Network TV Without Cable

You can absolutely receive network TV broadcasts without cable. It’s interesting that TWO generations simply do not know that this option exists. If you were born between 1988-2010 when cable TV household penetration was at an all time high, you never watched TV via an antenna!

Broadcast TV is still a big business for the five big networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and PBS) and the NFL and the NCAA. Over 40% of the content that you currently watch on cable is probably coming from those networks.

Check out our Call to Action to show you how to capture this network content without cable.

Call to Action

Can I Get Local Channels Without Cable?

Can I Get Local Channels Without Cable?


Many younger people, who have grown up with Cable TV all of their lives, have never considered that broadcast TV is available for free!

In most metropolitan areas, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and PBS all transmit digital TV for free. All you need is a digital antenna to pick the digital signals.

But you’ll probably want to go further and set up an OTA DVR to record your favorite shows and watch them at convenient times.

Call to Action

  1. Read What is OTA TV
  2. Read Record OTA TV
  3. Read Start Here to Get Rid of Cable
  4. Check out the Cable Cutting Rig

Record Over The Air (OTA) TV

I want to introduce the number one way to capture and time shift your local OTA broadcasts….[drum roll]…. Introducing the VCR!!!

Just kidding. ¬†ūüôā

We have a digital option here at


Our current rig uses TabloTV to record OTA broadcasts. It is connected to the antenna via coax cable, and connected to the home network via WIFI. For best performance TabloTV recommends that the device be connected directly to your WIFI router via coax cable. As we’ve documented previously, the¬† rig uses an indoor antenna on the 3rd floor connected to the TabloTV. So some streaming quality is lost buy WIFI flexibility is gained.

Watch OTA Shows on Any Device

You have to have a streaming device connected to your TV to then utilize TabloTV. With devices like Amazon FireTV and Roku, Apps are available for TabloTV.

Apps are also available for Android and iOS devices to watch shows on tablets.

On other devices, connecting to MyTablo through a browser that is on the same local network as the TabloTV will bring up a slick web application that will allow you to watch live TV as well as stream shows.

Two Tuner Model or Four Tuner Model

There are two TabloTV models available: two or four tuners. A tuner can either record a show from the antenna or stream a show to a device. Example: if nothing is recording – two shows can be streamed. If one show is recording – one show can be streamed. You will have to figure out what your typical recording and consumption rate of OTA shows will be to determine the most suitable option. The rig uses a two tuner model. On NFL Sundays, tuner collisions occur with two games recording with the desire to watch one of them. But that happens infrequently.

Hard Drive Purchase Separately

One knock I have against TabloTV is the need to purchase a hard drive separately. A 1 TB drive has sufficed for over a year on the rig, with only 1/2 of the storage being used. Make sure to purchase a compatible unit and budget an extra $100 for the drive.

Fast Forward Through Commercials

On Amazon FireTV (and stick), the iOS and Android Apps, and MyTablo, fast forwarding and rewinding is immediate and a pleasure to use.

I decommissioned an older model Roku 2, and replaced it with an Amazon FireTV, because I found the fast forward/rewind feature to be lacking with TabloTV.

TabloTV Guide

With a fee of $49.99 / year, the TabloTV offers a digital guide. This service downloads the TV listings for the stations that you are able to receive, and allows you to schedule a season’s worth of shows. Example: to record Super Girl, you find the show and select ‘record all new’. Now all shows for that season will be captured.

What is Over The Air (OTA) TV?

Over The Air (OTA) TV

Receiving local channels without cable can be achieved through the use of either an indoor or outdoor antenna. This is abbreviated as¬†‘OTA’ and is differentiated from ‘streaming’ which is how Amazon and Netflix send shows to your device that is connected to your TV.

From the invention of TV until cable transmissions, OTA was the only way to get content to your TV.

The Place for OTA in a Cable Cutting Rig

Broadcast TV still provides a lot of television options. Local news and weather are broadcast as well as local and national NFL games, national NBA games, and new network and PBS programming. Couple this with OTA DVR equipment, and over half of the content that you watched through your subscription is available.

A Note on Signal Quality

Back in the day (70’s and 80’s) I remember the sometimes grainy transmissions that would be received, and that would be highly affected by weather, like wind, snow and rain, as well as (sometimes distant) thunderstorms.¬†While these external factors are still in play, they affect the digital signal far less than the older analog tech.

Call to Action

  1. More information regarding the capture of local channels without cable can be found here.
  2. Check out the OTA portion of our recommended Cable Cutting Rig.

Local Channels Without Cable

Antennas for Over the Air Reception

Receiving local channels without cable can be achieved through the use of either an indoor or outdoor antenna.

In today’s streaming environment, this functionality is called ‘Over The Air’, or OTA reception.

Frankly, it’s what we used to do at the dawn of TV!!

Until I cut the cord, I hadn’t used an OTA antenna in a couple of decades. Back then, I remember that the signal quality was spotty, that signals were severely impacted by weather, and that tuning in your favorite show could be a nuisance.

Times have changed! The USA has transitioned over to digital broadcasts, meaning the picture is being transmitted as 1s and 0s instead of an analog signal. This helps with the quality of the picture.

OTA Picture Quality

If you plug the antenna directly to the TV, you’ll immediately notice an improved picture quality over that provided by cable.

Why? Because the cable companies compress the digital signal. How does one compress a digital signal? By mathematically REMOVING parts of the transmitted information. This causes a more grainy picture. If you look closely, you’ll sometimes notice large blocks of the same color, especially in cable provided show backgrounds.

To transmit the local signal to you through cable, the cable company has their own HD antenna. It captures the signal, and then encodes in such a way to preserve their bandwidth.

Now, we’ll probably end up using the same type of trick to help our home WIFI network BUT we‚Äôll be able to configure this to find a sweet spot between performance and quality.

Where to Mount the Antenna?

CableFreeUSA’s recommended cord cutting rig utilizes WIFI inside the house. We want to do everything we can to minimize actual wires. In an old house like mine, this is excellent, as running a new coax line through the walls of the house can cost hundreds of dollars and require plaster and painting finishing work.

I happen to have easy access to a very high part of the house – a finished 3rd floor attic space. This lets me point my Mohu Leaf antenna directly at the local antenna array.

I then plug the antenna into a signal amplifier and then into a TabloTV DVR. In this way, I can watch my local broadcasts, and even time shift them!!!  I specifically pursued this configuration to capture Cleveland Browns NFL broadcasts.

Popular new Prime Time network programming, found on the Big Four, is also there to capture and enjoy.

Call to Action

We recommend that you first try to replicate the OTA portion of’s recommended cable cutting rig to try and capture your local channels without cable. If your conditions do not let you get the Mohu Leaf pointed above the local ground obstructions (neighbors houses, trees), or if you are in the suburbs farther away from your local broadcasting array, you’ll want to invest in and mount an antenna on the house. I know this is more work and cost, but it really is the ‘real’ way to implement OTA capture.