The term over-the-air TV is often misunderstood. It used to mean one thing and now with the advent of new technologies, its meaning is changing. I am going to address what used to be its only meaning and cite the examples that were available at the time. Next, I’m going to dive into how technology is changing how some of us look at and interpret the term. I’ll also be presenting some examples of this interpretation.
The Term Originates in the Days Before Cable or Satellite TV
Believe it or not, there was once a time when the word “Antenna” on the back of your TV meant exactly that — the wire(s) connected to it were connected to an honest-to-goodness antenna, either on the TV itself as in rabbit ears, or mounted somewhere on the roof. The antennas received over-the-air TV signals which were decoded by the set and displayed. The TV stations broadcast their signals over-the-air, hence, over-the-air TV.
This was back in the day of VHF (Very High Frequency-channels 2-13) and then UHF (Ultra High Frequency-channels 14-83). Those were the days when you watched ABC, CBS, or NBC, or you maybe got lucky with a small local TV station.
The Early Evolution of Over-the-Air TV
When I was younger, the evolution of the term over-the-air TV simply meant that the TV that displayed the signals had an antenna that was built in and it was small and light enough that it could be carried around. Being battery-powered didn’t hurt, either. These portable televisions got as small as three to five inches and even had color displays. By this time, there were several local and independent networks operating across both UHF and VHF, but the device used to watch TV is still fairly large and specialized.
Watch Over-the-Air TV for Free
Most local TV stations broadcast two signals, analog and digital. Both are basically free and the analog signals are disappearing. To be honest, if you’ve got an older TV, it’s not exactly free to watch HD/digital TV, though. You either need a TV with a built-in digital tuner/antenna, or you need an external HD antenna to connect to an older TV. The new TV can cost over $1000 if you want the biggest and best, but the HD/digital antenna needed for an older TV only costs about $50.
TiVO Now Lets You Record Over-the-Air TV
TiVO, the leader in the digital video recording of Cable and Satellite television signals recently announced a new device that lets you record broadcast TV. This is great for those of us that are getting tired of the price hikes from our providers and don’t need hundreds of channels. A $50 TiVO Roamio OTA DVR, your TV, and a fifty buck or so digital/HD antenna, and you’re good to go. There are also mobile apps that let you interact with the DVR and search streaming sites, like Netflix and Hulu Plus. There is a monthly fee involved with having TiVO.
TiVO Isn’t Alone in Allowing Over-the-Air TV Recording
The idea of recording broadcast/live video isn’t new. I can recall using our VCR in the ’80s to record our family’s favorite shows when they conflicted with our schedules, allowing us all to sit down together and enjoy the shows on our schedule. The explosion of the popularity of Cable and Satellite TV, as well as the Internet, has made the DVR even more popular. Although it was one of the first, TiVo is not the only provider of video recording products.
One example of a competing product is the Channel Master DVR+. The DVR+ comes in two flavors. The “low-price” (Around $150) model has a measly 16 GB of onboard storage and requires an external hard drive for full functionality. This version is basically for watching and pausing live video.
The Channel Master DVR+ 1TB is the other option is significantly more expensive at about $400. However, this model comes with an internal one terabyte hard drive. This means you don’t need an external drive. Both versions let you pause, fast forward, and rewind live video and have double tuners, so you can watch one program and record another. However, unlike other options, you need to buy your own HD/digital antenna. Oh, and both units only have HDMI outputs, meaning you’ll most likely need a converter for older TV sets. No monthly subscription is required for either unit.
More Over-the-Air TV Options to Come
Cordcutters recently lost a pretty big court case. This case revolved around a company called Aereo. Aereo allowed subscribers (eight bucks a month) to watch their local over-the-air TV broadcasts on their mobile devices and computers. Even though the company doesn’t broadcast or provide any of their own programming, the court ruled they were a Cable TV company and subject to the laws that regulate them. They’re going to keep up the fight, so we might still get to see a truly affordable subscription-based “get only what you want” TV offering.
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