How to Watch Local TV Free Streaming

Note, this is a technical article and requires some hardware, roughly $300 altogether, but once it’s setup, watching broadcast TV for free on a device like your phone is worth it.
Also, I may receive affiliate commission from Amazon for products linked on this page.

Are you tired of shelling out for subscription services to access your local TV stations? After all, these channels are free to view over the air, financed through advertising. Yet, their retransmission fees to online services can leave you a hefty bill. Well, good news! You can watch these channels for free (after initial hardware setup) on any device connected to your home network. Intrigued? Let’s dive in.

How Can I Watch Local TV Channels For Free?

Source Your Local TV Stations

Before we get too deep into the setup, check where your stations are located. This journey begins by locating the stations near you using the FCC website. If they all come from the same direction, things are significantly easier. You’ll want a highly directive antenna vs. “omnidirectional” to grab the station’s signals. Once you have that down, let’s talk about the setup.

Setup Your Equipment

Let’s get our setup in order. This is a brief summary of the remainder of the article:

  • An antenna
  • A preamp (optional but highly recommended)
  • Plenty of RG-6 cable (if not already run throughout your house)
  • A network TV Tuner (I personally use the HDHomerun)
  • Patience (trust me on this one!)

By employing this setup, you can watch local TV online free streaming, and I’m here to show you how. 

Understanding the Setup

When looking at an over-the-air TV setup, it’s essential to understand it as a chain where every link must function effectively. The chain starts with your antenna, runs through a preamp, then through the cabling, into a TV Tuner, which goes to a device connected to your home’s Wi-Fi, ideally the router. We’ll also reference the included diagram here to help visualize the setup.

block diagram of setup

In terms of impacting the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), the most critical links in this chain are the antenna, closely followed by the preamp. These two links define how clearly your setup receives and amplifies signals before reaching your TV tuner. The stronger and clearer the signal that enters your cabling, the more TV channels you can stream to your devices.

Breaking Down the Components

outdoor antenna that's seen better days

Antenna

The antenna is the first point of contact with the broadcast signals. Different antennas, such as Yagi, log-periodic, or even simple dipoles, can be employed depending on the distance and direction of the broadcast station. I personally use an antenna very similar to this GE Attic Mount Antenna. Some guidelines to keep in mind when choosing and installing your antenna:

  • Bigger can be better, but not always. Assess your space and signal strength before making a decision.
  • Avoid patch antennas unless absolutely necessary.
  • Take the time to orient your antenna correctly towards the broadcast station. Even simple dipole antennas have some directivity!
  • Clear the path between your antenna and the broadcast stations as much as possible. This includes clearing the area in front of attic antennas. Speaking of, think about why you may want an attic antenna and common difficulties with them.

Another note, broadcast TV signals reside in the VHF (Very High Frequency, 30 to 300 MHz) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency, 300 MHz to 3 GHz) bands, with a majority of Digital TV (DTV) stations in the UHF band. The specific frequency band a station uses determines the type of antenna required (higher frequency means shorter wavelength, and thus a smaller antenna can be used). It’s important to ensure your chosen antenna receives the correct frequency range for your local stations.

Preamplifier

Once the antenna has captured the signals, they are usually faint and susceptible to degradation due to noise and loss in the transmission line (cable). This is where the preamplifier comes in. It is optional, but I highly recommend this device if you have an existing setup but can’t seem to find many stations. It takes the weak signal from the antenna and amplifies it to a level that can better overcome the losses of the home’s cabling, splitters, or noise sources.

An amplifier at this stage is critical because it increases the SNR. The better your SNR, the higher quality and reliability of your TV reception will be.

If you are looking for one, the Channel Master brand has been around for decades and is still making solid products today. Amazon has a selection of Channel Master Antenna Preamplifiers, although inventory is hit or miss. The options are all good; do a quick reading on which one works for you depending on the gain you want / distance from the broadcast stations.

wiring on the outside of a building

Cabling

If not already run throughout your house, you need a run of RG-6 (which is 75 ohm) coax cable with F connectors. Grab some good and cheap Monoprice RG-6 coax. They function well and are great for indoor use, although I have yet to test them in outdoor environments. Whether you have the cable already or need to run a line, the path from the preamp to the digital TV tuner (which will need to be connected to your wifi router) will be direct. This brings us to the next section.

TV Tuner

A digital TV tuner is a modern marvel of this setup. The best I’ve seen on the market is something from a company called Silicon Dust. They make the HDHomeRun line of tuners I use, specifically the HDHomeRun Flex 4K. They are deceptively simple in appearance. The only connections are power, ethernet (preferably straight from your router), and coax we just talked about. Once you have it plugged in and on, you need to run the free software from their site.

back of the HDHomeRun Flex 4K

I won’t go into too much detail about software here, as their website has enough instructions already.

Viola, your local tv station streaming setup should be ready to enjoy throughout your home!

One thing I would like to point out: After initial setup, you can get channels through VLC media player rather than their app, either on your desktop or mobile device. I use the VLC player app on my iPhone to view the HDHomeRun stream. Works great.

The Bigger Picture

With this understanding of the setup, you can see how each component plays its part in delivering free local TV to your devices. Each link in the chain is integral to ensuring a high-quality, reliable signal. Any weakness or failure in the chain can degrade the signal and result in a poor viewing experience.

The beauty of this setup lies in its flexibility and adaptability. You can tweak each component to suit your specific situation, whether in a strong signal area or a weaker one. And by using a network TV tuner, you can stream the content not just to your main TV, but to any device connected to your home Wi-Fi.

This setup is about more than saving on cable bills or subscriptions. It’s a hands-on, rewarding experience that combines elements of electrical engineering, communication theory, and practical DIY skills.

Now that you have a deeper understanding of the setup as a whole and each component’s role, you’re well-equipped to start your journey into the world of free local TV streaming. You can now answer confidently when asked, “How can I watch local TV channels for free?” or “Can I stream local channels for free?”. The answer is “Yes, and I know how to set it up!”. And remember, while the initial setup might require some work and patience, the rewards are worth it. Happy viewing!

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