Are TV Antennas Back In Style?

You cut the cord, are you ready to cut “Live TV” streaming, too?

We’ve all cut the cord to avoid outrageous fees, add-ons, and taxes from cable companies, while taking advantage of the flexibility of various streaming services. However, the economic advantage of cutting the cord seems to have lost its edge among available local “live tv” options and their gradually increasing rates. The monthly expense of a Live TV streaming service plus the internet service to support it can meet or exceed the cost of your previous cable bill.

The typical starting prices for “Live TV” streaming service with the broadest range of available local market channels are as shown below:

  • $70/mo  DirecTV Stream
  • $70/mo  Fubo TV
  • $70/mo  Hulu + Live TV
  • $50/mo  Sling TV Orange & Blue
  • $65/mo  YouTube TV
  • $65/mo  Average Subscription Price

Annually these services cost about $800. This is a lot to pay simply to watch local sports, especially when they are broadcast over-the-air (OTA) for free. If you are within 50 miles or so of a major metro area, then consider a HDTV antenna and OTA DVR setup. You can assess your available channel reception using one of these tools:

In my particular region, there are a number of channels available, and from a number of different directions. However, the majority of major network channels here broadcast from the south-south-east, which is what matters when looking for local sports broadcasts. For reference, here’s a sample map of towers and directions:

In addition to the visual map (which is highly important when choosing the likely success of positioning of your antenna), you can also use these tools to determine the line-up of available network and affiliate channels in your area. These will even specify the compass direction, distance, call sign, signal strength, and broadcast frequency.

You’ll notice that the DTV antenna broadcast channels (RF or real frequency channel) is not the same as the virtual station number that it calls itself. The crucial purpose for calling that out here is so that when you look to purchase an antenna you make sure you can get the DTV channels you desire with the equipment. Most antennas are designed to pick up UHF channels (RF channels of 14 or higher). And most are not designed to pick up VHF channels at all (RF channels of 13 or less). So, compare the map and RF channels you want to watch with the specifications on the antenna you plan to buy. For this location there are RF channels in both frequency ranges that were desired, therefore an antenna that could receive both was necessary. 

The setup at my location included the following items and expenses:

  • $150 Fire TV Recast (500GB, 75 hour DVR, 2 Tuners)
  • $165 ClearStream 4V TV Antenna C4-V-CJM
  • $  75 ClearStream Juice VHF/UHF Low-Noise Pre-amplifier 
  • $390 Total One-time Expense

You should be able to find better pricing on these devices with discounts or if they are in “like new” condition. Even if you pay the prices as listed above for these devices, the system would generally pay for itself in 6 months or less. 

A word of advice to you is don’t go cheap on the digital antenna – there are many $30 versions that claim to pull in signals from 100 miles away, but that is not realistic in any planet earth scenarios. These less expensive antennas may work fine if you’re close to a broadcast tower with direct line of sight to it. If that isn’t your situation, then spend the money on a well established brand with great customer reviews that is designed to receive the VHF and UHF channels you intend to watch.

The choice for going with this combination of equipment was based on the fact that all the televisions in the house use a form of Amazon Fire TV already and because this would provide the simplest setup. Additionally, the Fire TV Recast acts as a DVR to record programs or pause live TV. Plus there was the added convenience that the Recast can be placed anywhere in the home since it uses a LAN or WiFi connection to your in-home network to broadcast the OTA signal to your other Fire TV devices. The Recast will need to be connected to the antenna via coaxial cable, so bear that in mind when determining your ideal setup. The Juice pre-amplifier used in this setup also requires coaxial connection and a regular power outlet somewhere between the antenna and the Recast device. Since the broadcast towers are a bit beyond 50 miles away, the amplifier helped boost some of the “Fair’ signals. A simple diagram of the setup depicted here:

The equipment installation took less than an hour – all tucked away from view in the attic. The most time consuming part of the setup was positioning the direction of the antenna for optimal signal reception, which required slight adjustments, then going down to rescan channels on the nearest television, then back up for another tweak and repeating the process a few more times.

The easiest part of the setup was the Fire TV Recast. The included quick guide or the numerous online videos demonstrate the ease of the setup, but see for yourself:

  1. Plug antenna into Recast
  2. Plug in Recast and Power on
  3. Sign into your Fire TV app
  4. Select Setup new Device > Fire TV Recast
  5. Follow app instructions to complete the device setup

https://us.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=GCTHUQHX6UHSJ9J4

With the setup configured as described, this system picks up over 50 reliable greater Boston OTA digital channels for free. This includes networks and affiliates such as ABC, Bounce, CBS, COZI, CW, Dabl, Defy, Fave, FOX, Grit, ION, Laff, MeTV, MyN, NBC, PBS, Stadium, local independent stations, and more. They aren’t all channels that will be watched, but it beats paying $70 per month for potentially similar channels that won’t be watched. And if you really want more live channels than what the antenna can pick up then consider adding a streaming service that doesn’t carry the premium of local channels, like FrndlyTV or Philo. You’ll still save money within the year.

Curious if you have something similar setup at your home, leave a comment to share your results. Thanks for giving this a read!    

As of this writing it turns out that the Fire TV Recast devices are no longer being sold by Amazon. That is a real bummer because the device is pretty convenient and hopefully they are working on the next gen version. They are still being supported through 2026 according to the manufacturer. You may have luck finding refurbished or used ones through resellers or online sites like Craigslist or eBay. Or perhaps find an alternative device that works as simply or better.

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