Over the Air OTA, the equipment setup you need to watch free HD broadcast TV

Roof Antenna

Over the Air is Television programming which is broadcast free of charge, throughout a given city or suburb. We explain how to view free HD TV including the right equipment and setup.

What is Over the Air – OTA?

Typically you’ll discover a Television station broadcaster having a large, powerful outdoor antenna and that station’s programming is broadcast in all directions and can be received free over the air ota by any person or business that has the appropriate equipment necessary to receive the signal.

An over the Air signal can be often times, depending on the power of the television station who’s doing the broadcasting, received as far away as many tens of miles and in some cases in excess of a hundred miles. Many things however can limit the total distance an over the air ota broadcast signal will travel or be received.

Tall buildings, mountains, and hills can all deminish the over the air ota signal from passing much beyond the obstruction. As well, the size and/or type of antenna system a person has in his or her home or business will also affect their ability to receive certain broadcast signals.

The equipment you will need

A residence or business can receive and view over the air ota signals so long as they have three key working components connected to one another and properly programmed. They are:

  1. Over the air antenna 
  2. Digital to Analog Converter Set-top box
  3. TV(if TV has a “correct” built-in receiver then the Digital to Analog Converter Set-top box listed in #2 is not needed)

The antenna can be something as simple as what are referred to as rabbit ears. However, rabbit ears have considerable limitations in range of reception from the broadcaster when compared to other types of antenna systems. In other words, the person trying to receive over the air ota signals, using rabbit ears, probably won’t get all the available channels broadcast because rabbit ears just aren’t designed as a strong receiving antenna.

The type of antenna a person uses will affect the number of channels received and the quality of reception. Poor reception of an over the air ota signal will result in the picture flickering in and out or what is known as pixelation.

Locating Antenna Broadcasters in your area

Whether you are home or on the road traveling from place to place, such as RVing, you can try to locate any area broadcasters using the broadcaster locator tool by entering the zip code or address of destination so you know, when you arrive, how to properly point your antenna


For an RVer or camper the typical antenna is pictured in this article just to your lower right. Once you’ve identified broadcasters you would like to try to receive you should point your roof top antenna in that direction. Slight variations in the direction you point your antenna and…. depending on how strong or weak the broadcast signal is…. can and will affect whether you receive the desired broadcaster’s signal at all or whether the signal is strong and does not pixelate. We’ve tested this ourselves several times in an RV and at different camp sites / parks..

Properly positioning an antenna in an RV or Camper

 

To properly point this style antenna the white plastic part of the antenna identified with the arrow in the photograph here should face the broadcaster.(We’ve even contacted the antenna manufacturer to confirm this information with their tech support department) If your antenna has a brand name visable and located within the white plastic on the actual antenna itself then simply face the brand name to the broadcaster you hope to receive and then scan for channels.

How to get Internet Access on the Go in an RV.

Once the broadcaster’s programming becomes visable on your TV you can make small adjustments to your antenna direction if the picture pixelates thus becoming momentarily unviewable. A sunny cloudless day can sometimes degrade the signal strength and picture whereas having some clouds in the sky or even an overcast sky will help the picture and signal (its true, we’ve tested this many many different times). Rain, unlike Satellite TV systems, won’t cause you to loose a picture.

Types of OTA Antennas

Antennas come in two basic types, directional and omnidirectional. Omnidirectional antennas can often receive broadcast signals from every direction whereas a directional antenna will generally work the most reliable when pointed in the direction of the broadcaster.


Generally any working television can be used to view over the air ota channels so long as the TV has proper tuner. Generally if the TV is a tube style TV, which has a deep profile, it doesn’t have the correct tuner built-in. In this case the person needs to buy a digital to analog convertor and we’ve embedded a How To video in this article on this procedure. 

Flat Screen High definition TVs typically have the correct tuner built-in. Some of the oldest flat screen models still require a digital to analog tuner. (Our test RV came from the factory with a flat screen TV but the TV only had an analog tuner. Therefore, we opted to install a converter box vs buying a new 12 volt TV.

 

The size of the antenna will effect reception. In other words, antennas are rated for close, mid and far away ranges. Deep fringe antennas can sometimes receive a signal as far away as 150 miles. Another factor that will affect the reception is the weather. Extremely heavy rain will degrade the signal whereas a cloudless, full-sun day can also degrade the reception because the over the air ota signal will often bounce from cloud to ground to travel certain distances. 

Summary of Over the Air OTA

To see a video showing a completed TV antenna installation inside a home attic click here.

Over the air OTA are free of charge local TV stations broadcasting television programming via the airwaves. The right antenna, TV, and sometimes digital to analog receiver are required to receive an OTA broadcast. The larger rated antenna will usually receive more broadcaster’s transmissions assuming no obstructions like buildings, mountains and hills block the signal. For information on how to watch your over the air antenna on your smart phone or tablet click here.