Over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting is getting a lot of attention lately, especially as cable customers are cutting the cord and TV stations make the gradual shift to ATSC 3.0, or Next Gen TV. And as more households consider adding, or perhaps reintroducing, OTA content to their homes, some equipment makers and sellers are making some lofty claims about what their gear can provide. A news station in Tennessee recently took a look at antenna sellers on Amazon and examined some of their bold promises, and it’s a good time to discuss what good OTA gear can (and cannot) offer.
WRCB highlighted antenna brands offering unrealistic claims like overly optimistic ranges and the ability to completely replace your cable or satellite content.
Sure enough, a quick glance through available antennas reveals plenty of options with product descriptions full of claims that seem too good to be true — because many of them are. One indoor antenna boasted more than 130 miles of range with its included amplifier. As many longtime OTA users can attest, range claims can be highly suspect, especially since terrain, geography, and other factors can greatly affect an antenna’s true usable range.
Another promised free access to all your local news, weather, sports, and other programming, which is both vague and likely inaccurate. Even under the best conditions, OTA content probably won’t be able to fully replace all your pay TV content, especially when it comes to sports.
You’ll also often see logos for channels and networks that simply aren’t available over-the-air. Some listings included product images promising “absolutely free HD channels” alongside logos for non-OTA channels like ESPN, TBS, and CNN.
Several antennas are also starting to include “4K” in their product descriptions, and we’ll likely see that trend continue as ATSC 3.0 continues its rollout throughout 2020 and beyond. And while OTA antennas can technically receive 4K content via ATSC 3.0, we’re still a ways out from ultra high-def content hitting the airwaves. For one, only a handful of stations across the country currently support ATSC 3.0. And actual OTA 4K content is probably several months or years away for most of us.
After all, just because your garage can hold an Aston Martin doesn’t mean it currently is holding an Aston Martin — or that it will anytime soon. Along those same lines, those who purchase antennas need to know the mere potential for receiving OTA 4K broadcasts does not mean you’ll get that content right away.
Similarly, if you’re already using an antenna and you’re worried it won’t support ATSC 3.0, relax. If you’re happy with the reception you’re getting now, your antenna should do just fine when the new standard launches in your town. You might need an external tuner or TV upgrade, but the antenna itself should be OK. Also, even if your local stations switched to ATSC 3.0 today, you’d still have five years before needing to upgrade tuner equipment.
Overall, then, you should take these lofty antenna claims with significant amounts of salt. A good-quality OTA antenna can unlock a surprising amount of content and, indeed, help you save money compared to cable and satellite. But it’s certainly worth keeping your expectations in check when you dive into the world of over-the-air content.
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