV channels, local broadcast channels, and shows like Saturday Night Live. When you use a TV antenna, you won't need to worry about connecting to your internet to live stream your favorite shows.
What is the best TV antenna?
The best television antenna will depend on where broadcast towers are in relation to where you live. If there is a broadcast tower within 20 miles of where you live, you can use an indoor antenna. If you live further away from a broadcast tower, you will need an antenna that has a larger range, like the Five Star Outdoor Digital Amplified HDTV Antenna.
How to connect an antenna to my TV
To connect an antenna to your television, you will need to screw the antenna’s coax cable into the back of your television. Depending on which antenna you purchase, you might need to plug the antenna into the wall for power. Then, use input to select the antenna option on your television and scan for channels, like local ABC or local Fox.
How does a TV antenna work?
An antenna receives television broadcasts through electromagnetic signals. These signals are then translated into video and audio on your television. That’s why it’s important for the antenna you choose to have a range that is appropriate for the distance between your home and the broadcast towers. If the antenna you choose cannot reach the broadcast towers, it cannot translate the signal into video and audio for your television. Antennas, whether you use an HD antenna or a digital antenna, don't charge monthly fees so they save money for anyone who owns one.
Where to buy TV antennas?
You can find many different types of antennas, including indoor and outdoor, online and in stores. Stores that carry electronics will likely carry a variety of antennas for you to choose from. When you choose the right antenna for your location, you can easily watch local TV stations channels without cable.
How to boost indoor TV antenna signal?
Pick an antenna that will work best for you by knowing where the closest broadcast towers are. If you’re able to know where the signal is coming from, you will be able to point the antenna in the right direction for the strongest signal. Sometimes indoor antennas work best when mounted to a window or higher than the television. If you can, remove obstacles that can disturb the signal between the antenna and the broadcast towers. If that doesn’t work, you might need to consider a signal amplifier or an antenna with a larger range.
How to Watch TV Networks for Free
Whether you’re on the train or a treadmill, downloading apps of your preferred stations means you can watch your favorites anywhere, anytime. You can stream television shows for free on your tablet or phone, and stream episodes of your must-watch series to your TV with a Chromecast.
You can watch all the latest episodes of your favorite ABC shows with “watch on-the-go.” Download the ABC app and stream your favorite programs live.
All you need to do is set up a free account, the rest is easy. Save your favorites, continue watching where you left off and even sync your preferences across multiple devices. If you have younger children, you will love the range of ABC Kids apps available.
You can watch television and stream episodes of current NBC TV shows and classic hits by downloading the app for TV or mobile devices. The app allows you to live stream national and local news -- anywhere, anytime! Enjoy your favorite series from more networks, including Bravo, E!, Oxygen, SYFY, USA, Telemundo and others. With the NBC app, you can also stream episodes of classic series and hit shows from beginning to end.
The FOX app has everything you love from FOX and FOX Premium. Watch everything from television shows and movies, to documentaries and live sports. If you already have FOX on your TV, you can also enjoy shows, movies, and sports on your tablet or smartphone by downloading the app.
If you are a sports fanatic, you can watch live sports on FOX Sports, including NFL, basketball, MLB, soccer and many more.
The CW App is the only way to stream the latest episodes of shows for free. There is no subscription or password needed. Just install the app and stream the hit series you like. You can set reminders for when your favorite shows air and when they’re available to watch in the app.
Keep in mind that their coverage is limited to certain parts of the country. This app also features Nielsen’s measurement software to contribute to market research, like Nielsen’s TV Ratings.
When you download the CBS app, you get CBS All Access. The app gives you access to live television channels, on-demand TV shows, movies and CBS original content. You will also be able to watch your local CBS station, CBSN, CBS Sports HQ and ET Live 24/7. Keep in mind CBS All Access Live TV is only available in 206 markets, so just make sure you’re in one of those markets to enjoy your local news channel and CBS evening news.
PBS Video features thousands of full-length episodes of shows plus live TV from your local PBS station. Enjoy award-winning documentaries and iconic series from PBS and member stations. With the PBS app, you can stream popular shows anytime, anywhere, and create a custom watchlist for easy viewing later.
How to Get Local Channels Without an Antenna
If you want the experience of having a cable subscription without paying high cable prices, then opt for an online live TV subscription. While a cable or satellite television package can be expensive, there are dozens of local TV channels you can access for free in your area.
Here are some of the best ways to get local channels without an antenna.
YouTube TV is one of the better subscriptions to get the same live TV experience you would get with cable. You can watch all of the live TV stations you love but don't want to pay as much for, including ABC, CBS and NBC. You find you can also access Discovery, Disney, FX, HGTV and other favorite channels, -- all for the subscription price.
The subscription fee is almost half the cost of cable. However, you can access YouTube TV from anywhere. You can stream YouTube TV on your computer, mobile device or from any streaming device that includes access to YouTube TV.
A bonus is that one subscription allows accounts for up to six people in your household.
We love this option because it includes a "cloud DVR" recording service that allows you to record and store any show for up to 9 months.
Hulu + Live TV
You will find that Hulu + Live TV is slightly less expensive than a YouTube TV subscription. However, while it includes many of the same live television networks, it lacks a few like PBS, Comedy Central and MTV.
With Hulu TV, it enables each household member to personalize their profile with their favorite television stations. You can record up to 50 hours for TV shows you want to watch later. In addition, you also get access to exclusive Hulu content you can’t get elsewhere.
While Locast is a cost-effective option for viewing local channels, it’s not available everywhere. This is a nonprofit operation that takes the broadcast signals of local channels and streams them over the internet for free. It’s only available in 32 television markets -- only about 51% of the population can access Locast for free.
While Locast is free, you will have to put up with frequent interruptions requesting donations.
Fubo is a TV streaming service you can access without paying any high monthly cable fees. They primarily offer you stations like CBS, NBC and Fox for the local market. You can access more channels like FS1, FS2, beIN Sports, NBCSN and BTN under their TV streaming service. Check out their offerings before you buy.
Sling TV is one of the least expensive internet-based cable TV services. At about half the cost of YouTube TV and Hulu, you still get access to popular channels like the History Channel, A&E, CN, Comedy Central, AMC and HGTV.
Cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean limited. With Sling TV, you'll get access to live news, live sports and plenty of content you would normally expect from a basic cable television subscription. If TV without cable is what you want, this is one of the more affordable options.
Paramount+ is one of the newest significant networks to enter the streaming fray. Remember CBS All Access? Paramount+ is CBS All Access, except with a new name. Paramount+ folded all of CBS All Access content into this new service. What earned its "plus rating" was adding more shows and movies, as well as live sports and news.
Vidgo is another simple, affordable and portable way to watch TV. Vidgo is a TV app designed by US-based engineers who love to watch television efficiently on the go and in high resolution. We define VIDGO as an over-the-top streaming TV service that offers a better, more convenient way to watch your favorite shows and movies. The app works on internet-connected devices, such as the Amazon Fire Stick, Roku, iOS, Android, tablets, Apple TV and game consoles.
The great benefit of Vidgo is being able to record your favorite shows on a cloud-DVR. With an extensive on-demand catalog, you can also access the app from multiple devices simultaneously.
Choosing a Streaming Device
Why would you pay $90 for cable TV? Hey, but you are getting over 500 channels, they say!
On the surface, this sounds like a good deal. But how many channels do you watch? It’s far cheaper to pay $30 for channels you want to watch and enjoy. You can start with a device that streams content using the internet. Whether you're watching live TV streaming or a movie, you will need internet access.
It’s time to cut the cord by investing in a suitable device that streams media. With these “plug-in” devices, you can go cable-free and cancel those expensive satellite subscriptions. Even better, you can also get free TV channels without an antenna if you want to keep up with local news and weather.
Let’s check out our favorite streaming devices.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
The Amazon Fire Stick is one of the most popular streaming devices on the market. You can watch all your favorite shows from Netflix, Prime Video, Apple TV, HBO Max, YouTube, Disney+ and much more. You can also stream Pluto TV, IMDb TV and more for free. So there is something here for everyone.
Just plug and play -- the Amazon Fire Stick is out of the way. This compact device simply plugs into an HDMI port tucked neatly behind your television. Enjoy over 500,000 movies and TV episodes to choose from. Your TV will explode with brilliant picture quality with access to 4K Ultra HD, HDR, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision.
If you are a device enthusiast and have Alexa, launch and control content with the built-in voice remote on your Amazon Fire Stick.
If you are into music, ask the TV to play your favorite tunes by choosing out of millions of songs. You will need a service like Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora or iHeartRadio. Subscription fees may apply.
There is no Vudu or Google Play app. You need to have a good broadband connection.
If you’re looking for a device that streams content that rivals the Amazon Fire stick, then the Roku Ultra Streaming Media Player plus might be the answer. This 4K/HDR/HD streaming player with four times the wireless range from previous versions has a voice remote along with television power and volume controls. With built-in connectivity technology, it works off your Wi-Fi. Just plug it into the back of your TV HDMI outlet and you’re ready to go.
You might find more apps available on Roku, but we think that’s because Amazon wants you to buy their related products. Roku doesn’t care, so if you want Hulu and YouTube to appear first, it’s your choice.
We love this device because you can drop your cable equipment back on your ISP’s doorstep and cut the cord with your best wirecutters. You can tap into streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon PrimeVideo and YoutubeTV. You can't play YouTubeTV on FireTV, and you can't play Amazon PrimeVideo on Chromecast, so that leaves Roku. This mix of services is what can sway you towards Roku.
You can install major apps like HBO Go, FX Now, NBC Sports Gold. If you like movies that are so bad they’re good, you can tune into some wild Roku exclusives like B-Movie; this is an excellent channel for horror and sleaze fans.
Buyer beware: there are scammers out there trying to get you to pay a setup fee. There are no setup fees or fees for customer support.
We recommend not buying a reconditioned Roku; they tend to break down quickly.
Apple TV is the most expensive TV streaming device we reviewed, but we also found it is the most flexible. When you combine Apple TV with an Apple TV+ subscription, you can access exclusive movies and shows produced by Apple TV along with Showtime or Starz.
Unlike with a cable subscription, with Apple TV, you can customize your viewing preferences. Choose the specific television channels you want to subscribe to, and you can watch them via the internet without cable or an antenna.
All Apple TVs come with the Siri Remote. Just use the touch trackpad to navigate through menus and the control playback. The Siri feature puts you in complete control, and the touch surface allows you to interact with your Apple TV seamlessly. With wireless Bluetooth 4.0 technology, you can use Siri to watch whatever you want using just your voice.
We feel the Logitech Harmony 950 is a better Apple TV remote. The voice controls are super responsive, letting you easily switch back and forth between apps and channels. You can use it with your Apple TV, cable box and other entertainment devices -- including the smart TV itself.
The Apple TV is for those who are committed to the Apple platform. If you get your music and movies from Apple, then stick with Apple.
The scroll touch is ridiculously sensitive, making it easy to lose your place or lose the video stream completely. You are better off loading the Apple TV Remote App onto your iPhone to use, with better results.
Chromecast with Google TV is an affordable way to get almost every streaming service you could ever want. It’s capable of 4K streaming and includes access to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Disney+, Sling TV and even Hulu. In February 2021, Google added support for Apple TV+.
The Chromecast with Google TV is not just a Chromecast. It's an Android TV streamer with a Google Assistant-powered voice remote. Chromecast technology also comes built-in with select TVs, so you don’t need a separate streaming device.
Enjoy high-quality video streaming by Google without having to plug in an external device. Chromecast-enabled TVs have built-in streaming, as it uses the cloud to stream content directly to your TV. Instantly get HD video and HD video using select devices and apps onto your television with high-quality sound. What we love about Google’s Chromecast TV is that it learns what you like and recommends content.
Use your mobile phone as a simple, powerful remote. All you need to do is open the mobile apps you already know you want to access your favorite TV shows and playlist quickly. You don’t need log-ins or downloads to play your favorite shows and movies.
With over 1,000 plus Chromecast-enabled apps and 200,000 plus TV shows and movies, you are spoilt for choice. That’s not to mention a selection of over 30 million songs. All your favorites apps are enabled with select TVs.
Because Google Assistant powers Google TV, it means you can integrate all of Google’s other smart home services.
You can only have one user profile per Chromecast, and the volume input controls don’t work on all TVs.
Preamplifier vs Distribution Amplifier for Signal Boosting
There are two distinct types of signal amplifiers: a preamplifier and a distribution amplifier. The main difference between the two is that a preamplifier attaches directly to a single antenna to boost the signal. But, a distribution amplifier mounts indoors and boosts the signal of multiple television sets. Depending on the make and model of the signal amplifier you choose, the number of devices it can enhance and the level of signal strength it can achieve varies.
When you're looking to add an amplifier to your antenna, there are a few areas you want to consider. The factors you should weigh include the frequency range an amplifier supports, its proposed gain value, accompanying sound levels, and the type of warranty that comes with it.
There are two different frequencies that audio broadcasts through for antenna: VHF and UHF. You'll want to find a preamplifier or distribution amplifier that boosts both of these frequencies.
Simply put, the gain value is equivalent to the ratio of the power of an outputted signal to the power of an input signal. Different amplifiers will offer varying amounts of gain value, depending on which make and model you choose.
Amplifiers with enhanced sensitivity provide stronger signal boosting. Lower noise levels typically equate to heightened sensitivity. This means that the lower the sound level of the amplifier, the better the signal amplification will be.
Lastly, you'll want to take a close look at the amplifier's warranty. Warranties that are valid for longer periods and that cover more of the accessories or additional components that come with the amplifier carry more long-term value and are typically worth the initial investment.
How to Experience Roku in More Ways
We illustrated how the Roku Ultra Streaming Media Player makes an excellent contender for your home's streaming device. Now, let's explore some of Roku's additional device options for optimizing your home-viewing experience.
The Roku Streambar 4K is a soundbar for your TV that also functions as a Bluetooth speaker and streaming device. It allows you to stream content in 4K HDR while also enhancing the audio playback from your devices and connects to optional surround sound systems.
The Roku Streaming Stick+ is an ultra-portable version of Roku's other streaming devices that offers the same 4K picture quality in a convenient size that can easily be plugged directly into a TV's HDMI port. It is especially known for its functionality in conjunction with weaker WIFI signals.
The Roku Express and Roku Express 4k+ are more straightforward, more affordable versions of the Roku Ultra. These devices don't come with the extra features of the Roku Ultra, but they still support high-definition viewing. The remote control style varies depending on which version you get.
How to Know if a Streaming Service Is Legit
You might be tempted to download a streaming service that we haven't listed. In that case, we've broken down some of the signs to look for to make sure that the streaming you're doing is safe and legal.
The first red flag that a streaming service might not be official is if it offers downloadable content. It is common for streaming apps to provide a download for offline viewing, but if the raw file is available for download, it is most likely copyright infringement.
Another sign of illegality is incessant or poor-quality advertising. You can read a lot into the legitimacy of a service based on the type of and level of the relentlessness of its advertising.
You can also track the Original Content that a service offers. Legitimate streaming services do not provide Original Content that is specific to another source. For example, you wouldn't find a Hulu Original on Amazon.
Keep an eye out for services that recommend downloading a VPN or any additional form of cloaking your device's IP address. You'll also want to avoid any service that lacks company contact information or the "About Us" page that verifies. Legal services with proper data protection have nothing to hide.
Additionally, don't use services you find online that don't have supporting apps or that come with any type of warning from your browser system. Not only will paying attention to these red flags protect you from copyright infringement, but they'll also protect your devices from accepting sinister malware.
Frequently Asked Questions on Streaming Devices
What is a streaming device?
A device that streams is a way to gain access to countless channels and shows without TV signals, satellite TV, cable, or an antenna. A device that streams can have many different apps preloaded, but you will need to log into your accounts, like Hulu, Disney+, or Netflix. A streaming service offers quality reception with reliable internet. A streaming service allows you to stream major networks and channels without the hassle of dealing with a cable company.
What is the best streaming device?
The best device that streams content depends on your personal preference. If you prefer to use Alexa with your television, the Amazon TV Firestick may be the best choice for you. If you prefer to use Android products, a Chromecast TV would be the best choice. If you use Siri and prefer to use only Apple products, consider using Apple TV to stream. There are many choices, each with its pros and cons.
How do streaming devices work?
A device that streams content only works with the internet, and they usually work best with reliable internet. Streaming devices use the internet to give you access to movies, shows, and apps like Youtube or Apple music. Usually, you will need to have an account to use certain apps, like Disney+ or Hulu.
Do I need a streaming device with a SmartTV?
Many SmartTVs come loaded with apps, websites, and streaming services. If you have a SmartTV, you may not need to invest in a streaming service, like an AppleTV or Firestick. Whether you go with a device that streams using the internet or a SmartTV, you will need to log in to any services you want to use. Both streaming devices and SmartTVs should save your login information so you won’t need to log in often.
Rather than messing around with antennas or cable, we recommend you upgrade to a smart TV. Smart TVs come with embedded software and the ability to connect to your home's Wi-Fi network. That way, you can access all of the streaming services and channels we reviewed.