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How to Get HDTV Signals for Free Without Cable

Updated on June 19, 2014

What You'll Need:

  • New HDTV
  • Antenna. Any old one will do. A coat hanger could even work, but it would take more effort.


  • F-connector adapter, if your antenna is more than 30 years old.
  • F-connector coupler, if your antenna cable is too short.

A 1998 era antenna with fine-tuning knob
A 1998 era antenna with fine-tuning knob

1. Finding an antenna

If you have any old antenna lying around the house, you can most likely plug it into your HDTV. In fact, it doesn't really matter what you use for an antenna.

As long as your TV has a digital decoder, you can see TV signals over the air. I have used a coat hanger to receive HD signals.

That said, more modern antennas will receive signals with less effort on your part. Those with fine tuning knobs, for example, will reduce the need for moving the antenna in order to receive a solid signal. But for the most part, in my experience, an antenna is an antenna despite the fancy buzz words they put on the boxes in the electronics department.

Regardless of what antenna you use, if you position it properly and tell your TV to do a channel scan, you will see many more channels than the three fuzzy ones your parents and grandparents used to watch.

An F-connector on the end of a coax cable built into an antenna
An F-connector on the end of a coax cable built into an antenna

2. Hooking up the antenna

Most likely, your antenna will have a coaxial cable attached that will either screw on or push on to the silver F-connector input on your TV. The F-connector input will usually be off by itself, and it is slightly wider than all the other, multi-color inputs on the back of your set.

3. Placing the antenna

It is best to place your antenna as close to a window as you can. If the antenna's built-in cable will not reach to the TV, you can buy an “F-connector coupler” and an extra coax cable to extend the length. You may not know the best place to put the antenna until you complete the next step below.

4. Scanning for channels

If you are turning your TV on for the first time, it likely will ask you if you want to scan for channels, and if you are using an Antenna or Cable. It will still be best to check your TV's manual for how to access the “Scan for Channels” function, which is usually buried somewhere in the "advanced" menu.

Once you find the function and select “Antenna,” the TV will begin a scanning process that usually will force it to remain in black or with a logo on the screen for upwards of ten minutes. As it does this, you may see a progress bar.

When the process is done, the TV will display the first available channel. You can now scan through the channels using the channel UP/DOWN button, and you should see your local network affiliates, as well as some extras.

With digital signals, interference is digital as well, so the picture will become distortred or possibly go black when something electrical nearby is turned on or if something blocks the signal's path.

If the antenna is not placed properly during the channel scan, it may skip over some channels that you would actually receive if your antenna was placed in a different location. If you got less channels than you were expecting, you may have to re-scan with your antenna relocated.


If you live in or near a medium to large city, any antenna likely will receive at least some HD signals. Using a relatively recent antenna will eliminate a lot of the troublesome issues.

If you can't find an antenna sitting around your house or that of someone you know, it would be a good investment to buy one, because there is a world of HD and digital signals waiting to be discovered... without a monthly payment!


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    • dgicre profile image

      dgicre 5 years ago from USA

      If you have internet through your cable provider you can also get a series of free basic channels, some even in HD. You will need a QAM enabled HD tuner which pretty much comes standard in all the flat screen HD TVs.

    • Cathode Sun profile image

      Steven Michaels 5 years ago

      Thanks, TVantennainstalls. And you're right, I should add some more explanation on the channels and subchannels and how they're numbered. I'll do that soon. Thanks again!

    • everymom profile image

      Anahi Pari-di-Monriva 6 years ago from Massachusetts

      This was a very informative hub! Thanks. It's good to know that my old antenna is still useful. Now, on to getting an HDTV! I am just so upset, as a consumer, at the monopoly that are cable tv providers, I simply refuse to pay for TV. This is a great alternative to Netflix.