Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

I have been free of my monstrous cable tv bill for many months now, and I love it!  Woooo!  A while back I posted about how I want to get revenge on Cable companies by helping as many people as I can kill their cable service in favor of free HD tv over the air and over the Internet.

There are other “free TV” guides on the Internet – but they suck because they are too generic, too technical, or not technical enough.  Hopefully this one doesn’t suck.  Let me know if you have any questions – if you tell me that you are going to cancel your cable tv service, I will answer all your questions.

Over the Air HD

Most people (including me until not long ago) don’t realize that tv stations all over the place are broadcasting over-the-air (OTA) HD signals, and that the quality of those signals can be better than what you can get over cable or satellite (because these OTA signals don’t use all the lossy compression that cable and satellite signals do).  Buying a UHF digital antenna, available at your local hardware store or online, will allow you to pickup these signals, for free.  Of course you won’t be able to pick up cable networks like TNT, ESPN, MTV, and Comedy Central with this – instead I just get whatever signals are broadcast in my geographic location.  In my case those are FOX/HD, CBS/HD, NBC/HD, ABC/HD, PBS/HD, CW/HD, WRDC/HD, and some spanish channels.  Sweet! 

The OTA antenna gives me access to HD pictures from all the major networks:  FOX, CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, plus the CW (whatever that is) and WRDC which is a local network.  This pretty much covers most of the tv shows that I watch, except a few that come on cable channels like Good Eats, Colbert Report, Daily Show, Psych, Monk, and a few others I’m not willing to mention.  But, don’t stress.  Most of those other shows I can catch online.  More on that later in this post.

There are three criterion to consider when purchasing a digital antenna:

  1. Range: You can get short-range, mid-range, and long-range antennas.  To decide which you should get, visit, enter your address, and it will show you all the broadcasting networks in your area, and how far away they are, and what kind of range your antenna will need.
  2. Mounting:  Antennas can be tv-side, atic mounted, or roof mounted.  For best results you’ll want the roof mount, for which you’ll probably want to get a pro to mount it for you (ask at your local hardware store and they can probably handle that job for you).  I personally have my DB4 antenna mounted in my attic, and it does a fine job for me.  The tv-side antennas, like the Philips PHDTV1 Silver Sensor, sit right on top of or beside your tv and do a good job for short range signals.
  3. Directional/Multi-Directional:  If you purchase a directional antenna, you’ll have to point it in the direction in which you want it to pick up signals.  If you purchase a multi-direction antenna, no pointing is necessary, it will pick up signals from all directions.  Obviously I recommend multi-directional.

Internet TV

Many people don’t have an interest in Internet TV because they don’t want to watch tv on their laptop or on their desktop computer.  That’s completely understandable.  But most of those people don’t realize that it is extremely easy to connect your computer to your tv!  You can take this as far as you want to go – from literally just connecting the computer video output to your tv, to having a dedicated computer sit next to your tv, to adding a remote control to your computer, etc.

  1. Basic Setup

    For the basics, all you need is one of those cables that people use every day to connect their computer to their computer monitor (this is called an RBG cable).  Most televisions purchased in the last 10 years will have a connection on the back for such a cable.  Just connect the two, and use your television remote to put it into “PC Input” mode.  At first you may not see anything, but on your computer look for the function key (Fnc) and the F8 button.  Pressing Fnc and F8 simultaneously should toggle the computer through its possible output modes – including the one that outputs to television output.  F8 is commonly labeled “crt/lcd” or something similar.


  2. Advanced Setup

    If you want to get a little more nerdy with your setup, you’ll want a dedicated PC for your tv (aka, a DVR or PVR).  There are a lot of choices here, but since most people are comfortable with Windows, probably the easiest solution is just to buy a cheap PC with Windows Media Center pre-installed on it (ie Vista Home Premium, which comes with Windows Media Center).  This will not only give you convenient access to the Internet from your tv, but you can also connect a digital antenna to this PC and get free HD over the air.  Media Center PC’s usually come with one tv-tuner card, but you can add one or more additional tv tuner cards.  When you buy another tv tuner card, you’ll most likely get a remote control bundled with it.  I also recommend a wireless keyboard for browsing the net, something compact that you can hide away in a coffee table drawer or beside the couch.  If you just want somebody to tell you exactly what to buy, let me know and I can talk you through a shopping list.  There’s more on setting up your own DVR later in this post.

  3. Content

    There are many choices for watching fresh television content online.  Network websites,, Amazon UnBox, etc.

    a.  TV Network/Channel Websites: All of the major networks and channels provide on-demand viewing for many of their top shows, including NBC (The Office, etc), ABC (LOST, Grey’s Anatomy, etc), FOX, and CBS.  CBS is the worst, they only provide 1 or 2 episodes at a time, if any.

    b.  My new favorite website of all time. lets you view an unlimited amount of free tv and movies.  The quality of the content here is great!  On Hulu you can watch The Office, Daily Show, Colbert Report, Family Guy, and many many more.  You can create an account, and “subscribe” to television shows, so that when a new episode airs it will be added to your queue.  Thank you Hulu!  I love you and will cherish all of your advertisements.

    c.  Amazon UnBox – ok, this one is not free.  But, you can purchase entire seasons (or single episodes) of television shows.

    d.  NetFlix – if you already have a NetFlix account, you can watch an amazing amount of content for free over the Internet through Netflix’s “Instant” play-now functionality.  This includes movies and television show seasons that have already been released on DVD.

Free DVR

If you’re into setting up something more advanced, you’ll want to setup your own DVR.  I built a dvr out of some spare parts from an old PC and a few purchases from Tiger Direct.  I got a second one buy just buying a cheapo Vista Home Premium (which comes with Windows Media Center), also from Tiger Direct. 

What you want in a DVR:

  1. A nice graphics card, but you don’t need anything special.  Contrary to popular belief, whatever comes pre-installed on the PC is probably enough! 
  2. SATA hard drive.  You’ll want a SATA drive.  I recommend two.  One for your OS and software, and one dedicated to tv tuner recordings. 
  3. Lots of ram.  Its cheap, so you may as well stock up for best performance.
  4. Vista home premium pre-installed.  Vista Home Premium, which comes with Windows Media Center, works great and requires almost zero setup time to get started!  If you are afraid of Vista, you can go the XP route as well.  Also, I hear great things about the Windows 7, the successor to Windows Vista.

Other Options

  1. Internet service provider:  AT&T offers high speed DSL service.  Currently high speed DSL is not available in my area, so for now I will stick with Road Runner for my Internet connection.  Verizon also has high speed service in some areas.
  2. DVD only.  Many people are killing their tv watching completely except for purchasing full season DVD’s of television shows they want to watch.  If you go this route, I recommend a Netflix plan.


Print | posted on Monday, June 8, 2009 12:30 PM


# re: Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Ethan at 6/10/2009 9:40 AM
Gravatar I had no idea that hooking my computer up to my TV was so easy. I hate watching shows on my tiny computer screen, so now I just hook it up to my big screen. Thanks!

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by jamie at 6/10/2009 9:49 AM
Gravatar Awesome, thanks! - been looking for a quick way to ditch cable for a while now without having to build/manage a fancy Linux DVR/Media center! :)

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Jenn at 6/10/2009 10:07 AM
Gravatar Just canceled our cable bill last week and set up the antenna, the pictures really are *much* better. I'll have to look into the DVR when the fall scheduling picks back up. Can't miss Chuck!

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Sam at 6/19/2009 6:52 AM
Gravatar This is a really dumb question...If I hook up a a laptop without functioning sound (the input jack is "jacked") to my TV, will the sound issue from the TV speakers?

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Lance at 6/29/2009 2:15 AM
Gravatar Not a dumb question at all. There is no audio over the rgb cable, for that it is easiest to use the regular PC speakers, or the headphone (or other audio output) jack on your PC to go out to your tv speakers or surround sound system speakers. Alternatively, if you have hdmi or optical that will carry the audio...

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Wanda Bryant at 7/21/2009 2:49 PM
Gravatar I just bought a 46" Sony HDTV and the picture on the basic and lower channels are grainy and sometimes blurry. I thought it was the TV or maybe it was to big for my room, so I called the store that I bought it at and they said in order to get an HD signal then I have to get HD service from my cable provider. As of now I only receive signals at 480 not 1080. Please help!

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by robinson at 2/2/2010 8:28 AM
Gravatar Can either Hulu or Boxee be used with a regular old standard definition 4:3 TV? One that only takes the RYW cables as input?

Something in the Boxee web site video suggested only HD and Hulu? Well, it's all a confusing morass to me.

The other question I have is whether either or both can work with an Apple Remote without extra hardware...

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Dave Essex at 2/5/2010 5:57 PM
Gravatar Am real anxious to dump my cable tv service...$50.00 a month for about 5 or 6 channels (that is all I watch) is just not right.... I am somewhat technologically challenged however and have couple of questions I hope you can answer

I apologize for dumb questions, but can you tell me where is fnc key (function key) I have pc computer with microsoft keyboard. Also, my tv's are about 5 years old and not high-def.. I am looking on the back for RPG Cable connect, but does not seem to be there....There is a round female connector about 1/2 inch that says S-Video, and video/audio input jacks that are smaller...Any help would be appreciated....Thanks, DE

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Lance Robinson at 2/9/2010 9:16 AM
Gravatar Robinson: yes, Hulu can but you'll need some adapters to connect your pc outputs to your tv inputs. I am yet to try Boxee I'm too happy with Hulu for that to be high on my list. Hulu won't work with your apple remote, unless you're running Hulu in windows media center (and then maybe)

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Josh at 2/26/2010 12:44 AM
Gravatar On my laptop the Function key is on the lower left hand side of the keyboard, next to the left control key.

Also, if you have an S-Video connection on your television, then all you need to do is install a video card in your computer that has an S-video connection. Then you can just simply use the S-video cable, prolly the easiest way to hook the two together.

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by ROMEO at 3/16/2010 6:19 PM
Gravatar THANKS! :)

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Taylor at 5/28/2010 12:35 PM
Gravatar Hi, Lance.

Nice article. I'm ready to disconnect from DIRECTV and have already investigated Dish and Comcast to learn that their pricing is no better. I'm irritated that I have to pay so much for channels I will NEVER watch, the ones I want are buried in that avalanche of nonsense, and the incessant commercials are driving me crazy. Yet I would like to watch a few channels that aren't local.

I think an RBG cable should do the trick from my PC, which is about 8 feet away from the TV. But I've been trying to learn how to connect my new Samsung HDTV to my Dell Latitude E6500 laptop (more memory, etc.) and and have gotten some of the craziest tech support I could imagine. One person from an online electronics company suggested three different items - I didn't think that was right. My TV has both RBG and HDMI connections on the side. My laptop has other ports that I can't identify (I don't have the manual for it.)

At the risk of revealing my silliness, do you have any suggestions for how to hook the two up?

Thank you.

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Mike OConnor at 6/4/2010 3:14 PM
Gravatar Great TV Plan

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Ben at 6/21/2010 6:16 PM
Gravatar I had no idea that it would be that simple! But if you still would like a free HD tv check out my site.

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by dylanna at 7/11/2010 1:32 PM
Gravatar please help me recover all my cable channels, i can only acess 2-13 what steps do i take to restore all the cable channels

I dont have a remote,,, may be you can help me with a remote that will work for that older model tv

thanks so much

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by bryan at 8/9/2010 4:18 PM
Gravatar all well and good, but how would I go about watching sports??

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Lance at 8/16/2010 1:32 PM
Gravatar Bryan, there are plenty of sports online, as well as on the major networks in HD. If all else fails, its more fun to watch sports with friends anyway, so hit up a bar or something. :P

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Robert at 10/20/2010 2:21 PM
Gravatar I recently canceled my Cable TV from Cox but kempt Cox Internet. I purchased a Kworld USB tuner for my computer and was surprised to find that Cox transmits free HD TV signals over their cable.

My question is: How can I get these channels to my regular analog TV? Is there a converter box I can use?

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by jackson at 12/21/2010 4:38 PM
Gravatar Nice info but its old news to me.I would say vlc player is much better than windows media player and also it would be smarter to just buy a hd videocard with a hdmi output.nice to see blogs like this one out there helping people get free of greedy cable co.

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Troy at 3/14/2011 11:14 AM
Gravatar Is there anyway to access ESPN or other cable television?

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Doug at 3/25/2011 5:52 PM
Gravatar Any suggestions on an amplifier? My antenna is in the attic and I need to amplify the signal to my TV on the first floor.

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Dave at 10/17/2011 2:40 PM
Gravatar How to watch paid channels like Discovery, History channel ?

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Free Android Apps at 10/17/2011 2:42 PM
Gravatar Great Article. Thanks :)

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Tyler at 11/1/2011 2:52 AM
Gravatar Anyone else get free hd porn channels? Or is it just me? haha

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by maquinas de coser at 3/20/2012 8:27 AM
Gravatar canceled our cable bill last week and set up the antenna, the pictures really are *much* better. I'll have to look into the DVR when the fall scheduling picks back up. Can't miss Chuck!

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by Dennis at 7/1/2012 10:42 AM
Gravatar I just threw Directv out of my house after two years of NOTHING! First of all, what they advertise is not what you get! $29.95-$69.95 is really $130 a month for 300 channels of corporate advertising and 10 channels of continous repeat of TV shows........watching the same shows as I did 2 years ago!
I am not electronic savy but I manage to keep my computer running from previous experiences and the informational super highway....the internet! You can always google your problem and find the answer.
So now that I have tossed the leeches, I have inquired as to where I go from here.........Antenna, one of the X-box, Nintendo, Wii boxes, or just download Hulu Desktop and go that route??? I do know that using the HDMI cable (and you need to use a good quality one for the best reception so MONSTER comes to mind) will give you everything in one cable and is as simple as plugging in the toaster!
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated......I want to keep it cheap and complicated Phd stuff! I really only watch gaming. My Tv choices are programs such as Swamp People, Lizard Lick, Food Network,News now and then things along those oriented. No pay for view sports or porn or any of that garbage. Again, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Directv chose a bogus $5 increase they labeled a communications tax increase (totally bogus) over the $2800 I paid them over two years......hows that for intelligence?? I won't miss them one iota!!

# re: Lance's Non-Techie Guide to Free HD TV

Left by gary Rohleder at 1/6/2013 4:43 PM
Gravatar Safe to assume using your computer to watch t.v. will suck up your monthly alloted megabites of wireless and a surprise verizon bill correct? I installed an antenna yesterday last month of cable. Thanks gary

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