While you might not need an antenna to cut the cable cord, using one can provide additional channels, more expansive DVR options, and better video quality than what you’d get with streaming alone.
The problem is that an antenna, on its own, doesn’t integrate with the other streaming services you’re using to cut the cord. That means you’ll need to do a lot of switching between inputs or apps to watch everything.
With the right hardware and software, however, you can achieve the same kind of interface unity you once had with cable or satellite TV. If you long for the simplicity of having all your channels in one guide, here are your options:
AirTV is an $80 box that hooks up to an antenna and streams local broadcast channels into the Sling TV app on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Android TV devices. This allows you to have a single TV guide covering both over-the-air channels from an antenna and streaming cable channels from Sling. The AirTV box also has a USB port for an external hard drive, so you can set up a DVR for over-the-air channels as well.
A separate device called the AirTV Player plugs directly into your TV, and has built-in USB ports for a TV tuner and hard drive. However, the hardware is more than two years old and runs an outdated version of Android TV. I suggest avoiding it in favor of the AirTV box and a better streaming player.
Integrates live TV and DVR into one app
Hardware is fairly inexpensive
Works with popular streaming devices, such as Roku
No DVR subscription fees
Only works with Sling TV for cable channels
No automatic ad-skipping
Over-the-air streams are inferior to native broadcast quality
Fire TV Recast or Edition TV with various live streaming services
Similar to AirTV, Amazon’s Fire TV Recast is a $230 box that connects to an antenna for capturing local channels. It can then stream live or recorded TV to Fire TV streaming devices, such as Amazon’s Fire TV Stick. (Amazon’s Fire TV Edition televisions offer the same over-the-air channel guide, but without recording capabilities.)
If you subscribe to PlayStation Vue or Philo, you can see what’s on those live TV streaming services in the same guide that the Recast uses to show over-the-air channels. On the Fire TV home screen, just scroll down to the “On Now” row, then scroll left to reveal the program guide. (You can also say “Alexa, go to the channel guide” with the Fire TV’s voice remote.) From here, press the menu button on your remote to filter different channel sources and add channels to your favorites list.
This same guide can also display live feeds from certain Amazon Channels subscriptions, including HBO, Showtime, and Starz, and the free app Pluto TV can display its live streams in this guide as well.
Easy to setup and use
No DVR subscription fees
Integrates directly with Fire TV home screen
Supports several different streaming sources
Separate apps required to access DVR for live TV streaming services
Requires a Fire TV device to watch on televisions
Only works with a small number of live TV streaming packages
HDHomeRun and Channels DVR
Channels DVR is an $8-per-month subscription service for recording over-the-air TV. With a recent update, it can also record streaming cable channels, provided you can access them with a TV Everywhere login.
To use Channels, you need a desktop computer, NAS box, Nvidia Shield TV, or Raspberry Pi, along with ample storage for recordings. You also need an HDHomeRun networked tuner to capture over-the-air broadcasts from an antenna and feed them into the Channels service. Once you’ve set this up, you can stream live and recorded TV to the Channels DVR app on Apple TV, Android TV, and Amazon Fire TV devices.
One app for live TV and DVR
Works with a wide range of TV providers (including cable, satellite, and streaming)
Can skip commercial breaks with one click or automatically
Supports native broadcast TV quality
Doesn’t work with some cable channels
Setup is expensive and complex
Requires an additional subscription
TiVo Bolt OTA and various on-demand streaming services
Unlike the other options on this list, the TiVo Bolt OTA does not combine over-the-air and streaming channels into a single guide. It can, however, provide one menu for watching your favorite shows on demand, whether that’s through the DVR or from streaming services.
When you create a “OnePass” for a show, TiVo will record over-the-air broadcasts when possible, and it will also list episodes of that show from Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. It’s a handy solution for shows that are currently airing on broadcast networks, but only have past seasons on streaming services.
Combines on-demand and DVR shows into one menu
Simple to set up and use
No live TV streaming integration
Hardware is pricey, especially for multiple TVs
Requires an additional subscription for DVR
Only works with a handful of streaming services
If the above options don’t work for you, you can still take extra steps to avoid switching back and forth between inputs.
Roku TVs, for instance, offer antenna integration that’s not available on Roku’s streaming players. By plugging an antenna into the television, you can view a channel guide from the same menu you use to launch streaming video apps.
You can also access antenna channels through an app on your streaming device by using a networked TV tuner, such as Tablo or HDHomeRun Connect. While these devices don’t have the same cable channel integrations as AirTV or Fire TV Recast, they’ll at least spare you from having to switch remotes or inputs to watch over-the-air channels.
And if all of this sounds too complicated, just sign up for a live TV streaming service that includes local channels. YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue, and Hulu with Live TV offer all four major broadcast networks, with local channels available in most U.S. markets. You won’t get all the benefits of using an antenna, but you won’t get any of the hassle either.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.